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Is Alzheimer’s Disease a growing problem?

Is Alzheimer’s Disease a growing problem these days or has it always been around but called a different name, or not as frequently diagnosed?

The term Alzheimer’s Disease was first used in 1910 after Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered shrinkage and abnormal deposits in the brain upon doing an autopsy of a woman who had profound memory loss. In the late 1960’s assessment tools were developed  to measure mental and functional decline in the brains of older adults. Advances in technology allowed scientists to study brain cells in detail and observe during an autopsy that there were similar changes in the brain among those with memory loss.

In 1974 the National Institute on Aging established federal funding for Alzheimer’s research. The Alzheimer’s Association was founded in 1980 to advance research, support those affected by the disease and promote brain health. Efforts by the National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association have increased our awareness of the disease as a nation.

Back in the 60’s & 70’s scientific research and discoveries were not publicized in popular media. When an elderly person seemed confused, we called them senile. Remember the term “hardening of the arteries?” Families would try to keep it hush-hush and help their spouse or parent in the privacy of their own home. In the rare case a diagnosis was made, there were no medications or treatments available.

Fast forward to the current decade and you will notice people are much more forthcoming about illnesses, age-related or otherwise. The generation of Baby Boomers, who tend to be vocal about their wants and needs, and demand solutions to their problems, are now dealing with aging parents.

The rise in the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be simply attributed to better diagnostic tools and the willingness of people to speak openly about their challenges. While the medical community cannot definitively answer the question either, examining risk factors can give us a clue.

The first risk factor is age. The older you get, the greater the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In 1900, 4% of the U.S. population was over the age of 65. In 2012, that percentage increased to 13.7%. As the population grows, so do the number of Alzheimer’s cases.

Family history of Alzheimer’s is another risk factor, and the risk increases if more than one family member has been diagnosed. There is a genetic component to the higher risk, but researchers are also looking into environmental factors family members share. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, risk genes increase the likelihood of getting the disease, but do not guarantee it will happen. Risk genes have been found to be a factor in 20% – 25% of the cases. Deterministic genes, which are found to directly cause the disease, are a factor in less than 5% of the cases.

Other risk factors include diet and exercise, low mental stimulation, and social isolation. It is no secret that Americans could improve their nutrition, increase physical activity, and limit watching TV and other passive brain activities.

It makes sense to propose that as the risk factors of old age, genetics and poor lifestyle choices are present in a greater population in America, so does the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s.

 

 

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Losing Things

Losing essential everyday items can be extremely frustrating. Where are my keys? What have I done with my glasses? I thought I put my checkbook right here on my desk and now it is gone. Why do we keep on losing things when it frustrates us so much?

It may feel comforting to know that you are not alone. Many people often lose things. Research by time management experts estimate that we spend approximately four hours each year searching for lost items. What a waste of time.

There are some simple reasons why we lose things. The first has to do with paying attention. You hear the phone ringing as you unlock the door. In the rush to answer the phone, you set your keys down. No wonder you can’t find your keys the next morning. You weren’t paying attention to where you put them yesterday.

You may just be accustomed to leaving things around the house wherever it is convenient at the time. If you change the spots you keep your checkbook, sometimes on the kitchen counter, sometime on the desk, sometimes in your purse, you won’t know where to look for it.

Although searching for lost objects is irritating, you aren’t bothered by it until it happens. You put your energy into the search, rather than spending time developing the habits to avoid misplacing things in the first place. The problem is solved once you find your keys and you go on your merry way – until it happens again. The cycle repeats over and over.

Identifying the reasons for losing things can help you build a strategy to stop the cycle. Making a commitment to organizing the things you keep losing is a great start.

Make a list of the objects you lose most frequently. You may be relieved to find out that there are just a few things on your list. Then, identify a place where you will store it. For example, you can get a key rack to hang right outside your door. Sunglasses go into a basket on the hall table. The checkbook stays in your purse until it is time to pay bills, then it goes on the top left-hand drawer of your desk.

Don’t lose the list! Stick it on your refrigerator or bulletin board.

Make a commitment to pay attention. Don’t be in such a rush. It will take more time to find you coat if you hastily throw it over a chair, than making the effort to hang it in the closet. If you must throw it over the chair, take the time to say out loud – I am leaving my coat on the chair where I can easily find it when I have to go out soon.

Put like objects together. Don’t store some medications in your bathroom cabinet, others on your night stand and others in the kitchen. Keep spices in the same place, store rice next to the pasta. If you have a hard time remembering where things should go (or to prevent others in your household spoiling your new organizational skills) place labels on shelves, plastic containers, inside drawers and cabinets.

Make a list to keep in your car when you are running errands. If it just occurs to you that Fido is low on kibble while driving to the grocery store, simply place an unusual object on your dash in front of the speedometer after parking your car .  When you return, you will notice a napkin right in front of your face. That will jog your memory that you intentionally put it there as a reminder to go to the pet store.

Once you get the hang of it, you can create simple strategies to stop losing things and reduce frustration.

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Masking Memory Loss

As children grow up and leave the nest, they often spread out to different cities and even states. Career opportunities, a desire to live in a different environment, or the location of spouse’s family are just some of the reasons for moving away from their home town. Sometimes, they just need a little breathing room from their siblings or an overbearing parent. Family relations don’t ease with distance but may possibly soften over time. That is until, family members are confronted with a difficult situation.

Let’s say for example Joe, the oldest son, moved to the East Coast shortly after graduating from college. He made a point to visit twice a year, until the demands of his own family and job prevented him from making regular trips back to California. The youngest daughter Julia became a nurse and remained close to her parents in their home town. She and Joe had opposite temperaments and often did not get along. Julia is a natural caregiver and realizes how much she needs to compensate for her mom’s lapses in memory and ability to complete complex tasks. This has been taking its toll on her energy and is affecting her relationship with her own husband and kids. When Joe comes to visit, Mom is on her best behavior.  He doesn’t understand why Julia is so concerned about their mom’s decline. He resists any notion that mom has slipped.  Julia accuses him of being in denial. She becomes angry with Joe because he doesn’t see the sacrifices Julia is making for their mom.

Often times, those who are closest to the person experiencing memory loss are more likely to accurately assess the situation. Family members who are more remote, either physically and/or emotionally don’t seem to accept that there is a problem.

Those in the earlier stages of memory loss often practice a phenomenon I like to call “performing.” They realize they are expected to respond in a certain way while in a familiar situation. In the example above, Mom seems perfectly fine because she is performing. Conversations seem to flow easily because she is in complete agreement with Joe’s comments. She may not be able to articulate that it is hot outside, so she replies “Isn’t that the case.” when Joe remarks on the summertime. She will cover up the fact that she shoes are on the wrong feet because they are so comfortable that she didn’t even notice. She will ask Joe to set the table because he is so good at it, rather than reveal she can’t remember which side to place the fork.

The best way to get a remote sibling to see the real behavior of their parent is to identify the times when, in Joe’s case, mom is performing. He could make a statement that is clearly nonsensical and listen to mom agree. By gently challenging mom to do something spontaneously,  Joe could observe that lost look in her eyes, and perhaps frozen body language. When mom doesn’t know that he is watching, she is likely to reveal herself the way Julia sees her.

When family members can work together to accurately assess memory loss in a parent, they are in the best position to seek the appropriate level of care. Denying or delaying medical treatment for the parent and support for the caregiver is an injustice to the entire family.

 

 

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Reversing Roles between Parent and Child

Age related illnesses often cause parents to depend on their children for care. Roles become reversed. This is a confusing time to shift orientation from the self sufficient parent who guided and supported their children, to a parent who is dependent and needy.

Adults are faced with uncertainty on how to relate to their aging parents. Feelings of guilt, regret, and incompetence accompany the role reversal. No matter how much the adult is compelled by love, decency and gratitude for their parents, it feels strange to  become the caregiver.

Adults of aging parents are often in the stage of their life that is incredibly demanding. They are working long hours and caring for their own offspring. How do they add another time consuming role of caregiving for their own parents? The response we frequently hear is “You do what you have to do.” They squeeze in the time to try to do it all.

There are only 24 hours in a day, so something has to give when dividing time between work, spouse, parents and children. Activities which support well being such as hobbies, fitness activities and socializing are let go. Despite cutting back on time for themselves, there is still not enough time in the day. Adults doubt their effectiveness on the job, in their marriage, at caregiving and parenting.

We offer these tips to those who feel overwhelmed when caring for their parents while managing all of the other responsibilities of their current roles:

  • Acknowledge your feelings, then move on. You may have regrets that you didn’t do enough for your parents, spouse and children. If you realize that no one can please everybody all the time, you might just give yourself a well-deserved break.
  •  Slow down and take a breath. Breathing will calm you down and improve your ability to think with a clear head.
  •  Let go of the notion that no one can do it as well as you. Let others help when offered. Ask for help when needed. Allow your children to help their grandparents within their abilities.
  •  Explore opportunities for respite. There are home health agencies which offer respite services on an hourly basis, and many assisted living communities will provide care for several days/weeks. If there is no money to pay for respite, ask another family member or trusted friend to give you a break.
  •  Realize that you are not alone. Confide in your friends and clergy about your doubts and fears.

Caring for others without short-changing yourself can be tremendously rewarding. It is the greatest honor to help those whom you love.

 
 

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Breaking the News

Breaking the news to a parent that it is time to move from their home into an assisted living facility is one of the most difficult tasks according to most of the families we meet. While some individuals welcome the benefits of living into a senior community, many fear their loss of independence and are not ready to face their inability to care for themselves. We have seen many approaches, and just as individual personalities and situations vary, so do the successful ways in breaking the news.

It is helpful to bring up the idea on several occasions. Mom or Dad will likely resist at the first mention of assisted living, but may warm up to the thought over time. We recommend that you do some research before bringing up the subject. Pre-screen a few communities you think would fit Mom or Dad’s needs. Then, talk to them about their preferences for living arrangements and explore options together. Most communities have web sites where you can take a “virtual tour.” Check out the community’s reputation with their licensing agency, the local Ombudsman’s office and the Alzheimer’s Association. Once you have selected a few, make an appointment for a tour and bring your parent with you. By encouraging their participation, they will become more invested in the idea. Once your parent learns about their living arrangements, activities and comforts of care, they may look forward to moving.

Decorate their new room or apartment before the move. Many communities will encourage bringing bedding, furniture, pictures, and memorabilia. Familiar belongings will trigger feelings of comfort and security. Do not bring valuables or items that you won’t mind getting misplaced or damaged.

Perhaps your parent is very stubborn and absolutely refuses to talk about the idea of moving into assisted living. The idea may become more acceptable if it is based on the recommendation of a trusted doctor. Further, constantly reassure your parent that you and other family members will remain involved in their life, and follow through on that promise.

We definitely do not recommend dropping off them for “lunch,” moving their belongings into their bedroom while they are dining and making a quick get-away. We have witnessed this approach and it always results in a great deal of emotional trauma. Residents of assisted living facilities do not give up their personal rights, and cannot be prevented from leaving if they absolutely refuse to stay there.

Respite care is an option to temporarily try assisted living. Just as a daunting task can be more manageable by breaking it down into smaller steps, respite care allows an individual to stay for a few days, or up to a month, to see if it is the right environment. In our experience, many residents want to stay longer, once they get settled in.

In other cases, the individual’s impaired mental capacity prevents them from being actively involved in the decision making. Many of the same recommendations apply for those with dementia, plus:

  • Carefully research communities and select one which has a dementia program.
  • Speak with the staff about your parent’s background and any special needs.
  • Make the move during their best time of day when they are calmest.
  • Stay positive – your attitude is infectious. Do not communicate any feelings of guilt or anxiety.
  • Provide constant reassurance that Mom or Dad is in a safe place.

 

 

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The difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

There are many misconceptions about Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia. Dementia is actually a set of symptoms which arises from a number of conditions or diseases. AD is one of those diseases. In fact, it is the most common cause of dementia . Other diseases include vascular dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Lewy Body and Pick’s Disease. Brain disorders such as Huntington’s Disease and AIDS can also result in dementia. The diseases are degenerative, meaning the symptoms will get worse over time.

Some causes of dementia are reversible. Reactions to prescription medications, chronic alcohol abuse, thyroid conditions, vitamin deficiencies, brain tumors or water on the brain (hydrocephalus) when successfully treated, can result in the return of brain function.

Dementia symptoms involve more than just difficulty remembering things. The symptoms have to be strong enough to get in the way of accomplishing normal daily tasks. Memory loss, a short attention span, inability to plan or follow a sequence of instructions, finding the right words, and personality changes are just some of the problems faced by a person with dementia. The symptoms cause a change in the person’s abilities compared to what they could do befor.

When a doctor diagnoses a person with AD, it means that the person’s symptoms and test results show that it is highly likely the brain will show the pathological features (plaques and tangles) of AD.

There is no cure for AD, but treatment of the disease and the symptoms of dementia are advancing over time. It is important to consult a physician as early as possible if there a suspicion that a change in the ability to think and recall are getting in the way of handling demands of everyday living. Medications such as the Exelon patch, Namenda and Aricept can be prescribed to slow the progression of the disease.

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Helpful Information for Seniors

A Brand New Day – Redding writes a Senior Living column for the Record Searchlight which can also be seen online at Redding.com. We talk about a wide variety of subjects with common thread about topics relevant to Seniors and their families. To follow is a compilation of last month’s posts. We hope you enjoy them.

Senior Living: How to Determine if Someone is having a Stroke and Manage Risk Factors

25 Oct 2012

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke kills 133,000 people per year and is the leading cause of long-term disability in seniors. Close to 800,000 strokes will happen this year at a rate of one every 40 seconds. Someone will lose their life to a stroke about every four minutes. (click for the entire story)

Senior Living: A Primer on Patient’s Rights in a Skilled Nursing Facility

10 Oct 2012

Don’t believe you are at the mercy of the nurses and administration when you have to spend time recovering at a skilled nursing facility. Read more for a frank Q & A about your rights.  (click for the entire story)

Senior Living: Easy Ways to Prevent Falls while Bathing

5 Sept 2012

Falls are one of the leading reasons for hospitalization among seniors in the United States. Falls result in fractured hips, ribs and bruising, all of which are painful and some require surgery, physical and-or occupational therapy. Falls can happen to the elderly quite easily and can quickly turn into a devastating event. Read more for a way to learn how to make your bathroom safer and reduce your fall risk while bathing. (click for the entire story)

We are on Facebook

If you would like to become a Facebook fan and connect to others who share your interests, please check us out on our Facebook page at ABrandNewDayRedding. Every Friday we have a PhotoTeaser, (click for the entire story)

A Brand New Day is a 26 bed Memory Care assisted living facility in Redding, CA focusing on Alzheimer’s and dementia, respite and hospice care. Our license number is 455001567. We invite you to contact us with any questions when you are concerned about the safety of a loved one at 530.223.1538. We are happy to be your Senior Care resource.

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A Day in the Life at A Brand New Day

I wake up to a sunshine filled room and there is a huge young man greeting me with a friendly “Good Morning Wilbur!” I have no idea where I am, or who he is, but figure that it can’t be that bad because he knows my name and he seems nice.  I fake it and reply “Good Morning to you.” As usual, my bones ache and my feet feel numb, so it is nice that the big guy is strong enough to help me out of bed.

I just wish I could figure out where I am. Oh, wait a minute… aren’t I needed in the barn to collect eggs? My dad and uncle will be so mad at me if they find out that I slept in. I’m going to be in such trouble! I can see that the big guy has a name tag on. It says Adam. I ask Adam for help to get to the barn, but he says we don’t have a barn. Oh my, what is going on?

Adam can see that I am upset so he attempts to comfort me. I don’t know what he is talking about but follow his lead to the bathroom to wash up for breakfast. What a relief, all of my stuff is laid out next to the sink so I know what to do next.

As I walk down the hall, I smell coffee brewing, and bacon and eggs on the stove.  I’ve always loved fresh eggs, but I have this vague feeling that eggs are a problem. I sit down at my spot, surrounded by people,  yet none of the faces are familiar. I am served my favorite breakfast, eat my fill and the plate is removed for me. Mom is such a good cook. Where is she? Where am I?

Adam is back and he is handing me a little paper cup of pills with a glass of water. “Here Wilbur, take your medicine. It will make you feel better.” I trust him and swallow the pills. Now I am following Adam to the living room to watch the morning news. How does he know that I want to look at the news each morning? I literally don’t know him from Adam.

Just as the news is ending, a lady greets me and asks me if I want to go to the Sun Room for Bible Study. I can’t remember when the last time I went to church, so I figured I should go. She walks me to the Sun Room where there are a group of old people sitting around listening to this old guy read from the Bible. How come there are so many old folks around? I sit down on a warm and cushy chair listening to a story about David and Goliath when I wake up with a start. No one is reading from the Bible any more. How long have I been asleep?

I notice a group of people playing a game outside in the courtyard. The lady catches my eye and encourages me to join them. What the heck, I’m good at games. You’d think I won the World Series the way the group cheered when I tossed the ring into the center hole. This feels good!

My stomach is grumbling just when the big guy comes around to help me wash up for supper. What is his name again? We’re having beef stroganoff over egg noodles, broccoli and mixed fruit. I hate broccoli and am relieved that I am not being treated  like a child when I don’t clean my plate. No one says a word when I start in on the cherry pie. We always had a big meal in the middle of the day on the farm, so I know everything is all right. I’m given more pills to swallow.

After the tables are cleared, the big guy and the lady start setting up for bingo. This is popular with the old folks, but I like it too. It seems like everyone else is winning prizes but me, so I get a little grumpy and announce that I’ve had enough. The lady persuades me to stay for one more game. Lo and behold, I win!

I wake up from my recliner and the light is dim outside. Oh, this is so confusing! Where the hell am I? Who are all these people around me? There’s another lady who wants me to swallow a pill but I swat it out of her hand. Where is that big guy? I see shadows through the windows and suspect they are coming right at me. “Get those bastards out of here!” I scream.

Everyone seems so concerned. I follow a younger lady into a brightly lit dining room. She hands me a cup of tea and asks me to tell her about my farm. We talk and fold napkins together. This ain’t so bad.

Now it’s time for dinner. Chicken noodle soup, warm yeast rolls, green salad and chocolate pudding. Mom is such a good cook. Where is she? I haven’t seen her all day.

I settle into my favorite recliner and watch Bonanza.  Another lady, the pretty one, offers me a glass of milk to wash down my night time pills. I’m glad they help me remember because that doctor has put me on so many pills that I couldn’t keep them straight on my own.

All in all, it’s been a good day. I’m tired and ready for bed. The pretty lady tucks me in. I feel safe and warm.

This is a story of an 87 year old man with Alzheimer’s Disease. His short term memory is gone, but his childhood days come back to him vividly. It is not uncommon for those who have Alzheimer’s Disease to experience “Sundowner’s Syndrome” in the late afternoon. While this is a fictional account of a day in his life, it is an accurate reputation of the rhythm of life at A Brand New Day.  

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The Health Benefits of Exercise for Seniors

A Brand New Day – Redding writes a Senior Living column for the Record Searchlight which can also be seen online at Redding.com. We talk about a wide variety of subjects with common thread about topics relevant to Seniors and their families. To follow is a compilation of posts about the benefits of exercise. We hope you will be inspired to get moving

It’s never too late to start an exercise program

Do you need another reason to start to exercise? Perhaps the latest findings will be just the incentive you need to get off the couch.

The American College of Cardiology held its annual scientific meeting in New Orleans, of all places. After all, New Orleans cuisine is not especially known to be heart healthy. Findings from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas were presented at the scientific meeting last week. The study showed that “consistent lifelong exercise preserves heart muscle in the elderly to levels that match or even exceed that of healthy young sedentary people.” (click here for the entire story)

Seniors are living longer and healthier lives

Today’s seniors are living longer than ever. Decades ago, many seniors lived into their 60s or 70s. Today they are entering their 80s, 90s and beyond. This is largely due to advances in medical care, however, practicing healthy lifestyle choices also contributes to greater longevity. (click here for the entire story)

Seniors find health and friendship at the gym

Everybody knows that exercise is good for the body. It lowers your risk for disease, helps you look and feel better and stay active longer.

Exercise isn’t easy, and seniors may have more reservations about the benefits of exercise than other age groups. How do seniors find a way to stay fit and stay motivated? (click here for entire story)

We are on Facebook

If you would like to become a Facebook fan and connect to others who share your interests, please check us out on our Facebook page at ABrandNewDayRedding. Every Friday we have a PhotoTeaser, (click for the entire story)

A Brand New Day is a 26 bed Memory Care assisted living facility in Redding, CA focusing on Alzheimer’s and dementia, respite and hospice care. Our license number is 455001567. We invite you to contact us with any questions when you are concerned about the safety and care of a loved one at 530.223.1538. We are happy to be your Senior Care resource.

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All About Seniors

 

A Brand New Day – Redding writes a Senior Living column for the Record Searchlight which can also be seen online at Redding.com. We talk about a wide variety of subjects with common thread about topics relevant to Seniors and their families. To follow is a compilation of last month’s posts. We hope you enjoy them.

 Senior Living: Fathers’ stories reflect hardiness of Greatest Generation

27 Sept 2012

 “Our first thought was that our dads had it easier than we do. They never went through “transition.” They worked for the same employer, had pensions and for the most part, financial stability because of positive economic times. Visions of “Mad Men” came to mind with the martini lunches and ubiquitous tobacco smoke hanging in the air.

I was talking to a childhood buddy, reunited by recent “in transition” network efforts. As we reminisced about old times, we started talking about…” (click for the entire story)

Senior Living: Prostate health important to senior men

19 Sept 2012

Prostate health is a man’s issue. We usually do not focus on a specific gender in these columns, but this is an important issue for men that should not be ignored.

Most men over 50 should have had their prostate checked physically and through blood tests. Early screening is crucial, because like most cancers, treatments are often most effective when cancer is… (click for the entire story)

Senior Living: Fans and friends share more words to live by

5 Sept 2012

Several weeks ago, we shared quotes that we felt were meaningful to our senior community, or just some nuggets of truth that struck our funny bone.

We asked our readers to share quotes that are meaningful. Both our readers from this column and our Facebook fans were eager to contribute quotes.

We are on Facebook

If you would like to become a Facebook fan and connect to others who share your interests, please check us out on our Facebook page at ABrandNewDayRedding. Every Friday we have a PhotoTeaser, (click for the entire story)

A Brand New Day is a 26 bed Memory Care assisted living facility in Redding, CA focusing on Alzheimer’s and dementia, respite and hospice care. Our license number is 455001567. We invite you to contact us with any questions when you are concerned about the safety of a loved one at 530.223.1538. We are happy to be your Senior Care resource.

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