Today I am starting a monthly column here in the PV News to convey to you that lives with people who have Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairments count.

My column will provide hope, attempting to dispel notions of fear which are oftentimes associated with the disease; not only for them but for family and caregivers.

I always say that Alzheimer's is a "family disease" as it just doesn't affect the patient; the ripple effect changes lives and even alters the trajectory for many generations.

I  believe that "the chronologically gifted" can age in place with Alzheimer's and enjoy fulfilling and long lives.
 
I am a resident of the South Bay. I live here on "the hill" and I see first-hand with many community residents seeking my advice, that it is essential there is a healthy transition from inception of impairment through the life of a loved one.
 
My intention in this column is to speak candidly about Alzheimer's (or how I term it,"the elephant in the room") and share resources, approaches, therapies, latest breakthroughs, on the state of Alzheimer's and other related cognitive impairments.
 
I hope you will consider me your friend, even a pen pal as I will include my email a the bottom of each column if you have specific questions.
 
So, if you or a loved one is struggling with cognitive impairment, please be hopeful for a healthy future. My goal is to help.
 
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If you've been confronted with dementia affecting someone you love, you’re not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 1 out of 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. It’s awful to acknowledge this, but it’s better for us to be aware and prepared.

If you are dealing with an aging spouse or parent with dementia, chances are you’re doing so for the first time.

Maybe you had an “Eccentric Aunt Sally” or a friend who cares for a loved one, but when you’re dealing with it first-hand, the stakes are higher. So are the pressures and stress.

Enhanced care is needed with dementia, beyond that needed with normal aging.

Most people begin by acting as primary caregivers for their parents or spouse. Arguably an economical approach, it takes a toll on the family caregiver.

Most family caregivers are unprepared for the challenges of this level of care. It often includes meal preparation, feeding, urinary and bowel incontinence, hygiene and medication management. There is also arranging for necessary medical appointments and then transportation.

There’s also the part most people are not prepared for: the challenge of managing their loved one’s life.

This might mean taking away choices in meals or liberties like driving. You're not only taking control of finances—the routine paying of bills—but also monitoring expenses for fraudulent activity. Those with dementia are vulnerable to the tactics of unscrupulous people. Figuring out how to pay for care, which may also necessitate the need to sell the family home and all the stress that entails, adds to the stress faced by caregivers to those with dementia.

Then there are the behavioral issues that will likely arise such as depression, anxiety and agitation. Any of these can leave the caregiver feeling frustrated and even more stressed.

In my work with family caregivers, I’ve seen it all. It’s not pretty and it’s not fun.

One thing is vitally important for family caregivers, and that is to take care of themselves. It shouldn’t be an afterthought. Self-care should be primary. You aren’t much good to mom or dad or your spouse if you’re over-stressed, which can lead to health issues.

I make a point of challenging my clients to put themselves in the shoes of their loved one during the perfect times.

Would she want you to be stressed out, having no fun and spending all of your waking time caring for them? In most cases, that answer is no. They would want you to enjoy your life and all that you have to look forward to. Your caregiving shouldn’t be a prison sentence!

Perhaps the most important thing to do with your loved one is to accept what is.

The dementia is here to stay and will only worsen with time. Medications are not yet terribly effective and cannot reverse the course of the disease.

Get to know your loved one in a new way. Accept her for who she is. Find new and fun things to do together, and don’t expect the same intellectual conversation you may be used to.

Take time for yourself, no matter what you do. Even if family care-giving is your only option for your loved one, you still need respite.

Better yet, get help.

Ask family members to pitch in. If at all possible, get professional help.

Lauren Mahakian is a certified care manager. You can email Lauren at lauren@familyconnectcare.com.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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