October 2012 Newsletter


Nov. 13 is National Memory Screening Day, free screenings offered

The public can take advantage of free memory screenings on Nov. 13 at hundreds of sites across the United States and around the world.  The screenings are offered to promote early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses.  Participants should follow up with their own physicians if the screenings identify any potential problems.  The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) and a variety of healthcare organizations serve as co-sponsors of the event.  The screening, which takes about 10 minutes, is administered by healthcare professionals who use the Mini-Mental State Examination.  The exams gauge a person’s abilities during tasks that assess memory and other cognitive functions.  The AFA established a Web site where users can input their country and zip code to find a participating site in their area.  The memory screenings are one event used to celebrate National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

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Divorced parents and multiple marriages add to the caregiver motif

The depiction of a family that has remained supportive of each other for years presents another lasting, yet stereotypical image of caregiver and patient.  Unfortunately, the divorce rate and multiple marriages blow that conventional image away, wrote Chris Taylor, a contributor to Reuters.  Taylor focuses his piece on the efforts of adult siblings who care for divorced, aging parents.  The writer uses Devin Pope as the chief subject of his article.  Pope, a 33 year old, is caring for his parents who divorced after 27 years of marriage.  For his family, instead of his aging parents relying on each other for support, they rely on their children, mostly Pope.  After his father suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and without much short-term memory, Pope’s parents decided to divorce.  Now Pope, a financial adviser, is dividing his time between supporting both parents, which he says is time consuming and emotionally draining.  Taylor interviewed a number of experts, including Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green University, where she led a team of researchers on a recent study.  Findings from the study concluded that one in three baby boomers is currently unmarried and that 60 percent of unmarried boomers are divorced.  We found that unmarried boomers are much more economically vulnerable than married boomers are, Brown said.  The researchers found that unmarried boomers were more likely to be poor, on public assistance, and less likely to have health insurance.  Divorced boomers were also more likely to have a disability, the study found.  Multiple marriages are another aspect of the caregiving motif that is generally not on the radar.  In this situation, adult children may have to care for their stepparent as well as their biological parent.  They may have to make tough choices for their parents, while working with stepsiblings they may not be close to, or even know very well, Taylor wrote.  The writer says divorce presents a two-fold challenge for adult siblings, namely financial concerns along with emotional ones.  He says experts suggest taking financial action early.  The best plan of advice is to call a family meeting, said Joy Loverde, author of “The Complete Eldercare Planner.”  At the meeting, the family should work together to devise a plan that addresses issues that may arise in the future, including how to pay for living expenses and medical costs.  Inquiring about long-term health insurance, obtaining a reverse mortgage, re-entering the workforce, and providing help to claim money that is due your aging parents are some of the methods adult siblings should investigate to pay expenses, Taylor wrote.  For Pope, his mother has gone back to work, while they secured personal assets, including Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits, to help his father.  The biggest challenge is balancing it all, Pope said.

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Caregiving picture does not incorporate medical and nursing tasks

With life expectancy rates continuing to climb in the U.S., the number of family caregivers increases as well.  To highlight that statistic, when we turn on our televisions or go to the movies, happy and content family caregivers and their loved ones often greet us.  While that representation is great for productions, columnist Paula Span writes that it does not characterize the true image of caregiving.  Span, an author and the caretaker of The New York Times’ “The New Old Age” blog, wants to publicly document an unacknowledged shift in the role of a caregiver.  Generally, the family caregiver helped their loved one with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and preparing meals.  Now, along with those duties, caregivers are frequently performing medical and nursing tasks.  Span writes that professionals used to perform those tasks, but somewhere along the way, medical and nursing duties fell under the purview of family caregivers.  Some of the tasks include giving injections, using feeding tubes and dialysis equipment, operating a ventilator, and dressing a patient’s wounds.  Most family caregivers perform these duties without any training, supervision or someone to call for advice, if they need help.  Span cites statistics from a survey conducted by Knowledge Networks and commissioned by Carol Levine, of the United Hospital Fund, and Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute.  Knowledge Networks contacted 1,677 people who care for an adult relative or friend.  Levine and Reinhard turned the survey into a study, which found that 46 percent of the respondents were doing medical/nursing tasks in addition to helping with the activities of daily living.  Other conclusions from the study that found more than three-quarters of family caregivers reported that they managed medications, while one-third said they performed nursing tasks and over a third described wound care as particularly difficult, Span wrote.  The people who are not doing these tasks will be doing them, Levine said.  While Levine and Reinhard do not believe professionals will ever return to doing the medical and nursing tasks, they are calling on health care providers, federal policy makers and professional associations to find ways to better train and support family caregivers.

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Child recalls her father’s battle and her years as a caregiver

Stefania Silvestri shares a vivid memory of helping care for her father who died of Alzheimer’s disease.  Silvestri was only 14 years old when her father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 48.  Silvestri used her experiences to pen new book, titled “Beside The Mountain: Finding Strength and Courage Through My Father’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.”  The volume recalls her father’s six-year battle against Alzheimer’s and how she came to terms with her struggle as a teenager.  While her father battled the disease, Silvestri helped care for him along with her two sisters and their mother.  The Huffington Post contains a captivating excerpt from her book that recalls her falling asleep next to her father while he sat in his recliner watching the stock market channel.  When she woke about an hour later, she discovered that her father had slipped away.  Silvestri looked around the room and realized he was gone.  Around the same time, she heard her mother screaming from upstairs that she could not find her husband.  Silvestri jumped into her mother’s car in an effort to find her father.  In the midst of looking for him, she narrates other interactions she had with her father.  She remembers taking a walk with him.  She balked at her mother’s suggestion to take him out, but felt shame when she saw her father’s reaction to her mother’s request.  He was excited and off they went.  Silvestri walked with him to an area where her best friend lived.  The location also served as a place she would go to smoke and drink the miniature liquor bottles she stole from her parents.  She later learned these little bottles were memories from her parents’ past.  Eventually, she saw him walking down a street, but he kept walking after she beeped the horn and yelled at him.  After pleading and begging, he finally got into the car and they drove home.

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Preserve your memories with journals, photo albums and brain games

For anyone that is getting “up in age,” especially those with memory ailments, the memories you hold should be passed down to your families’ younger generations.  Sarah Jennings, a lifetime caregiver who writes for Brookdale Assisted Living, says that Americans are living longer and seniors can do a whole lot more than their counterparts did 50 years ago.  In a piece for The Washington Times, she suggests a few ways seniors could keep their mind sharp and pass on their legacy before their memories start to fade.  While some may disagree, Jennings recommends using mental exercises to keep your mind fit.  Along with tackling crosswords, Sudoku and other brain puzzles, there are many Web sites that cater to brain-strengthening games.  Photo albums are another way to help preserve your past experiences.  There are stores and hobby shops dedicated to scrapbook making.  If you have a digital camera, or an Internet-connected device, you can send your recent adventures instantly to loved ones.  Jennings’ last suggestion is to keep a journal.  She says that when we write down information, it is recorded differently than when we speak it or review it in our heads.  Written information allows the author to go back and double check facts before you tell the story during family gatherings.  After your death, or if memory loss is a problem, the remaining family members can go through the photo albums and journals to gather important milestones in your life.  Preserving your memories is a great way to keep your brain sharp and remain connected to your family.

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Easier mealtime for caregivers, if family prepares extra portions

Asking for help is one of the best things caregivers can do to assist their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease and themselves.  For most patients with Alzheimer’s, the loving person who serves as the primary caregiver is generally a family member who dedicates him or herself to the responsibility.  With all the challenges they face throughout the day, Dotty St. Amand, writing for The News-Press, says that other family members and friends can make mealtime easier by pitching in to help.  Preparing dinner is much harder for male caregivers who usually relied on their spouse to plan, shop, cook, and place dinner on the table.  After meeting the physical challenges of caring for their much larger husband, cooking late in the day might also pose a problem for women who are tired and had a stressful day.  Amand, an administrator at a memory care assisted living facility, says meal preparation could be the perfect time for other family members to provide some assistance to the caregiver.  She suggests family members, or friends, prepare extra portions of the dinners they cook during the week, and place these additional helpings in freezer-safe containers.  A trip to the grocery store will help beef up the meal by adding a fresh loaf of bread and a couple of salad kits.  A few days later, family members should deliver these extra portions to the caregiver, allowing him to sail through dinnertime for a whole week, Amand wrote.  The writer also suggests choosing one day each week to pick up the couple’s favorite takeout meal.  In addition, to show their love and support, family members and friends who deliver food can take turns eating a meal each week with the couple.  Amand wrote that one of the best things family and friends can do to help their caregivers is to become their biggest advocate.  For mealtime help, caregiver support can include discovering resources to help meet more challenging areas, cooking classes, and hiring a companion service to allow the caregiver the opportunity to shop.

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