Archive for the ‘Alzheimer’s and dementia’ Category

Seeing the Person Behind the Disease

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

by Daniel C. Potts, M.D.

In providing the best person-centered care to those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (indeed, to anyone with progressive illness) it is essential to maintain focus on the human being with the condition, and on his/her care givers.  Progressive disease and associated disability can cloud out self-expression; even an individual’s own awareness of his/her life story.  We must not allow this to affect our provision of care.

As progression occurs, our task becomes formidable.  Disease effects, such as loss of speech and memory, make meaningful interaction more difficult.  Infirmity tends to dehumanize, to change our perception of people.  We become the “normal,” and they are perceived to lack wholeness.  This very perception contributes to the morbidity of the disease.

The challenge, then, is to find ways to see them as persons, despite disability.  To do this, I believe, we must perceive in each one an innate, inconvertible, God-given identity that remains intact despite illness, even loss of cognition.  The focal point should be on the human center, rather than the façade.  In our interactions, we must find ways to reach the core identity; to, metaphorically-speaking, pull up a chair at their dining table and enjoy a favorite meal.

How may this be done?  First, we must learn the essentials of who they were prior to the affliction.  We should query family members and caregivers, as this information may be hard to obtain conventionally from patients themselves.  Next, we should creatively employ reminiscence, and tap into the associated emotional framework on which these memories are positioned.  I believe the expressive arts (music, visual art, poetry/expressive writing, drama, dance and movement) to be the best tools for eliciting these memories.  In addition, based on what we learn about core identity traits, we should give individuals the opportunity to express these traits in the environments of care that we create.  For instance, if hospitality has been an essential life characteristic, then we should attempt to provide opportunities for the expression of hospitality in the individualized care plan for a particular patient.  If musical expression has been important, then we should make this available.  In fact, I think we should use a life-theme approach in tailoring care for those with cognitive disorders, drawing from earlier life, but not just looking back.  We should create an environment in which they may safely live into their core character traits in structured independence, and not have to worry about the details.  And we should structure this in such a way that strengthens relationships between patients and caregivers.  This minimizes disability and accentuates core identity.  I believe the results will include improvements in perceived self-worth, behavior, affect, communication, care giver relationships, dignity and quality of life, and reductions in psychoactive medication usage.

In the end, these efforts will strengthen personhood, our greatest individual asset.  And, when personhood is strengthened, dementia’s hold is weakened.

 

 

Running for Alzheimer’s

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Here is an inspiring story by C. Cassidy we received via press release.

On April 16th an estimated 25,000 runners will converge on Boston for the world’s oldest annual marathon.  But one woman will be running with a drive, determination and passion that will be hard to match.

Samantha Howe is leaving her hometown of Dublin, Ireland and traveling to Boston with one mission in mind: to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.

A long time avid runner, Ms. Howe decided 2012 was the perfect year to start a new campaign, “Running for Alzheimer’s”.  With that decision, she committed that every step she takes, every mile she marks, will be another stride in her fight against this rapidly rising and fatal disease.

The Boston Marathon is the first challenge in her “Running for Alzheimer’s” campaign.  It’s a challenge she welcomes, taking on 26 miles with some of the world’s most elite runners.

Her passion comes from personal experience.  Ms. Howe’s mother was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009.  At that moment she says her life changed.  Her life in recent years has revolved around a schedule with her father and siblings to provide care for her mother at home.  An often overwhelming caregiving experience she shares on her blog www.purplenellie.blogspot.com.

“The irony is, my mother was a nurse, she was used to being the primary caregiver,” says Ms. Howe. “Now she must rely on her husband and children.”

Ms. Howe quickly realized how destructive Alzheimer’s is. She says, “It clouds you in so much darkness you struggle to see the light.”  She saw her mother’s memory loss, was stunned by her changes in behavior and mood, panicked when her mother wandered away from home for the first time, and is now embroiled in house renovations to accommodate her mother’s pending physical decline.

Like other Alzheimer’s families, Ms. Howe also learned the cruel facts about the disease.  It is rising at an alarming rate, up 66% in just 8 years in the US alone. There is no cure, no treatment, and no way to even slow its progression.  The costs of caring for the disease are staggering, making it a crisis for every country.  According to the World Alzheimer Report the global costs in 2010 were $604 Billion, a figure that will increase annually, threatening every health system.

Experts believe Alzheimer’s research is critically underfunded.  Ms. Howe believes Awareness can change that. “With awareness comes funding for research, which can lead us to a cure,” she says.

So if you see a woman in a purple t-shirt running by, it’s probably Samantha Howe training for the Boston Marathon.  If you can get her to stop, she’ll talk to you about Alzheimer’s disease.  And luckily you don’t have to run a marathon to join her Running for Alzheimer’s campaign.  Simply sponsor her efforts and support the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.

What would you do for a good cause? Samantha Howe is running the Boston Marathon April 16th.

Follow her Twitter account @purple_nellie  and #runningforalzheimers for updates.

How to Find Reliable Medical Info over the Internet

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

by Ellen Woodward Potts
co-author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Unlike my other articles, this one will not be related to dementia, but to a broader medical issue — how to find reliable information over the internet.  When diagnosed with a medical condition, the first thing many of us do is to go to the internet for more information, but that can be a double-edged sword.  Because anyone can post anything on the internet, there is a great deal of both good and bad medical information out there.  There are some simple rules you can follow to make certain you always get good information.

Rule #1:  DO NOT type the name of your medical condition into the “search” box and read every “hit” you receive.  Also, do not search for your condition on Wikipedia.  Both are apt to give you bad information.

Rule #2:  There are very good, general medical sites from which you can always get reliable information.  The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control always will have excellent information on a wide variety of topics.  Major medical schools and hospitals often have reliable information and links posted on their websites.

Rule #3:  Go to the website of the national association for the condition in question —- the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, etc.  If you don’t know the name of the association, ask your doctor.

Rule #4:  Another very reliable resource is the website for the medical specialty that treats your specific illness — the American Academy of Neurology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology, and so on.  Your doctor can give you the name of the association.

Rule #5:  There are other reliable websites outside this criteria, like the Susan G. Komen website for breast cancer, or M.D. Anderson Cancer Insitutute.

If you get all your medical information from the sources listed in the categories above, you will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the information you’re reading is reliable.

It is VERY helpful to the physician to speak to a patient or family after they have read reliable educational materials.  They can ask much better questions and can understand the answers the physician gives on a much deeper level.  So certainly go to the internet, but don’t waste your time on sites that are not reputable.

Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

by Ellen Woodward Potts
co-author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

There are certain things you can’t change about yourself, and some of these put your at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Old age is the most obvious one.  While you can lie about your age, you can’t change it.  Females are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and make up nearly two-thirds of its victims.  You can’t change your gender, at least genetically.  Being African-American or Hispanic puts you at higher risk.  You can’t change your race.

So what can you change that will improve your chances of avoiding this awful disease?  As with so many things in this world, it’s all about lifestyle choices.  You can decrease your risk by about 50%, perhaps more, if you will live your life in a way that is healthy for your body, mind and spirit.

The benefits of exercise for your heart are well-known and well-publicized, but did you know that what is healthy for your heart is also healthy for your brain?  Exercising 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, is the best thing you can do for your brain.  However, even exercising 10 minutes a day reduces your risk significantly.  Think about simple ways to incorporate exercise into your life — park your car farther from the door, take the stairs instead of the elevator, spend part of your lunch break walking.  Be creative.  Optimally, the 30 minutes would be all at once, but meaningful benefits occur from spreading the 30 minutes of exercise into smaller increments throughout the day.

Eating right is another big factor.  Many studies show that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet (lots of fish and seafood, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, low fat, low carb, low sugar, red wine in moderation) have a much lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  I live in the South and we tend to do the opposite.  We fry our high fat meat, put fatback in the beans, and boil vegetables until they are gray.  Did I mention our deep and abiding love for fast food and high sugar soft drinks?  When you think about healthy eating, think about fish and low fat meats that are grilled, baked or broiled rather than fried.  Also, think about colorful fruits and vegetables — sweet potatoes, blueberries, oranges, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, etc. — that are as close to their natural state as possible. Unfortunately for my family, Cheetos don’t count as healthy color.  Did you know your brain is about 75% water?  Drink water all day and substitute it for soft drinks and sweet tea.  There are lots of studies showing that children who drink lots of water perform better on tests.  Water is good for adults, too!

Exercise your brain, challenge it, learn new things.  People who continue to challenge themselves mentally create something called “cognitive reserve.”  This means, the more you exercise your brain, the more connections your brain will form, and the more difficult it will be for something like Alzheimer’s to damage your brain to the point that it affects your daily living.  Working crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument (or learning to play one), learning a foreign language, reading challenging material — all these are ways to exercise your brain.  Activities that exercise your brain AND your body — square dancing, Zumba classes, ballroom dancing, line dancing, etc. — are especially good for you!

Those who take care of their spiritual selves lower their risk.  Also, managing your stress level and keeping depression out of your life is good for your brain.  Staying socially active and engaged is vitally important to maintaining brain health.  Do you get enough sleep?  People who typically get a good night’s sleep are at lower risk.

Lots of studies have been published lately about the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes.  Keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels is very important.  Not only will uncontrolled diabetes put you at higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, but also it will put you at higher risk of things like stroke and heart attack.  Both of these can cause dementia aside from Alzheimer’s disease.

While nothing can eliminate your risk of Alzheimer’s disease completely, your choices can make it much less likely.  If you make the choices above a mainstay of your everyday life, you will not only reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll also feel better, and be happier and healthier.

Glen Campbell, The Grammy Awards and Alzheimer’s

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

By Stephen Woodfin

I tuned in to see Glen Campbell receive a lifetime achievement award on the Grammys Sunday evening. I did not know I was about to witness a phenomenon scientists who study Alzheimer’s are struggling to understand.

The Country Music Association (CMA) bestowed a similar honor on Campbell a few months ago, but the Grammys handled the situation differently, they let Campbell perform.

After The Band Perry’s rendition of Gentle on My Mind and Blake Shelton’s version of Southern Nights (two of Campbell’s biggest hits), the camera caught Campbell as he marched on stage, microphone in hand.

The band struck up Rhinestone Cowboy, and Glen Campbell was back, back from Alzheimer’s.
He connected with the crowd, cut up in his inimitable style, sang all the verses in his classic delivery.

When the music died, and the lights dimmed, before the sound crew killed his mike, the crowd heard Campbell’s voice.  “Where do I go? Or do I just need to quit talking?” He was still under the spell of the music, wandering slowly back to the netherworld where he now spends his time.

I don’t know what a day in Glen Campbell’s life is like. But from watching my mother’s ten-year struggle with Alzheimer’s I think have a pretty good idea.  The person with Alzheimer’s slides down a slippery slope, growing a little worse every day, forgetting a few more precious things.  Cogent moments come less frequently, then not at all.

What scientists yet do not understand is how music breaks the progression of the disease, enabling a person to step outside it, if only for a matter of minutes.

Sunday night was about the music, one of the few things that can break the iron grip of Alzheimer’s.  Research is just now catching up to what many caregivers already know.  If they want to see the light return to the eyes of their loved one who has Alzheimer’s, they turn up the music.

Around the country, doctors and therapists have begun to experiment with art and music in the treatment of their patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. At Cognitive Dynamics Foundation in Tuscaloosa, AL, Daniel Potts, M.D., and his wife Ellen Woodward Potts, co-authors of A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, use art therapy to draw out the inner person who still resides within a person with Alzheimer’s.  Dr. Potts’ father became an accomplished water-color artist after his diagnosis with AD.  In Rochester, NY, G. Allen Power, M.D., plays guitar and leads sing-a-longs for Alzheimer’s groups to accomplish the same thing.

Campbell’s performance last night was an opportunity for audiences around the world to catch the vision of the freeing power of music. Note that I didn’t say the healing power of music. There are settings where music helps heal a person. Alzheimer’s is not one of those.  Rather, music can offer a person with Alzheimer’s a brief parole from his prison, a temporary respite. When the last chord fades, the person must take the bus back to the penitentiary.

In recent days, I have seen several reports about drugs that give great promise towards a cure for Alzheimer’s.  My heart leaps each time I hear such a report, but the truth of the matter is that a cure is still a long-time coming, and it won’t result from one lone medical breakthrough. Because Alzheimer’s is not a one-size-fits-all disease, researchers will not find a silver bullet.  One remedy will work for a particular group of persons with the disease, but not for another. It will take a concerted world-wide effort to beat Alzheimer’s.  I hope I live to see the day when it is relegated to the ash heap of history.

Meanwhile, I will treasure moments like Sunday night, when for just a few moments, for the time it took to sing a song, Glen Campbell, a person with Alzheimer’s, was able to rise above the disease and strut his stuff.

(Stephen Woodfin, an attorney/author, blogs about Alzheimer’s disease and other things on Venture Galleries, and is the author of THE SICKLE’S COMPASS, A STORY OF LOVE, WAR AND ALZHEIMER’S)

Ending Alzheimer’s Starts With You

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

We thank David Goldberg for sharing this blog.  A recent University of Virginia graduate, David began a campus organization called “Hoos for Memory” which raises awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Imagine it’s the year 2030.  Your parents are two of the 7.7 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease.1 You have two kids to take care of and a demanding job.  You want to take care of your parents, but cannot physically be there all the time to make sure they’re okay.  You see your parents savings rapidly disappear. You are emotionally drained as you watch your parents slowly lose the ability to do everything. What can you do?  What could you have done differently?

Luckily, it is not 2030, but 2012.  I’m writing this article because I think it’s time that we as a nation step up to the plate and tackle this problem head on.  Yes, I think it’s fantastic that the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) passed in January 2011.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “The National Alzheimer’s Project Act requires creation of a national strategic plan to address the rapidly escalating Alzheimer’s disease crisis and will coordinate Alzheimer’s disease efforts across the federal government.”2 NAPA was a start, but we need to pass legislation that will actually accomplish goals and not just state them. Congress needs to follow through and pass Alzheimer’s legislation that is on the table: the HOPE Act and the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act.  These two acts provide legislation that will implement the goals set in the NAPA Act.   It’s an election year, and many people don’t think much legislation will be passed this year.  This is my message to Congress: prove me wrong and pass this legislation to start the path to End Alzheimer’s.

Congress, if we hold off investing for a cure or a way to slow the progression of the disease today, we will be paying for it later.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “Over the next 40 years, caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s will cost American society $20 trillion –including $15 trillion to Medicare and Medicaid.”3  With a health care system that already has its problems, Alzheimer’s disease will only escalate them.

As a nation, we can’t afford to continue with the status quo in dealing with Alzheimer’s.  And frankly, the members of Congress are in an age group that should be very concerned about Alzheimer’s.  According to the Congressional Research Service, in the 112th Congress the average age of a U.S. Senator is 62.2 years old and the average age of a U.S. Representative is 56.7 years old.4  It’s sobering to think about, but it’s an honest reality that our lawmakers should consider.

Finally, I want to reach out to my generation.  I’m 22 years old, and know firsthand the effects of Alzheimer’s, as my grandfather had the disease.  I also know that I’m in the generation that many older Americans say are “the screwed generation.”  We’re the generation that is going to have to pay the piper from the federal deficit.  We’re the generation that won’t get Social Security and other benefits that older Americans receive today.  Does that mean we’re supposed to just accept every problem and not try to improve things?  No, we can do our part and try to help the best way we can.

It always helps to have a celebrity who supports a cause that needs attention.  Seth Rogen and his wife, Lauren Miller, recently held an event called “Hilarity For Charity” to raise money and awareness among the younger generation about Alzheimer’s Disease.  To quote Seth, “Hilarity for Charity started as a message to my generation that it’s time to step up and realize that Alzheimer’s is not just an ‘old person disease,’ but something that will greatly affect all of us.”5  Seth and Lauren are actively involved in raising awareness and fundraising for Alzheimer’s, as Lauren’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 55 years old.  They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their event, and are a great example of how the younger generation can make a difference.

Where does that leave us?  Of course we don’t have the same outreach of a Hollywood star, but we can do plenty.  We can be a voice.  Please go to this website, and take 5 minutes to write your Congressmen and ask them to help pass legislation that can help end Alzheimer’s: http://www.alzimpact.org/Legislative-Action-Center.  You can also take 30 seconds to fill out a form that will go to Barack Obama to ask him to include Alzheimer’s in his budget this year: http://www.alz.org/petition/.  It may not feel like much, but it truly will make a difference.

1 “2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” http://www.alz.org/downloads/Facts_Figures_2011.pdf

2 “The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA).” http://www.kintera.org/site/pp.asp?c=mmKXLbP8E&b=5829219

3 “Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act.” http://www.kintera.org/site/pp.asp?c=mmKXLbP8E&b=6550687.

4 Manning, Jennifer E. “Membership of the 112th Congress: A Profile.”
http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/R41647.pdf.

5 http://www.crowdrise.com/hilarityforcharity

A Road Trip with the Irish Tenors

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Guest blogger:  Stephen Woodfin, Venture Galleries

When my mom was mid-stage AD, I often got this call from one of her caregivers: “She’s mad, and we can’t do anything with her.”

I knew that meant I needed to get to my mom’s house as quickly as I could. My mother loved being in motion.  The worst thing for her was to feel trapped, to have the sense that she couldn’t get in her car and go for a ride.  We had already disabled her vehicle for fear that she would drive off and not know how to get back.

One of the techniques I often used was to serve as her chauffeur. I would take her by the hand, lead her to my car, and we would head out to wherever the road took us. We would ride by familiar places, the house where she grew up, the schools she attended, the church where she spent so much of her free time.

On one such occasion, I popped a recording of the Irish Tenors into the CD player to serve as a soundtrack for our journey.  When “Danny Boy” came on, my mom, who hardly knew her name by that stage of AD, began to sing and hum along.  For an hour or so, the AD world disappeared, and we were just a mother and son out for a ride in the country.  We held hands and I could feel her grip as it pulsed with the music.  Her mood transformed from fear and hostility to light-heartedness. We had reached a place beyond words, a beatific spot of blessedness.

I will never be able to listen to the Irish Tenors again without remembering that moment, and the look on my mother’s face as the remarkable strains of music freed her from the shackles of Alzheimer’s, if only for a few minutes. If you can, try it with your loved one, too.  Miracles are few and far between, but they still happen when you least expect.

Myths about Dementia

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-Author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

There are many misconceptions and a great deal of just plain wrong information out there about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  This can cause all kinds of problems for people who have dementia and families dealing with these illnesses.  What are some of these myths?

Myth #1:  Only old people get dementia. Dementia is defined as having memory issues that affect your ability to function in daily life.  It is more common in the elderly, but can happen at any age.  Dementia can be caused by things like head injury, alcohol or drug abuse, stroke, brain infections like meningitis, and a host of other causes, with Alzheimer’s disease the most frequent cause.  People as young as 30 can have Alzheimer’s disease, although it’s very uncommon.

Myth #2:  Nothing can be done for people with dementia, so there is no point in going to the doctor. Many forms of dementia are COMPLETELY curable.  It is very important to see a doctor familiar with dementia if you begin having memory issues.

Myth #3:  There is no treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There is no CURE for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications that can slow the progression.  These help people remain independent longer, and have a better quality of life for their remaining years.

Myth #4:  People with dementia have “checked out,” so there is no point in my visiting them. This is probably the most awful misconception of all.  Even people with late stage dementia still have the ability to interact.  Sing old familiar songs (especially religious ones, if the person was religious in her youth), read familiar texts in the version the person would have read in her youth,  look at familiar objects and talk about them.  Using these tools, people with dementia will often “awaken” and interact with you.  For an incredible example of this, watch this video by Naomi Feil.

Myth #5:  I should correct the person with dementia when he says something wrong. As strange as it may seem, you should NOT correct the person with dementia when he says something wrong.  If a person has dementia, he has lost his ability to think clearly and reasonably, whether the cause is temporary or permanent.  Constantly correcting the person can lead to depression, combativeness, or further confusion.  People with dementia cannot re-enter the real world, so you must go to theirs.  If your 90 year old mother with dementia tells you she had breakfast with her grandmother this morning, ask her what they had to eat.  Don’t tell your mother her grandmother is dead, which would only lead to grief over a “new” death for your mom.

Myth #6: Yes, he has dementia, but he knows where he is and would never wander away. This is a VERY dangerous myth indeed.  If your loved one with dementia can walk, chances are he will wander.  In fact, statistics show that 60% of people with Alzheimer’s disease wander.  The results can be tragic.  The non-profit organization, Project Lifesaver, offers GPS bracelets through the local partners around the country at very low cost.  These bracelets save lives.  Also, you should employ other wandering precautions like installing keyed deadbolt locks with the key around the caregiver’s neck for fire safety.  Remember, just because your loved one has not wandered in the past, does not mean he will not wander in the future!

Myth #7:  There is nothing I can do to lower my risk of getting dementia. WRONG!  There are several things you can do to lower your risk significantly!  Exercising 30 minutes a day lowers your risk of getting dementia over 50%!  Eating a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in fat lowers your risk significantly.  Another great way to lower your risk is to exercise your brain — crossword and other puzzles, singing or playing an instrument while reading the music, reading, learning new skills.  All of these are ways to keep you brain active and healthy.

Helping People with Dementia Feel Valued

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
http://alzpocketguide.com

People with dementia are regularly “thrown away” by our society, which values a person by what they do, instead of who they are or even whose they are.  These people, who often have been loving parents, hardworking providers, and community leaders, can no longer serve in the roles they’ve known, sometimes for their entire adult lives.  However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive members of society.  It just takes a little more creativity.

When someone first begins to show signs of dementia, he usually knows something is wrong.  He may have a real sense of the disease progressing, and be frightened and depressed by the process.  Depression is a strange thing.  In a person who has no dementia, it can cause many of the same symptoms as dementia does.  It takes a skilled physician to be able to tell the difference.  In those who already have dementia, depression can make dementia worse and make the person progress more quickly.

It’s a well-known fact that people who view themselves as productive members of the family or of society are generally happier than those who don’t.  In people with dementia who can’t do the things they’ve always done to help others, this particular source of self-worth is greatly diminished or goes away entirely.  As a caregiver, one of the best things you can do is to help your loved one feel valued and productive.

Lester Potts, my father-in-law who could fix just about anything around the house, couldn’t hammer a nail or change a light bulb after he got Alzheimer’s disease.  Worse yet, he knew he should be able to do these things and couldn’t.  This man who always loved a good joke stopped smiling.  The people at Caring Days Adult Day Care Center helped him regain his sense of self-worth in many ways.  First, there was the art.  Lester had a real talent for watercolor painting which never would have been discovered if not for Alzheimer’s disease.  Next, there were the many service projects performed by the clients at Caring Days.  They assembled Christmas baskets for the less fortunate and helped put together boxed lunches for disaster victims.  They make wreaths, scarves, blankets and other crafts to sell to support the operating costs center.  All these activities and many others help their clients contribute to society.

To help your loved one feel valued at home, ask him or her to help you with daily tasks — folding clothes, washing dishes, making the beds, etc.  One woman with dementia loved to fold clothes, so her daughter always kept a basket of old clothes for her mother to fold.  It was a great way to keep her mother occupied and to make her feel needed at the same time.  When the clothes were folded, the mother received much praise for her good work.  Remember, the goal is not perfectly folded clothes or a bedspread without any wrinkles.  The goal is to make the person feel valued, like they have contributed to the family or the community.  At the same time, these activities keep your loved one’s mind engaged.  A happy person with dementia is easier to care for and has a better quality of life.

Giving Thanks for Alzheimer’s

Friday, November 18th, 2011

A Guest Blog By Stephen Woodfin

According to the latest statistics, when Americans sit down for their Thanksgiving Day meal this year about 5.6 million of them will be persons in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Another 15 million or so will be directly affected as caregivers, family members, friends, loved ones. In the swirl of events, football games, family stories, turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, for what will these people give thanks?

Will they raise their voices to God and praise him for delivering a cure for the dread disease? No, there is no magic pill, no elixir that will restore precious memories. There is no “fifteen days to the cure” Alzheimer’s diet.

Will they ask whatever gods there may be to transport them back to a time before the advent of Alzheimer’s? No, such things are only the fodder of fantasy novels, far-fetched stories divorced from the harsh realities of life, the longings of human spirits threadbare from years of desperation, heartache and loneliness.

Will they ask the Almighty to pull back the curtain to the innermost parts of their souls so that they might see, feel, taste and hear the world as their loved ones do? No, it is too much to endure, too wide a chasm, too deep a divide.

Should they enter that land, they know there would be no coming back. So what prayer do they offer, what solace can they seek?

The answer is as near as the person who sits next to them, the person with Alzheimer’s who remains a child of God, a person of worth and value. That person hasn’t left them, hasn’t vanished, hasn’t devolved into a shell of her former self. Rather she has only changed, morphed into a new creation, a new continent that beckons them to discover and explore it, not to pass it by in search of ephemeral treasures.

It is for that new person that they will give thanks, thanks for what lies ahead, not piteous rants of remorse for what is gone forever, what is behind them now. As a mother forgets the travail of childbirth when she holds her newborn in her arms, they will look with awe on the faces of their loved ones in the Alzheimer’s world, and they will see them anew for what they are in that moment, persons full of potentiality, persons in whom the fire of life still burns, in whom the light of love radiates.

And when they have given such thanks, the miracle will be among them, not a revelation from afar, but an inner awakening, an awareness that the ones they love have not left them, nor never will.

You can see other Alzheimer’s-related blogs by Stephen Woodfin at Venture Galleries.