Archive for March 2012

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Three Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Myth 1: Memory loss is a natural part of aging. Reality: In the past people believed memory loss was a normal part of aging, often regarding even Alzheimer’s as natural age-related decline. Experts now recognize severe memory loss as a symptom of serious illness. Whether memory naturally declines to some extent is a research challenge still being addressed.

Myth 2: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal. Reality: Alzheimer’s disease has no survivors. It destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions, and eventually leads to death.

Myth 3: Only older people can get Alzheimer’s. Reality: Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 50s, 40s or even 30s. This is called younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s estimated that there are as many as 200,000 people with Alzheimer’s in the US who are under age 65.

Adapted from: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp

 

What If Ed Never Had Alzheimer’s?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

To tell you the complete truth I have to say that Ed was far more contented when he had Alzheimer’s than he ever was before.

When Ed began becoming demented he was frustrated and afraid of his early symptoms. What’s more, he spent a lot of time thinking about death. He was angry and depressed. He drank to excess – starting at noon and continuing all day and half the night.

I couldn’t take care of him at a certain point and we fought constantly about him going to a nursing home. But eventually he became so demented he forgot his opposition to the idea and finally agreed.

He was very depressed and was having delusions and hallucinations, and so his doctor put him on three psychotropic medications.  Within a few weeks he became the most contented, loving and loveable man you’d ever want to meet.  When the cleaning lady came in to empty his trash basket, for example, he kissed her hand and told her how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have her help.

He became a joy to be with. He no longer worried about death because he didn’t have the capacity to think about the future. And he didn’t stew over any unpleasant things that happened to him because he forgot them all very promptly.

Our love returned to the state it was when we’d first met 30 years earlier. He was a true joy for me, and he himself was very contented – much more so than I’d ever seen him. He knew and experienced joy even on the last day of his life.

What if Ed never had Alzheimer’s?

 

 

Convincing a Person with Dementia Symptoms to Go to a Doctor

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

In the early stages of the illness the person with dementia (as well as the family members) is often in denial. They realize something is wrong and try to understand it in any way possible that doesn’t involve the words ‘Alzheimer’s’ or ‘dementia.’  At this stage many people refuse to discuss their symptoms with their doctor.

 Carol Steinberg, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org), says that you may be able to talk to a person with mild symptoms in a rational way, stating the importance of finding out what’s wrong and pointing out that the problem could be something other than Alzheimer’s that could be treated, and that if it is Alzheimer’s disease, the earlier it is diagnosed the better since available medications appear to work better earlier in the disease process. Furthermore, a diagnosis enables families to plan for the future and take advantage of support services.

“But for those with more severe symptoms,” says Steinberg, “you may have to use what we refer to as ‘therapeutic fibbing.’ For example, you might tell the person you have a doctor’s appointment and ask them to go with you.” This, of course, would have to be prearranged so the physician will know the real reason for the visit.

 

Should a Person With Alzheimer’s Be Told the Diagnosis?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

This can be a difficult ethical issue. Telling or not telling the patient about the diagnosis is a personal decision. “In most instances it’s better to let people know,” says Carol Steinberg, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org). They have a right to know. This helps them understand what’s going on and work to come to terms with it. It also allows them to participate in medical, legal and financial decisions that will have to be made.”

In some cases, however, the diagnosis is best not communicated to the patient. I personally decided not to tell Ed. He had often told me he’d commit suicide if he got Alzheimer’s, and I knew he had a stash of valium tablets he’d been amassing over the years for that very purpose. I wasn’t sure he’d actually do it, but I didn’t want to take a chance. He was an extremely strong-willed and proud man. It should be pointed out, however, that according to Steinberg, the role of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia as a risk factor for suicide is controversial, with the risk linked to co-existing depression in some studies.

 

Stunning New Alzheimer’s Film to Air on PBS on March 29th

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Last night I watched a review copy of a stunning new Alzheimer’s documentary, You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here But I Don’t. It’s set to premiere on PBS 29th.

The movie gives the viewer glimpses into the day-to-day life of Lee Gorewitz, a spirited yet introspective Alzheimer’s patient. Unlike many Alzheimer’s movies, this one focuses exclusively on the patient – not her loved ones. Her friends and family don’t even appear on the screen, and the roles of the staff and other residents are minimized. This is not your typical Alzheimer’s movie. Lee is so mesmerizing that at times I felt I was watching a gifted actress rather than a real-life dementia patient.

Though she rarely makes a statement that is entirely coherent and relevant, Lee speaks extensively. It’s easy to see that she understands what she means even if we don’t. The most amazing scenes are when she dances so stylishly you’d never guess she has dementia.

This riveting film grabbed my attention immediately and held it through the final scene. When it ended I felt sad – not because of the subject matter but because I wanted to spend more time with this unique and endearing woman with whom I’d fallen in love. I missed her so I turned around and watched the entire movie again.

Mark March 29th on your calendar. You don’t want to miss this film on PBS.

Helping Alzheimer’s Patients Remember

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Most people think Alzheimer’s patients have no memories, but many of them do if you just know how to help them remember. Here are several ways you can prompt dementia patients to recall memories:

  1. Sit with them and look at old family photo albums together. These often bring back memories you thought were lost forever.
  2. Sing songs with them that were popular in their 20s or 30s. Surprisingly, many people with dementia can sing and remember the words to songs even in the later stages of the disease when they don’t even talk anymore. Equally surprising is that patients who can hardly walk may get up and start dancing.
  3. Watch movies or old TV shows they used to like. These, too, can lead to recalling fond memories.
  4. Get them involved in decorating the house or doing crafts for holidays. Holidays usually leave an emotional impact on people, and those emotions can help Alzheimer’s patients remember holidays past.
  5. Tap into their senses, such as the sense of smell. The aroma of apple pie, for example, may lead to vivid memories of their grandmother baking back when they were a child.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

I have been asked by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to interview their CEO or Executive Vice President for 2 stories I’ll be publishing on the Huffington Post. One deals with getting a diagnosis. The other deals with helping Alzheimer’s patients recall memories. Stay tuned. I’ll give you the links when the articles are published.

Ten Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer’s Patient

Thursday, March 8th, 2012
  1. Make eye contact.
  1. Be at their level physically.
  2. Tell them what you are going to do before you do it.
  3. Speak calmly.
  4. Speak slowly.
  5. Speak in short sentences.
  6. Only ask one question at a time.
  7. Don’t say “remember”.
  8. Turn negatives into positives.
  9. Do not argue with them.

These tips are from Carole Larkin, a geriatric care manager in Dallas.  These tips are a shortened form of an article originally published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room. (http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2010/03/ten-tips-for-communicating-with.html#more). I will be presenting a more detailed version of this list in my April Newsletter.

When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s: Realization vs Acceptance

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Realization and acceptance are two different things. It’s one thing to finally realize someone close to you has Alzheimer’s. It’s a completely different thing to accept that fact.

After months or even years of being in denial, most people finally realize Alzheimer’s has struck. But many people never really come to accept the situation. Some never become at peace with the diagnosis and all that it means. They know it in their brains, but as hard as they try they can’t accept it in their hearts.  The bold truth is so painful we can push it to the back of our minds.

To come to terms with Alzheimer’s we must first let go of the previous person and embrace the new person – just as they are. And since that person will continue changing as time goes by, we must constantly let go of the old and accept the new.

We must fall in love again with the person as he or she is in the present and let go of the person we used to love. That person is never coming back in the same way they used to be.

We must learn to let go and learn to love again.