There is not a person in today’s society who can rule out the possibility of this serious diagnosis. It brings fear to the individual as well as their family. There is virtually no physical pain with this disease, but there is no cure. There is no surgery to correct it and no immunization to prevent it, but the professional as well as the laborer can be its prey. The disease: Alzheimer’s. This and other forms of dementia have robbed many of their retirement years.
The story is told of the retired accountant who, when he noticed a slipping of his abilities to do his personal finances, had the assistance of his pre-teen grandchildren, covertly asking them to prove their math skills to him by adding the numbers he gave them. Both did the task and were congratulated by Grandpa. Since both had the same answer, Grandpa confidently added their answer to his personal books hoping no one else would know the difference! And, no one but the accountant ever knew the cover up!
It started slowly for me. Conversations with friends and family took on a new twist as I tried to participate. There would be a most appropriate word to add to the interaction but it just did not make the trip from my brain to my lips…until several minutes later, and by then, the discussion had moved along. My husband laughingly used to tell me that if one word would do in a conversation, I could use 5 to say it. Not so anymore. I accommodate by using a less optimal word.
There are times my memory seems to be completely blank. For example: when having guests for a meal, if they choose to join me in the kitchen and try to chat, the distraction takes my focus from my meal preparation and adds stress to the process. The adapting part, I found, had to take place long before the guests arrived. Now, I prepare as much as possible ahead of time to minimize the effect of background chatter. All that remains for me to do is to put dinner in the oven.
Another distressing scenario is sitting at the keyboard, looking at the notes on the staff and realize I must return to basics: the lines and spaces of music. The automatic former identification has seemed to vanish, but persistence and repetition does help.
Though a scary, and a new development in my own personal life, I am not totally unfamiliar with the changes I am noting. Both my mother and her mother suffered from this disease, so from personal experience, I would like to share some tips I have learned along the way for supportive family members as well as the person with dementia.
- A good approach is what is called “KISS” (Keep it Slow and Simple). When communicating or giving direction for any task, wait before giving additional directions until the first is carried out. One step at a time works best. Any directions are easier for me if they are in a list that I can cross off.
- Simplify living space by labeling the contents in a cupboard. Put matching clothing on the same hanger to prevent a glaring mismatch. If you fear burners on a cook stove are being left on, Remove the fuses any time you or a caregiver will be away from your loved one.
If you or your loved one are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, there is a window of opportunity to do some important preparation for what is ahead. There is help available to you.
- Choose a family member or friend to be your Power of Attorney. Speak to a lawyer about this. This should be someone who would make decisions in your best interest…decisions that you yourself would make if able. Similarly, you would be wise to make a will if you do not have one.
- Talk with family about family treasures they might like to have. Document what each person is to receive at the time of your passing.
- Prearrange your funeral according to your wishes. Often these can be prepaid as well.
- Your family doctor can be asked to have an Occupational Therapist assess your home for safety, and accessibility and to make recommendations to simplify daily living for the future. Your Doctor could also consult a speech/language therapist on your behalf if there is difficulty in conversation.
- Arrange for a MedicAlert bracelet that communicates your name diagnosis, and address.
- Similarly, a Lifeline can be reassuring for you and your family if you live alone. Worn around your neck or on your wrist, by pressing the button you will start an alert to a friend or family member that help is needed. You can wear them even in the shower.
- Many communities have a Meals on Wheels program to assist in providing nutritious and well-balanced meals once a day.
- Home makers in your community can be helpful in making “in-home meals”, do cleaning of the house, and might even get groceries.
- Should you need pieces of equipment in your home to assist, Red Cross provides many items on a short-term loan basis, for free with a doctor’s order or that of a therapist.
- Some cities and communities have a Seniors’ hand book with a list of resources for that area. So a phone inquiry to your town office might give you additional ideas of local services.
Early on in my memory lapses, I was directed to the Alzheimer Society. I was assigned a First Link Coordinator for my area, who called and provided me with literature. She has continued to follow up on occasion, and through her, I was informed of the Society’s Minds in Motion program – a half hour each week of physical exercise followed by a half hour mental exercise portion. It is all aimed at keeping us thinking. It has been fun!
During the pandemic, this online contact with others who have cognitive challenges was without mask or worry of being exposed to COVID-19. It was a pandemic lifeline for me to have some interaction with others. After many weeks of participation in this program, I feel the facilitators and the other participants are my “online friends.”
Some hints for families visiting the home of loved ones, or living as support for a loved one.
- Almost every senior loves to see babies and well behaved young children; they are non-threatening, and yes, they might cry, but we women can relate to caring for babies and young ones. I have fond memories of sitting on my grandmother’s knee as a young child. She ever so gently, rubbed my arm, mesmerizing her granddaughter into a near sleep relaxation. Include Grandmother when you walk your baby, allowing time with both individuals in a relaxed fresh air exercise.
- In most cases, the next best thing to taking a baby for a visit, is to take a well-behaved pet. Take the pet for a walk and include your loved one.
- Have your loved one get exercise, even walking around the house or to and from the neighbour’s house allows physical exercise as well as a change from the beloved but unchanging walls of home. When walking, offer your arm for stability. Your loved one then has control of how strongly they grip and can give you a slight hint to go more slowly if necessary.
- Music is also a universal language. Quiet and soothing music can calm someone troubled. Familiar more peppy music can get the toes tapping. At the least it is entertaining. A sing along with favorites is ideal. Choose your loved one’s favorites to enjoy with you.
If you are reading this article, and have a loved one starting on this road, I hope you will find information and help in the days ahead. I encourage you to access the resources that are at your fingertips. Doing the things I can do is a better focus than bemoaning the things I am unable to do. Help is indeed available, tap into it.