With the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in our society, losing one’s car keys takes on a whole new meaning.
Baby boomers panic, thinking they have signs of “early onset dementia.” The elderly fear being placed in a nursing home against their will simply for being “forgetful.”
If you or a loved one experiences unusual episodes of short-term memory loss, confusion, anxiety or agitation, you should remain calm. Infections or treatable illnesses, inadequate sleep, an unbalanced diet, dehydration, lack of exercise and stress can all play a role in how efficiently one’s mind works. A visit to a primary care physician is the first order of business.
If memory loss is not due to a treatable condition, certain tests can result in an indication of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. However, the cause of the disease is unknown, there is no iron-clad cure, and even the diagnosis can be uncertain.
If a diagnosis is made, whether it be Alzheimer’s or one of the numerous other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s, mini-strokes or when symptoms of an unidentified disease process persist, physicians, family caregivers and facilities employ medications and methods to moderate the symptoms.
While the goal of these treatments is to provide higher function and increase the quality of life, family members or patients sometimes become unsatisfied as our society has come to expect…no, demand…cures for every malady from “modern medicine.”
Most memory loss is not a direct result of the aging process. However, one in eight people aged 65 suffer significant memory loss, and it is believed that close to 50% of those over the age of 85 have dementia. For this category of seniors, a loving treatment approach is essential, as this is not mere forgetfulness or selective memory, but rather, a disease process.
A person with Alzheimer’s needs a support system, and his or her caregivers need a support system. Love, mercy and encouragement need to replace judgment, frustration and criticism. In most cases, Alzheimer’s is not developed by leading a negative lifestyle, and the disease does not discriminate along lines of class, race or gender.
Within a loving, supportive environment, providing routine, rhythm and continuity is essential for success in everyday living. New memories do not form easily or at all, so keeping things calm, peaceful and relaxing is also important. While we are tempted to take Grandma to the family Thanksgiving dinner to “break up the monotony of her life,” events with 25 or 50 excited family members are no longer positive, and instead lead to agitation and fatigue.
A quiet, low-stimulation environment free of disturbing television programming creates an environment for success. Listening to music, reading to your loved one, and physical touch serve to replace more stimulating activities. Long walks replace a game of Bingo. Simple art like painting, drawing or coloring replaces complex hobbies.
Most importantly, those with Alzheimer’s need daily routines that provide comfort. They need the rhythm of regular time schedules when possible. And they need a consistent care team they can recognize. This calls for a small, residential living arrangement, as large institutions cannot provide this treatment.
When those with Alzheimer’s receive loving care, the patient and the family begin to develop hope as they put faith in the process. Change is difficult, but moving toward this environment produces peace in the mind of the resident and allows the family to manage what is often a long period of saying goodbye.
Scott Schultz is President and Owner of ComfortCare Homes, serving communities in Ottawa and Baldwin City with small, memory care homes in residential neighborhoods. He can be reached at 785-594-2603 and is always happy to be a community resource.