teens and Alzheimer'sAn Alzheimer’s diagnosis challenges everyone in the patient’s family. Teenagers may sometimes seem to be wrapped up in their own worlds, but a grandparent who has Alzheimer’s disease can be very troubling for them and significantly affect their lives. Of course, it goes without saying that when a teenager’s parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is all the more devastating. Teenagers are likely to need some help from older members of the family in understanding the disease and what they can do to cope. First, reassure your teenager that the emotions that they’re going through – which may include fear, regret, confusion, and anger as well as sadness – are all normal responses. It may be helpful for them to hear that this will be a difficult time in the family, and for you to acknowledge that this experience is a hard one for them specifically. And of course, it may be good for them to know that they are far from being the only teen in the world dealing with a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, even if none of their friends have any experience with the disease. If there’s no support group in your area that they can turn to, you may want to point them to the website of AFA Teens, a branch of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. There they can find articles written just for them, a community message board where they can connect with other teens, and numerous other resources. One of the most useful things you can do is to explain to your teenager how to communicate with their grandparent. The following are some tips you can pass along to them:
  • Approach a person with Alzheimer’s from the front, so that they are aware someone is coming.
  • Use their name to get their attention.
  • Ask questions one by one, rather than giving them too much to think about at once.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Speak clearly and not too fast.
  • Remember that if they forget your name, it says nothing about how much they love you. Just be patient and tell them who you are.
  • Use a voice that is gentle and kind.
  • Smile and use hand gestures and other body language. This sets a positive tone and makes you easier to understand.
One aspect of the disease that teens have trouble with is how to spend time with their grandparent. How do you connect with someone who doesn’t even remember you? Let them know that their grandparent will be glad to have someone come visit them and pay attention to them, even if they don’t know who that someone is. Here are some tips for visits:
  • Help grandparents do some basic, manageable chores. The feeling of getting something done and being useful can be very therapeutic.
  • Ask them questions about the distant past, for example: “What was your life like when you were my age?”
  • Listen to your grandparent’s favorite music. This may also get them talking about the past.
  • Go through family photo albums, especially older ones.
  • Play a game together or work on a puzzle.
  • Read them something that they might enjoy.
It can be easy to forget the needs of teenagers during this difficult time, especially for a parent who is scrambling just to take care of their aging mom or dad. But remember that teens can be very sensitive to what’s going on around them. Spending just a little time to help them adjust to what’s going on can make all the difference.
computer games help with dementiaThanks to the digital revolution, we look for technological solutions to every problem we encounter. So it’s natural that we wonder what computers can do for our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies have shown that computer games can help, specifically games that make use of memory and attention. The best games adapt to the abilities of the person playing, to insure that they get the most appropriate level of challenge. Two such games recommended by researchers are BrainHQ and Brain Age, both of which can help alleviate symptoms in those already diagnosed with dementia. However, it may not be enough to simply sit down in front of a screen. Research has also shown that these remedies work best when used alongside other treatments. For example, one study found that a computer game used in conjunction with traditional ways of challenging cognitive functioning extended the benefit by 24 weeks longer than use of the computer game alone. Another study found a similar effect when computer use was combined with moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming. Though exercising five or six times per week was best, even participants who exercised once per week demonstrated benefits. Therefore, seniors should not rely on computer games alone when looking for ways to cope with dementia. Indeed, while such games should be used if they’re available as a supplementary treatment, they’re no substitute for more old-fashioned games that stimulate the senses with bright colors and tangible playing pieces. Further, games that the senior played when they were a child will also have an exceptional benefit, since they’ll stimulate long-term memory and perhaps even have some emotional value. When playing any game with a dementia patient, be sure to be flexible about the rules.  In the earlier stages of the disease, the challenge of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played may be good for seniors. But later on, only the fact that they’re using their brain in some way would be important. As long as the senior is preoccupied and proud of the outcome, whether the game is played “correctly” matters less. Finally, it’s also crucial that the senior choose what game they would like to play, rather than be forced to do something that’s uninteresting or frustrating for them. Due to their importance in our lives, computers will clearly pay a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, they should be used alongside, and not in place of, interaction with the non-digital world.
spouse with dementia intimacyPart I of this series covered the emotions you might experience when putting a spouse into memory care. When your spouse moves out of the home you’ve shared and into memory care, you’ll need to work on building a new relationship, one that may not be the same as the one you’ve grown used to, but can still give you a connection to your life partner. You may find that your spouse no longer knows who you are. As heartbreaking as that is, they likely can still recognize you as an important person in their life. Don’t worry too much about convincing them of who you are, as this will likely only lead to frustration. Regardless of whether they know you as you, you’re still important. You’re probably the one they see most often, and they know that you care about them a great deal. It may be hard to accept, but know that that might be the highest honor your spouse can give you in their current state. Your visits, even if your spouse isn’t aware of them or doesn’t register their significance, are now the most important way of honoring your marriage. It’s possible to find new ways of enjoying intimacy with each other. A good care facility should give you ways of having uninterrupted time alone. Furthermore, now that you no longer have the burden of being your spouse’s primary caregiver, you can focus on the relationship the two of you have. You can be there for them in other ways beyond taking care of basic functions. You may even find that this new focus on love itself, without day to day hassles, brings you even closer than you were before, and eliminates feelings of guilt and resentment. Though it’s important to nurture your marriage, it is also crucial during this time that you care for yourself. While your spouse was still at home, you likely put off your own needs and desires, and now is the time to remedy that. Make sure that you address any of your own neglected health needs, both physical and mental. As you probably know, you can only help someone else if you help yourself first. There is no cure for dementia, but despite this a move to memory care can result in healing for both of you. You may not only be caring for your loved one’s condition, but also for the health of your relationship.
Spouse with dementiaWe all agree that marriages that have lasted decades are precious. These couples have come to know each other in ways so intimate that their other relationships pale in comparison. When one half is diagnosed with dementia and moving to a memory care facility becomes necessary, the separation is of course heartbreaking. Though there may in part be some relief on the part of the spouse who was serving as a caregiver, such a drastic life change requires much strength and bravery from both. This change often comes quite suddenly, and can be overwhelming. Possibly it was precipitated by an emergency hospital visit or a frightening incident at home. Indeed, this may be the most difficult challenge a couple’s relationship has ever faced. The most crucial time is the first few months, as they enter into new and unknown territory. The following are common emotions and experiences you may have during this time:
  • A sense of loss of control as you are no longer responsible for your spouse’s day to day care
  • Struggles with how to handle a sudden increase in free time and an empty home
  • Guilt at being unable to continue to care for your spouse at home
  • Anger and despair that the life you shared, and your closest friend, is gone
  • Fear about what the future may hold
  • Second guessing the decision you’ve made
It is important to acknowledge these experiences and emotions if you are to cope with this change successfully. You may wonder if negative feelings or feelings of relief are “wrong.” Or your feelings of sadness and grief may overwhelm you. However, it’s important that you come to view the situation in a new way that will not be destructive. This is a difficult decision to make, especially if your spouse doesn’t want to leave home. But remember that the decision to enter a memory care facility is in your spouse’s best interest, and demonstrates the utmost care for their well-being on your part. There they will be cared for safely and with professional skill. In addition to working on changing your perspective, you may also want to seek out counseling, support groups, or spiritual guidance. Time with family may also help. Finally, being open with your grief can also help you heal. The next post will cover how to foster intimacy in this situation and how to continue with your relationship despite the separation.
why dementia causes problems with eatingFor most of us, mealtimes are a chance to enjoy some good food and take a welcome break. But for some dementia patients, eating is a stressful experience. Why do they resist what was once such a favorite aspect of life? Are they simply “being difficult?” There are a number of underlying causes that may result in a dementia patient not eating or eating with difficulty: Cognitive problems. Dementia patients may have trouble with being able to distinguish the food from the plate, or may have trouble with using utensils. They may also forget to eat or to continue to eat, even if they’re sitting at the table! Psychological problems. Few of us have much of an appetite when we’re depressed, and unfortunately this is a common problem for dementia patients. It’s also possible that your loved one may be too restless to sit down for meals. Physical problems. It may be that your loved one is too tired to eat. They may also have sores or other problems in their mouth that make eating painful. The fit of dentures is something else to consider, as is physical difficulty with using utensils or trouble with chewing or swallowing. Environmental problems. Too much confusion at mealtimes could make it difficult for your loved one to focus on eating. A room that’s the wrong temperature, has bad lighting, or an unpleasant smell may also make your loved one too uncomfortable to enjoy their meal. Problems with the food itself. Dementia patients can easily be overwhelmed if there are too many possible choices on the menu. Food that is unappetizing in some way may also make them reluctant to eat. Or it could be that something about the food makes it difficult to handle. Medication or other illnesses affecting appetite. Some medicines, or the way the medicines are interacting with the food, might kill your loved one’s appetite and cause them to be uninterested in mealtimes. Similarly, some chronic diseases can also decrease the desire for food. If your parent isn’t eating, the first thing you should do is to take the time to simply observe them during a meal. Watch closely to determine where the problem starts. You may want to eat at the same time, so that you can think about all the steps involved in eating that you normally take for granted. This may be enough for you to diagnose the problem, or you will at least be better prepared to approach your loved one’s doctor about the issue. By understanding why your loved one might not be eating, you can ultimately make sure that they get the nutrients they need.
Talk with your parent's doctor about Alzheimer'sIf your parent has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a confusing time for your family. One important item to add to your to-do list is to plan to have a talk with your parent’s doctor about their condition. Below are four important questions you’ll want to make sure you include. Keep in mind that in order to have this conversation, your parent will need to let the doctor’s office know that you have permission to discuss their health matters. 1. Why have you chosen a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, rather than another disease? This question will help you better understand your parent’s illness. It can also be valuable in cases where family members or your parent wants to deny that they have the disease. Find out what signs demonstrate to the doctor that this is Alzheimer’s and not another disease or another form of dementia. You’ll also want to ask how your parent’s symptoms differ from the normal forgetfulness and confusion that can come with aging. 2. What medication is available that might help? Prescription medication is available that can help slow the progress of the disease or alleviate symptoms. However, not all patients respond to these aids, and the doctor may not think any of them are appropriate for your parent’s particular situation. Also know that at this point there is nothing that can be done to reverse the progress of the disease or to cure your parent. If the doctor does recommend medication, ask how it works and how it treats particular symptoms. Also make sure you understand the side effects, and what to do if your parent takes the medicine incorrectly or misses a dose. The doctor may be able to offer suggestions about how to make it easier for your parent to keep track of their drug regimine. If you or your parent is thinking about trying herbal remedies, be sure to include these in the conversation as well. The doctor may be able to share information with you that you haven’t previously considered, such as the latest research. He or she can also let you know if herbal remedies would be wise for your parent’s individual situation. For example, there may be harmful interactions with the medicine your parent is currently taking. 3. Are there clinical trials we can participate in? By participating in research studies on new treatments, your parent may be able to receive cutting-edge care for free. However, these arrangements are not without risks. Your parent’s doctor can help you determine whether volunteering in clinical trials would be a good idea. 4. How can I reach you if I need you? This may be the first time you’ve had any conversation with your parent’s doctor. Make sure you know the office’s procedures for getting in touch with the doctor. Does he or she take questions over email? What should you do if your parent is having a medical emergency and the office is closed? Having the answers to these questions can ease your mind greatly and help you prepare for the unexpected.
How to treat dementia patients with dignityOne of the most tragic aspects of dementia is watching a person who you once knew to be capable, independent, and thriving now have difficulty with basic tasks and revert to a childlike state. There’s often great pain as your loved one knows that they’re regressing but is unable to regain the abilities of their younger self. It may seem like this decline is out of anyone’s control, but there are some ways that you can help to lessen its sting. First, pay attention to how you’re speaking to your loved one. There’s a tendency for us to talk down to the elderly and treat them like children. Are you being condescending? It may help to separate the person’s illness, which may result in strange and childlike behavior, from who they are essentially as a person. Mom is still there behind her dementia, and you want to honor her. Also think about your vocabulary. Are you using words that you might use with a child but not when talking to your loved one before the onset of dementia? Try calling adult diapers underwear or the “potty” the bathroom or whatever your loved one has always called it. In conversations, avoid putting your loved one on the spot by asking questions they may not be able to answer. Try to stay away from facts that can be wrong or right, and instead ask how they feel about something. For example, if someone who doesn’t know your mother asks her how many grandchildren she has, redirect the conversation by getting her to talk about how much she loves them instead. Many caregivers strategically use what they call “therapeutic fibbing” to help their loved ones. For example, dad insists he wants get in his old boat and go fishing by himself the way he used to. Don’t tell him he’s not capable of going out on the water on his own and his boat has been sold anyway, as this will likely make him feel upset and depressed. Instead, you can tell him today’s not a good day because there might be a thunderstorm coming, or that the boat’s engine needs to be repaired. Each and every one of us needs respect and to feel important. Try to encourage and reassure your loved one that they have value as much as you can, and speak with other family members about doing the same. Your loved one may no longer be the exact same person they once were, but with a little cooperation and assistance from those around them, you can minimize embarrassing situations and despair.