I will admit that until I began working in the senior living sector, I knew very little about Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. It was not something I had seen on a personal or family level. That has changed. Now I know and care for people affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. I understand that they are not all one in the same. There are even different types of dementia. I have come to know some of the devastating effects they take on lives. Since June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I thought I could help do my part by shining a purple light.
Did you know that according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Alzheimer’s is fatal. It kills more than breast and prostate cancer combined.
- Alzheimer’s is not normal aging. It’s a progressive brain disease without any cure.
- Alzheimer’s is more than memory loss. It appears through a variety of signs and symptoms.
Per the website alz.org, “A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Experts are not certain about the reason for this association. It may be due to direct mechanisms through which social and mental stimulation strengthen connections between nerve cells in the brain.”
During the month of June, the Alzheimer’s Association asks you to learn more about Alzheimer’s. Share your story and take action. It may be as simple as bringing awareness via social media. Alzheimer’s disease awareness is represented by the color purple, and in June, thousands of Americans will turn their Facebook profile purple with an “END ALZ” icon. If you need help or more information on ways you can raise awareness of the truth about Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org/abam to get started.
I think that the hardest part of being a caregiver is dealing with the guilt. There is never enough time in the day. You bought the wrong kind of soap, stamps or razors or whatever it is…you just can’t catch a break. I think that life in general can sometimes be structured to wear us down. We think we are so smart being so connected and so able to communicate and work and multi-task. Sometimes we just need to stop, push back and say…no. I am the world’s WORST at this. I don’t want to let anyone down. In my mind…my goal is to help everyone. But if I (or you) don’t take time to rest then how can we be good for anyone? So here are some tips to de-program and reduce caregiver stress.
- Ask for help. You know the help you have been providing. But write down what that help entails. No one person can do it alone. It may even be time to consider the move to an assisted living. Asking for help doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you are not going to be part of the team. It just means you care enough to reach out.
- Realize your limitations. It’s impossible to be all things to all people. Sometimes our mindset that “only we can provide the help” is actually damaging for our loved ones. You may be thinking that you are helping someone by enabling them to stay alone…when in actuality they may do better in a community setting and your “help” may be depriving them of a better situation. Meanwhile it may also be running you ragged!
- Take time for you. If you think that only taking your loved ones to their doctor visits and cancelling your checkups is going to serve you well…think again. You need time to recharge your batteries and make sure that you are healthy both mentally and physically. Many caregivers suffer serious health issues while taking care of others. Be sure to take care of you!
- Talk it out. Phone a friend.. Have dinner with your spouse or seek the counsel of a peer going through the same situation. You can even find support groups for caregivers. Your stress is not in your head! Not to mention that it is not good to keep it all inside. Having a friendly chat can prove therapeutic and can also be a way to give and get advice for those sharing similar experiences.
As I continue my discussion about falls, I thought I might provide a little comic relief to share my most embarrassing fall. Picture this. It’s my little girl’s dance recital dress rehearsal. Mamas, Grandmas, and some Dads are all up in arms trying to make sure they have their little Susie’s right shoes with the right costume and heaven knows we must have on ENOUGH makeup to be “stage appropriate” too. Well amongst all this chaos we had a routine (or at least a performer) that was about to be cut because one of our senior level dancers was sick and was not able to partner with the junior performer for this cute little number. Well as they say “the show must go on” and our ever improvising and quick thinking director called out from the curtain…” Is Heather Bradley in the building”? SAY WHAT?? Oh dear woman, you do jest. Nope, she was quite serious. And within moments this child with big crocodile tears that was about to have to sit out was being twirled and tossed by yours truly. So I fell on my face on the stage during the routine right? No…wait for it. We got through the routine and I was feeling pretty good for a washed up former tap dancer. So as I slipped back into my wedges and started bounding down the stairs…it happened. I fell down the steps with such graceless effort that I literally fell flat on my face. Well, I fell on my hands to be more specific. My friend Renee said I jumped back up so quickly though that I looked like a cartoon character. So as I jump up to quickly assure everyone that I am truly okay, I make a discovery. My shoe is broken, my watch is broken and I soon discover at the ER (where my friend Sam insisted I get checked out when she sees blood coming from my wrist) that my hand is also quite broken. So when I speak to you about falls, trust me I am a professional. It takes a pro to fall off a stage in front of an auditorium packed full of people.
So the shoe. Let me tell you it was the source of the fall. So when I tell you that ill-fitting shoes can be a hazard, I know from first-hand experience. Now granted most elderly adults are not bounding down the steps of a stage. But if your shoes don’t fit properly you can be stepping off a curb or standing up for that matter and the shoes can become a fall hazard. Another important thing to consider is foot care. Many seniors don’t have the ability to trim their toenails anymore. Throw in the fact that many are diabetic and this adds additional risk and you can see how toenails can wreak havoc and up the ante in the fight against falls. Foot pain and poor footwear have been cited by the Center for Disease Control as one of the major contributing factors for falls in the elderly. So be sure that you check your loved ones’ shoes and make sure that they fit well and are in good condition. Also, check their toenails and see that they are trimmed regularly by someone that knows what they are doing and especially if they are diabetic. Regular checkups are important, right? It is equally important to get your feet checked out too!
Be an advocate if Mom’s feet have been missed in the examination. Most physicians include this in a comprehensive check. But believe me, I have seen it be missed. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make sure that foot health is a consideration. While my middle aged broken hand healed up nicely after my fall, a fall for a senior can be much more devastating because as we age we become more frail. Taking proper precautions can help your loved one from being one of the 2.8 million older Americans that is treated in the ER annually for falls. So be smart and evaluate these issues and it will help everyone keep one foot safely in front of the other.
School bells are ringing and many children are headed back to class. But before they break out those new No. 2 pencils, they probably had to have some health checkups. You are one smart cookie if you know that this is also a good time to get those checkups done for your senior! No not your son or daughter who plays Varsity sports! Rather your elderly parent who is planning a move to an assisted living community.
Now you may already know that part of the process to gain admission to an ALF is to have a physical examination completed by your primary care physician. During this visit the doctor (among other things) will complete the facility paperwork with the potential resident moving to assisted living and in most cases coordinate with the family member to discuss the best care plan to have put into place. This ensures that the assisted living staff knows the diagnoses, that the resident is free from communicable diseases, etc. However, I have seen several family members go a step further to make sure that their loved one is set up for success for the transition to assisted living. And going that extra mile makes a huge difference in most cases.
So what are those extra steps? It’s as simple as ensuring that your loved ones can see and hear as best as possible. It is very important thing to talk with them about the importance of their eyesight and their hearing during this time. As studies show, one half of people age 85 or older have hearing loss. Also when compared to Americans 18 to 44 years of age, Americans 75 years of age and over are nearly three times as likely to report vision loss. Therefore it is of utmost importance that they are regularly checked out. However…you would be surprised how many residents come into assisted living with the same pair of old glasses they were prescribed years ago. And what did you say??? Their hearing hasn’t been checked in ages. Say what?? I said THEIR HEARING HASN’T BEEN CHECKED IN AGES!!! Whew…you get the point. I have seen residents that shy away from the dinner table because they can’t hear well. Why you ask? Well, if your table mates are trying to talk to you and you are having trouble hearing… this can be cause for confusion and (sadly as I have seen this happen before) embarrassment. And the reality is in some cases, hearing can be helped by hearing aids or simple wax removal.
Eyesight is super important in the transition as well. Moving to a new place means maneuvering around a new area. If you can’t see this can be scary and the recipe for a fall! So be sure to have Mom’s eyes checked out to be sure her glasses are still the right prescription. The ALF should care plan any vision issues as to ensure the safest environment as possible.
Sure you are still going to have sight impaired and hearing impaired individuals in assisted living communities. That’s a no brainer! Sometimes there is absolutely nothing that can be done for hearing or sight issues and that is okay! Assisted living staff members are trained on caring for folks with these issues and have ongoing in-services to cater to their needs. But just as you wouldn’t send Johnny off to school without his supplies…be sure your loved one is ready for the transition to their new community and get their eyes and ears checked out! That way they can keep their eyes (and ears) on the prize.
So you find yourself in the unfamiliar waters of helping your aging loved one find a new space to call home. Before you feel the need to jump ship-take heart! There are many PROVEN benefits to charting the course towards the move to an assisted living community.
The first step in helping your family member tip their toe into the water is reminding them of the commitment. Based on the reality of the service that is being provided in assisted living, it doesn’t make sense for communities to require long term commitments. This is miles apart from sending the kids off to college. So that means you are not talking six month or year long leases. Don’t get me wrong it’s not uncommon for someone to live in a community for a long time. We have had residents live in our properties for 10-15 years. But the beauty of our assisted living contracts is that they offer the option of a 30 day notice. Now that’s enough to make everyone breathe a sigh of relief. Taking away the anxiety of “buyers remorse” helps you and your loved one feel much easier about the reality of making the transition to an assisted living community and sets the course for smoother sailing. It also opens the door to the discussion of the possibility of what day to day life can look like for Mom or Dad in a community. Setting the course towards the goal of getting there now becomes more approachable and less daunting.
As our parents age, we often become concerned that they aren’t able to manage simple things, like remembering to take their medications. Sometimes remembering to take medications is especially hard if our loved one has chronic health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure and takes several medications each day. What can we do when we are concerned that our parents are forgetting to take their medications?
An easy first step is a trip to the physician to make sure that the medications our parents have are the ones they need to take. When going with our parents to see their physician, be sure to take all the medications in their original prescription container for review by the physician. Ask the physician if all the medications are necessary and also if it’s possible to schedule them to be taken no more than twice per day. Simplifying how many times each day medications have to be taken will help streamline the process.
After the medications are reviewed and streamlined as much as possible, invest in a medication organizer. These are inexpensive and available at most drug stores. Fill the organizer with the medications for the appropriate time of day and familiarize your parents with how to use them. Using the organizer shows at a glance whether medications have been taken and make keeping up with the correct dose much easier. When looking for an organizer, make sure to obtain one that your parents can easily open and close and make sure that the dose times correspond to the dose times on the prescriptions. For the first few days using the organizer, a reminder phone call may also be helpful.
If medication organizers, phone call reminders and other steps have failed, it may be time to consider an assisted living community. Assisted living communities’ help individuals remember to take their medications at the time and correct dose ordered by their physician. They also monitor individuals for any problems with medications and notify the physician and family if there is a problem. This is especially important if the individual has chronic health problems.
For more information, visit GreatOaksManagement.com!
Does it seem like everyone you know is taking medication for something? Since 1 in 5 Americans age 45 and older have some type of chronic medical condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, chances are you have friends who are on long term medication. Perhaps you are also taking a daily medication for a chronic medical condition.
Unfortunately, this trend gets worse as we get older. 76% of people over age 60 in the United States take at least 2 medications daily. 37% take 5 or more medications daily. It’s easy to slip into this when we are often seen to specialist for specific health problems. Before we know it, we may be seeing several specialists in addition to our primary care physician. How do we know when we are taking too many medications?
All medications have side effects. Sometimes a medication that is given to help a specific medical problem can make us have side effects that we don’t recognize as being caused by the medication. The more medications you take, the more likely you are to have side effects, especially if there are interactions between the medications you take.
One way to address this is to do a “Medication Checkup” with your primary care physician. Make an appointment for this and bring ALL the medications you take including those which are only as needed and any over the counter medications, vitamins or supplements. You may find you are taking a medication you no longer need, or that switching to a different medication for a chronic medical condition can reduce or eliminate any side effects.
Another way to help prevent side effects caused by medication interaction is to make sure you use only one pharmacy. Your pharmacist should have a complete list of all medications as well as over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements. Ask your pharmacist before starting a new over the counter medication to make sure it doesn’t interact with the prescription medications you are currently taking.
Keep an up to date list of all prescriptions, over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements and make sure you update the list with any change. Double check with your primary care provider at each visit to make sure their list is up to date as well.
When bothered by a new problem like insomnia, consider a non-drug approach to manage the problem. Getting some exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime, sticking to a schedule for going to bed each night, limiting caffeine in the evening and limiting electronic screens just before bed can be a non-medication way to help improve sleep.
Everyone is forgetful from time to time especially when it comes to things like remembering where we put the car keys or forgetting to pick up something at the grocery store. Adults over 65 say they are more forgetful than when they were younger, sometimes having a “senior moment” when they forget something.
Occasional forgetfulness is different than dementia and as our parents age, sometimes we wonderful is the forgetfulness we see is a part of the natural aging process or the beginning of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. As the child of a senior adult, how will I know the difference?
Research has shown that the early warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may begin to occur years before our parents get the diagnosis, sometimes as much as 10-15 years before the diagnosis. That’s why it is important to pay attention to early signs of forgetfulness and consider a trip to the physician for a medical work up if we are concerned about the possibility that our parents may be developing dementia. Forgetting a friends name or missing a lunch date is something that people without dementia do from time to time. Someone with early dementia, though, might repeatedly forget names or plans, and forget all about the incident soon afterward. It may seem strange but while someone with early dementia may forget something that happened the previous evening, they may recall in detail events that happened in the more distant past, last year, say, or during their childhood.
The Alzheimer’s Association has published a list of 10 warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They are:
- Forgetfulness and memory loss
- Lack of concentration and confusion
- Losing things
- Difficulty doing familiar tasks
- Language and speaking problems
- Problems with simple math
- Poor judgment
- Personality changes and mood swings
- Changes in grooming and personal hygiene
- Withdrawing from friends and family
If you are concerned about your parent, make an appointment to see their primary care physician. There are medications available which slow the progression of some forms of dementia, but they work better if they start early in the disease.
Getting that initial diagnosis of Dementia is often such a shock, it may take some time to begin to gather information and formulate a plan with your physician. While the medications available today don’t cure dementia, they can help lessen the symptoms like memory loss or confusion.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of medications cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne and memantine (Namenda) to treat cognitive symptoms of dementia like memory loss, confusion and problems thinking and reasoning. While these medications can’t stop the damage done by dementia, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages in the brain’s nerve cells.
Cholinesterase Inhibitors: Prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine a chemical messenger important for learning and memory. There are three medications in this category:
- Aricept: Approved to treat all stages of Dementia, delays worsening of symptoms for 6-12 months on average.
- Razadyne: Approved to treat mild to moderate Dementia.
- Exelon: Approved to treat mild to moderate stages of dementia. Same type of drug, but comes in a patch.
Memantine: Regulates the activity of glutamate, a different messenger chemical involved in learning and memory. There is one medication in this category.
- Namenda: Approved to treat moderate to severe dementia.
A New combination drug: Namzaric has just become available in 2015. This medication is a combination of Aricept and Namenda for moderate to severe Dementia.
If you or a loved one has gotten a diagnosis of dementia, talk to your doctor about which medication would be the best fit to help lessen the symptoms of the disease. If the doctor prescribes one of these medications, make sure the medication is taken as directed by the doctor and make sure to let the doctor know how the medication is working.
What do Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Glen Campbell, Pat Summit, and Perry Como have in common? Your first response might be that they are all famous, successful individuals. You would be right, but the one thing that they all have in common is Alzheimer’s disease. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and now is a good time to learn more about the disease and what to do if you are concerned that a loved one may have memory problems.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that affects memory, language, thought and eventually, the ability to complete basic activities of daily living. Scientist think as many as 4.5 million American’s have Alzheimer’s disease and the numbers go up beginning at age 60. Scientist estimates that 50% of Americans age 85 and older have the disease. One important point is that Alzheimer’s is not a part of normal aging.
If you have a loved one who is experiencing memory loss, make an appointment to see your primary care provider as soon as possible. There are medications available today which help slow down the progression of the disease if they are started early in the disease process. Delaying getting a diagnosis reduces the ability to slow the disease earlier in the process.
If you have a loved one who has been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, get as much information as you can and look for a support group in your area. Explore programs in your area for individuals with memory loss and begin to look at senior living options for when living at home is no longer possible. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Care giving for an individual with memory problems is challenging and many care givers face health challenges of their own.
Alzheimer’s disease affects individuals regardless of their race, sex, social background or financial class. Getting up to date information will help you find the answers you need.