Archive for October 2014

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Overcoming Denial When a Loved One Shows Signs of Alzheimer’s

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Alzheimer’s is, above all, an insidious disease. Its symptoms often begin so mildly and progress so slowly that it’s easy for friends and loved ones to deny them until one day there’s a ‘defining incident;’ an incident so bizarre that not even the spouse, child or other loved one can ignore it or explain it away.

Yet the disease typically starts with things of little or no significance. Not being able to come up with a common word. Mixing up someone’s name. Forgetting to turn off the stove. Things we all do from time to time. But for the person just entering the fringes of Alzheimer’s these things may begin to happen more and more often.

Years may pass between the earliest occasional confusion and the ‘defining incident.’ And during those years, the person may annoy or even anger friends and family members by being late, forgetting important appointments, being short-tempered, being unable to perform routine tasks, and exhibiting a whole variety of other troublesome behaviors.

But people noticing consistent signs of confusion and forgetfulness in a loved one should not wait for the ‘defining incident.’ One early action to take is to review the Alzheimer’s Association 10 Signs of Dementia and ask yourself whether your loved one is showing one or more of them:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work and at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Losing things and the inability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

The Alzheimer’s Association web site has additional information about each of these items and explains how they differ from things ‘normal people’ do from time to time.

It’s easy to ignore these signs or fail to connect the dots, but when a loved one is showing them it’s essential to dig down deep into your soul and find the emotional strength to get a medical evaluation. No one wants to be evaluated, or have a loved one evaluated, for Alzheimer’s disease, but sometimes it has to be done – and the sooner the better.


Alzheimer’s and Humor: An Alzheimer’s Patient’s Funny Trick

Friday, October 24th, 2014

After finishing each meal at the Alois Center, Ed would always clean his spoon with a napkin, wrap it in another napkin, put it in the breast pocket of his sport coat and take it back to his room. He knew very well he shouldn’t be stealing those spoons.

Pretty soon his room would have spoons all over the place so the staff would go get them and return them to the kitchen. But sure enough, the next day he would start a new collection.

I often sat with him when he was eating and had observed this behavior many times.

Finally, one day when he started his cleaning ritual I said to him, “Don’t take that spoon, Ed. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the facility.”

“Oh, no!” he said, loudly. “I take them every day with no remorse!”

We both had a good laugh about that.

The point of this story is that some people with Alzheimer’s can be playful sometimes. Also, they may make up their own activities.








A Special Concert in Ed’s Room

Friday, October 17th, 2014

“Please wear a tux,” I said over the phone to the classical violinist I was hiring to play a special concert for Ed in his room. As I was talking to Don to make the arrangements, I described Ed’s dementia, adding that he had been a college professor who loved classical music.

When Don arrived on the day of the concert, I introduced him to Ed and told Ed that Don was going to play a special violin concert for him.

“Oh. Superb! Wonderful! I’m honored!” Ed said as he shook Don’s hand.

I had the feeling Ed was really impressed by the tux.

Don sat down in front of Ed and began playing a Strauss Waltz.

Ed looked captivated. His eyes glued to Don, he had a rapt expression on his face and moved in time with the music.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he boomed while clapping at the end of the Waltz. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I have heard ever in my entire, very long, and I emphasize very long life. And I really mean it. It’s from my heart – not just words from my lips.”

Then Ed reached his hand toward Don and Don grasped and held it. They sat there for a few moments, holding hands and making small talk.

“What did you teach when you were a professor?” Don asked.

“I don’t remember,” Ed answered. Then he added, “Honestly, I’m not even sure I was a professor.”

Don played half an hour longer, the music interspersed with more hand holding and small talk. When the concert was finished, I asked Don to sit on the sofa beside Ed so I could take a picture of them.

In the pictures Ed looked as happy as I’d ever seen him. In the one that was taken when they were sitting on the sofa Ed put his hand on Don’s arm, as proud as if he were sitting next to the President or the Queen of England.

I knew that Ed wouldn’t remember the concert the next day – or even the next hour, but he had enjoyed every minute of it while it was happening – and that’s what mattered.

I also knew that, even though he wouldn’t remember why, he’d probably be in a good mood all the rest of that day.



Attending a Support Group Could Improve Your Quality of Life

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

What Is a Support Group? A support group is a regular meeting of people with the same illness or life situation (such as being a caregiver).

Support Group Formats: Some groups are structured and educational, bringing in speakers; in others the primary purpose is for members to share their feelings and experiences as well as give encouragement and practical advice to each other. Some groups meet in person, others meet online, and still others meet via phone.

Who Leads the Group? In some cases groups name their own leaders; other times a trained professional facilitates the meeting. Some Alzheimer’s caregiver groups provide free care for the person being cared for so that caregivers can be free to attend the meetings.

Meeting ‘Rules:’ The first is usually that any information shared is confidential. Secondly, only one person is allowed to talk at a time. Finally, members are instructed not to be judgmental. An additional rule for caregiver support groups is that the focus is on the caregiver – not the person being cared for.

General Benefits of Support Groups: It can be helpful just to talk with other people who are in the same situation you are in. Although some people may not feel like speaking up, according to an article on the Area Agency on Aging website, it can be helpful just to listen in.

Specific Benefits: According to a Mayo Clinic website article, some benefits of participating in support groups include:

–       Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged

–       Gaining a sense of empowerment and control

–       Improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment

–       Talking openly and honestly about your feelings

–       Reducing distress, depression or anxiety

–       Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation

–       Getting practical advice or information about treatment options

–       Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options

How to Find a Support Group: To find a support group ask your doctor, check with your friends or acquaintances who are caregivers, or call your local Area Agency on Aging or your chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. You can also go to the Alzheimer’s Association website ( and search for a group near you or sign up for one of the online support groups the Association operates.

Is anyone attending a support group? If so, is it helpful to you?