November 2012 Newsletter


November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

In the United States, the month of November is distinguished as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.  Throughout the month, advocates raise awareness, families honor loved ones who lost the battle to the disease, sponsors hope to raise additional funds, and some families might mark milestones as they care for those living with the condition.  November is the time to focus on Alzheimer’s so that we can move towards a cure, writes Derek Jones, a certified senior advisor at Griswold Home Care, which is billed as the nation’s oldest provider of home care for seniors and elders.  Jones notes that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s typically affects those aged 65 and older.  However, the number of people with Alzheimer’s doubles every five years beyond age 65.  That means that among men and women between the ages of 65 and 74, five percent of them have the disease, Jones wrote.  Alzheimer’s experts estimate that nearly half of the population aged 85 and over have Alzheimer’s.  The writer says that while age is a factor, the Alzheimer’s research community is still studying other factors that contribute to the onset of the condition.  Researchers believe that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are medical conditions that might increase a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s.  Jones cites some of the issues people living with Alzheimer’s endure, including trouble finding the right word, keeping track of a conversation or remembering how to complete every day tasks.  And while this disease devastates those living with it, caregivers and families also pay a heavy price to help their loved ones combat the disease.  That is why November is also designated as National Family Caregivers Month.  Jones talks with two family caregivers who say Alzheimer’s wrecks havoc on the family as well as the patient.  Linda, one of the caregivers, articulates the toll it takes, but says it does not compare to what her father is going through.  Mary, the other family caregiver, recommends caregivers learn about Alzheimer’s and how to cope.  She suggests caregivers join a support group and learn to swallow their pride and ask for help.  Mary said it also helps to be an advocate as it makes her feel like you are fighting back.

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An introduction to Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease experts estimate the number of cases of the disease will more than triple by 2050.  After physicians tell their clients they have Alzheimer’s, many newly, diagnosed patients will embark on a quest to discover how the disease will affect their lives.  Chris Kelly, the Director of Learning and Development at Griswold Home Care, provides readers with a basic summary of some questions and answers asked by people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  While many people are familiar with the term Alzheimer’s disease, most do not know that Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.  Dementia is the big, umbrella term used to describe any condition, which causes problems with memory and thinking, that impacts a person’s ability to function, Kelly wrote.  In his answer to “What is Alzheimer’s disease,” he writes that it is a progressive disease and says there is no cure.  He also responds to questions of what causes Alzheimer’s and addresses who develops the disease.  Kelly lists the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, writing that short-term memory loss is one of the earliest signs.  (See the following article for a more detailed summary of warning signs.)  The final question involves treatment plans for Alzheimer’s.  Of course, early diagnosis and treatment is the best course of action.  While there is no cure for the disease, medical professionals try to help patients maintain their mental function, manage behavioral symptoms, and slow the symptoms of the disease, Kelly wrote.  Pharmaceutical companies and researchers are studying a number of drugs, but only five have gained the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.  If you suspect your loved ones, or yourself, is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, schedule an appointment with a doctor, who may arrange an additional meeting with a specialist.

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Warning signs that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s

We are all going to age, but memory loss is not a normal part of aging.  While we laugh and joke about someone’s “senior moments,” frequent bouts of forgetfulness are signs of something more severe.  Is your loved one having trouble following conversations, balancing a checkbook or getting lost while driving?  These are some indicators that call for a medical evaluation.  Some loved ones may have noticed that they have difficulty performing certain tasks, but they may have adopted tactics to mask their issues.  If you are concerned that a loved one is experiencing memory loss, the Alzheimer’s Association created a brochure called the “Know the 10 Signs.”  The first warning sign is to look for memory changes that disrupt daily life.  Forgetting recently learned information is the biggest indicator for this sign.  Loved ones may forget important dates and repeatedly ask questions for the same information.  The second sign covers challenges in planning or solving problems.  You may notice your loved one has trouble concentrating and needs additional time to complete tasks that used to be easy to solve.  The third warning involves difficulty completing familiar tasks.  Examples of such behaviors include struggling to remember the rules of a favorite game or forgetting how to drive to and from a familiar place.  Confusion with time or place is the fourth sign.  With this indicator, your loved one may lose track of time, dates, seasons, and the passage of time.  The fifth sign concerns trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.  Obvious difficulty when reading, judging distance, and determining color and contrast are some warnings.  They may also have issues with spatial perception, which is how we perceive or react to the size, distance, or depth aspects of our surroundings.  The sixth sign concerns issues with words in speaking and writing.  People with Alzheimer’s may struggle with vocabulary and have problems finding the right word.  They may also call items by the wrong name.  Misplacing items or losing the ability to retrace steps is the seventh sign.  People with Alzheimer’s may accuse family of stealing because they tend to put things in unusual places and cannot figure out where they stashed their possessions.  The eighth sign is decreased or poor judgment.  For this sign, people experience changes in judgment or decision-making.  They may use poor judgment when handling money and become victims of telemarketers.  A withdrawal from work or social activities is the ninth sign.  People may avoid being social because of the changes they are experiencing and have trouble keeping up with their favorite team or completing a cherished hobby.  The last step concerns changes in mood and personality.  Once a person with Alzheimer’s is out of their comfort zone, they can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious.  They may also become easily upset when someone tries to alter their routines.  Frequent issues, or a combination of these signs, should result in an appointment with the family doctor to help discover the root of the problem.

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Patient with Alzheimer’s shares her story

While health experts defined a set of symptoms that denote the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Janice Pfeilschifter says each individual has a unique experience with the disease.  Pfeilschifter, in a piece for the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Voices of Alzheimer’s” blog, adds her point of view to those who are managing life with Alzheimer’s.  She shares her own perspective of discovering she has Alzheimer’s, dealing with how the diagnosis will affect her, and being impelled to plan for her future.  Last year, at age 62, she landed at the starting point of the Alzheimer’s journey after she noticed she was having problems with balance and gait.  Pfeilschifter, who is a two-time cancer survivor, wrote that her doctor suspected that her cancer had returned and spread to her brain.  She reacted with shock and devastation when she learned the results of her tests revealed she had Alzheimer’s.  Pfeilschifter turned to the Alzheimer’s Association for help after learning of her diagnosis.  She is a member of the organization’s National Early-Stage Advisory Group.  As a former teacher and school principal, Pfeilschifter uses the techniques of taking notes to document conversations with students, parents, and teachers to help with her day-to-day activities.  After learning of her diagnosis, she retired from teaching third grade, but she still stays active in her career by tutoring and working at after-school programs.  As an early-stage patient with Alzheimer’s, she still lives alone and is proudly independent.  To stay safe, she sticks to routines, including placing her keys in a specific place and ensuring the stove is turned off every night.  In preparation for her future, Pfeilschifter has already appointed her brother-in-law as the person who will act on her behalf, giving him power-of-attorney.  She has also started visiting long-term care facilities in her area.  Health experts advise patients with Alzheimer’s to maintain their circle of friends and social lives.  At the end of her piece, Pfeilschifter touts her friendship with a lady named Jean.  The two met while teaching together a few years before Pfeilschifter’s diagnosis.  Jean is whom she is most thankful for, as she nurtures her soul, Pfeilschifter wrote.  As we observe National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Month, Pfeilschifter is thinking of those who are facing Alzheimer’s and the caregivers who provide love and support, she wrote.

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Don’t feel guilty about asking family and friends for help

Some caregivers may be so busy they may not have the time to investigate additional resources.  To get some support, they should not feel guilty about asking family members for help.  Ellen Kleinerman, a reporter for The Plain Dealer, tells us about Jeff Jenkins, a 50 year old who cares for his mother at night, while working as a nurse during the day at Cleveland Clinic.  Jenkins is drained, but he says he wants to do all he can for his 78-year-old mother.  My mother sacrificed everything for me, he said.  Jenkins is fortunate enough to hire a paid caregiver while he works his shifts at the clinic.  Many caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s are turning to the at-home senior-care industry, Kleinerman wrote.  Caregivers who hire someone to come to their homes benefit by ultimately lengthening the time they can perform their duties effectively, according to health care experts.  Of course, many caregivers cannot afford to hire outside help, that is why they should ask family members and friends for assistance.  Do not hesitate to ask, said Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the renowned relationship therapy and sex advice guru.  Westheimer authored a new book, called “Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver,” with Pierre A. Lehu.  Westheimer, better known as Dr. Ruth, says relatives can help by assisting in small ways that add up to a significant respite for the caregiver.  She also suggests creating a help registry, similar to a bridal registry, which gives family and friends ideas of tasks that would help out the caregiver.  Caregivers can also do things for themselves by choosing a hobby or a light chore to accomplish with their patient with Alzheimer’s, Westheimer suggested.

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Nurses face a dilemma when family asks about patient’s condition

Telling a little white lie or simply stating the facts are the two choices nurses face when family members ask about their patient with Alzheimer’s disease, a small study found.  The study, conducted by researchers at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., posed questions to 32 nurses and care assistants, writes Robert Preidt for HealthDay News.  The goal of the study was to discover what types of social support the nurses thought was most helpful for families of patients with Alzheimer’s.  The study also found that nurses had difficulty answering family members who did not have power of attorney, but asked about a patient’s condition, regardless of the health information privacy laws, Preidt wrote.  The nurses and care assistants believe their role is to offer the family options for care instead of providing advice to family members.  The family member’s lack of understanding of the common set of expectations creates a difference in the perception of the role of nurses.  To counter that misperception, the study participants offered several strategies to help them communicate with families.  The first step is meet with the families to develop a common set of care expectations.  Secondly, make caregiving more visible by performing some tasks in the family’s presence.  Lastly, emphasize to relatives that visiting the patient is also good for the visitor.  Training that discusses the experience of family uncertainty, and how to manage it, would help nursing staff, said study author Anne Stone, an assistant professor in the Rollins’ Department of Communication.

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