Princeton families are gathering soon to celebrate Thanksgiving and it’s no coincidence that this month is also Alzheimer’s Awareness month. With more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and more than three times as many caring for loved ones with the disease, having a better understanding of this common form of dementia could be the best thing you bring to the dinner table.
The Alzheimer’s Association defines the disease as one that attacks the brain, leading to dementia, which is a decline in mental ability to the point it interferes with daily life. Even in the short time you visit with a relative for Thanksgiving, you may notice a few cues that indicate a change worthy of a professional evaluation.
Apathy: no longer enjoying hobbies or doing activities they once loved. Did your relative once love to help set the table or decorate the tree? Did they enjoy knitting or playing cards? Depression is also very common in an individual struggling with an awareness of the early stages of the disease.
Confusion and difficulty remembering faces. This is not the typical “calling your child your other child’s name”, but a difficulty in identifying the person with whom they are speaking.
Disoriented to time and place. Saying they want to go home when they are already home is very common, as is memory loss about what holiday you are celebrating or why everyone is gathered. Some may revert to their first language if they speak more than one.
If you are speaking with a relative who has already been diagnosed with the disease, here are a few suggestions for how best to engage them and make their time with the family most pleasant.
Reduce background noise and stimulation. Make sure you make eye contact at their level and speak in a clear tone in front of the loved one. Do not sit to the side or shout a question from across the room. Background noise can easily create over stimulation and agitation.
Speak less, listen more. Speak in very short sentences and do not ask open-ended questions. Ask yes or no questions or choice questions. For example, instead of “What would you like to drink?” say, “Would you like water or coffee?”
Avoid correcting and never argue. If they believe someone that has passed is still alive, do not correct. If they say a shirt that is blue is green, do not correct. (This is called medical fibbing – agreeing with the harmless lie to avoid agitation.)
Thanksgiving and other holidays are also an opportunity to give some relief and love to caregivers, especially spouses or adult children who have to shoulder the responsibilities. Offer the caregiver some respite. As you would with a new mom, consider offering them time to themselves, preparing a meal for them, doing their errands, allowing them to take a nap. Ask them directly, “What can I do to lessen your load?”
If the individual is in the sandwich generation, caring for both their own children and their aging parents, offer to help with the kids. Can you have them stay at your house overnight, or be responsible for the after-school shuttling once school resumes on a particularly busy day? Helping even now and then can be a huge emotional and physical gift to a caregiver who may never ask for help.
We are fortunate to live in an area with exceptional resources. From the Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) to the Penn Memory Center, to top specialists in geriatric medicine. Make the most of the time with your family and don’t be reluctant in understanding Alzheimer’s directly. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great first resource on finding treatments, community, and research.
Darlene Spagnola is Director of Client Coordination for Theia Senior Solutions, a high-touch concierge eldercare management advisor and a single point of contact for the busy adult child or spouse managing the planning or the care of an aging loved one.
Have questions about Theia or for Darlene? We invite you to learn more or call: website: www.TheiaSeniorSolutions.com phone: 844-843-4200