Sam Bauman: Using compassion, resolve in aiding those with dementia and Alzheimer’s
I had planned to report on the Affordable Care Act here, but after looking into all the information about it on the Internet, I admit I am overwhelmed. There’s so much out there, much of it distorting or presenting propaganda, that it’s going to take me another week to separate all the rant from the factual. Hang in there; the law doesn’t take total effect until 2014.
Meanwhile, I took in an RSVP conference on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at Western Nevada College (a very spiffy place, I might add). As we who offer respite care to caregivers who need some time away from their 24/7 job, knowing about dementia and Alzheimer’s is important – that’s what we deal with much of the time.
The session was presented by Dolores Ward of the Reno Alzheimer’s Association, and one of the first things she did was clear up the misconception about dementia. The term “dementia” is like the term “cancer” – it’s an umbrella for specific kinds of mental illnesses, just as cancer is an umbrella word for various kinds of cancer, such as leukemia or brain cancer. It is possible to suffer more than one kind of dementia simultaneously.
Alzheimer’s makes up 70 percent of dementia, with others such as vascular dementia, reversible dementia, frontotemporal disease and Lewy body disease, plus the more rare forms of dementia – Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s hydrocephalus and Wernicke-Korsakoff diseases. As estimated 5.4 million people in America suffer from Alzheimer’s now, and projections are for 15 million by 2050. It’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and while there are five FDA-approved drugs to combat that disease, it is always fatal.
The primary cause of Alzheimer’s is simply aging as the brain undergoes changes. And as our population continues to age, Alzheimer’s will continue to grow. Because women live longer, they make up a larger share of those with dementia.
How does one tell if he or she is suffering from Alzheimer’s? A doctor can tell quickly, but don’t panic if you make bad decisions once and in awhile, forget a monthly payment, forget what day of the week it is, forget which word to use or lose things now and then. Those can be normal aging changes.
Signs of Alzheimer’s include poor judgment or decision making, inability to control finances, losing track of the date or the season, difficulty in normal conversation, losing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
Obviously, it’s a gray area, but doctors can help. But there is no cure.
Personal experience has taught me some things about working with dementia clients at RSVP. One is that as a temporary caregiver, one needs to be firm but not overbearing. With one client I had to discourage him from wandering off, very common among AD patients. One doesn’t say “No” flat-out; one tries to finesse it with a suggestion of a different activity. Another common thing is the client asks the same question repeatedly; simply answer and move on. Often, just listening is enough for talkative clients.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s early include problems at work in demanding situations, help with complex tasks, and then in mild AD help in choosing clothing. Those with moderately severe AD need help in dressing, bathing, toileting, incontinence. Severe conditions are when speech is limited to a half-dozen intelligible words, walking skills are lost, and the ability to sit up or smile fade. Final conditions are inability to swallow or breathe.
Dementia is a complex subject; how to live with it another. Working with clients at RSVP gives one a special insight into dementia. It’s not the most pleasant subject, but it’s one that will become more and more important in America and the world.
Apology to the GOP ladies
I let my liberal tendencies get away from me last week when I saluted the Democrat women busing dishes once a month at the Senior Center and said the Republicans were not yet on board. They are, and in full force on Thursdays. I have a standing lunch date on Thursdays, so I missed the helpful GOP presence then. They are there and they’re just as helpful as the Democrats, and a fine example of bipartisanship. Too bad Congress can’t do the same. Let’s hear it for the GOP!
• Sam Bauman is a regular contributor to the Nevada Appeal.