Getting the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease today is much like what getting a cancer diagnosis used to be for some people: devastating, often debilitating, and leaving one not knowing who to tell or where to turn. Years ago when I was a nurse, some patients didn’t want their families to know they had cancer. While cancer patients have gotten braver about their need for support and advocating for treatments and cures, many individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease still fear the stigma…and the confusion over what to do next.
My father is in the moderate severe stage of Alzheimer’s disease. I am fortunate that, at least for now, he is able to remain at home where he is well cared for by my mother. But despite the fact that my Mom has ample respite during the week, I am well aware that, at times, caregiving can be overwhelming and frustrating.
As dementia progresses, brain cells are damaged, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. While current medications cannot stop disease progression, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a time by boosting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the brain's nerve cells. However, these drugs have unwanted side effects, or have little effect in some individuals. Given no cure and limited treatment available, it is no surprise that there is high public interest in complementary and alternative therapies when it comes to treating dementia.
Adults with dementia often feel compelled to walk about. This behavior has routinely been called “wandering” by clinicians, researchers and informal caregivers. About 60 percent of adults with dementia will experience wandering, which most commonly occurs in the middle or later stages of dementia. Wandering can be prompted by a desire to look for something or someone, such as a family member or friend, or by a need to fulfill a former obligation such as going to work. Some adults with dementia express a desire to “go home” even if they are living comfortably in their own homes.
At Hebrew SeniorLife, all of our direct care staff are trained in the “habilitation therapeutic method” when caring for clients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Habilitation was developed in 1996 by Paul Raia and Joanne Koenig-Coste of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and has been successfully implemented in a variety of care settings nation-wide.
There are many myths surrounding dementia that can obscure our understanding of the issues facing our loved ones who suffer from dementia diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Here are a few to ponder…
MYTH #1 Dementia is a normal occurrence in aging.
FACT:Dementia is a degenerative brain disease that mainly affects older adults, and is not a normal part of aging. If it were true, then everyone over the age of 65 would have it! Many adults advance into their 80s and 90s without much memory decline.
MYTH #2 Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that is inherited.
At our adult day health programs, older adults socialize with their peers while participating in a wide variety of activities. And if nursing care is needed, it’s readily available.
Think of the alternatives.
For many seniors it might be eight or more hours of isolation. That’s because families have work and other commitments that force them to leave their loved one at home. A phone call every now and then doesn’t allow for much interaction. And what happens if the senior forgets to take his medications? Or leaves the stove on?