November is National Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
As part of our community outreach, we speak to groups about dementia topics almost monthly. Similarly as we meet new senior care clients, families, and caregivers the topic of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is never far from their minds.
In this article, we will answer the 5 most common questions we are asked in the course of our senior care work:
1. How does Alzheimer’s differ from dementia?
Dementia is a set of symptoms that can be caused by numerous diseases. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common disease causing dementia.
The symptoms of dementia include: memory loss, difficulty with communication, inability to focus or pay attention, problems with visual perception, and impaired judgment and reasoning.
2. Why does someone with Alzheimer’s become violent?
First, let’s dispel the common myth that all people with Alzheimer’s disease become violent. Scientific research has shown that less than 1 in 6 Alzheimer’s patients had been violent in the prior year.
When people do act out with aggression, we don’t know whether this is a symptom of the disease or rather a result of frustration or anger over their loss of ability to function. Either way, there are some common tactics that can help reduce the aggression or frustration.
3. What are those tactics? In other words, how can I help dad to have less outbursts or frustration throughout the day?
The Alzheimer’s Association teaches “Habilitation Therapy” which focuses on maintaining a positive outlook and using what skills and abilities the person has left as they progress through the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, for example, finding meaningful activities for dad that will make him feel useful can help relieve the outbursts. One of our clients was always fastidious about his yard. While he could no longer maintain the yard by himself, he loved to go out with our caregivers to pick up sticks. Another client was a wonderful homemaker. Helping to fold the laundry, even if not perfectly, helped her to enjoy her day and feel useful. Remember, it’s not how well the person completes the task, but rather that they engage in it that matters.
4. What do I do when mom continues to ask for Dad, who passed away?
We advise the use of a “therapeutic fib.” Essentially, it’s OK to agree with the person with this misconception. Trying to correct them will only confuse or upset them. A good approach is to say something like, “Yes, dad is a really great guy. What do you appreciate most about him?” This redirects the person with Alzheimer’s from the uncomfortable worry about where he is to the much happier thoughts about why he is (or was) so great.
5. Why is it so hard to get mom to take a bath or shower?
Many factors may go into this dilemma, including being cold, modesty, fear of water falling over their head and face, or fear of falling in the (usually) stark, slippery bathroom. One approach is to have a loved one involved in helping with the bathing and attempt to turn it into a mini “spa experience” at home.
It also wise to do these types of tasks that the person dislikes at the time of day when mom is usually at her best. For many people with Alzheimer’s disease this can be early in the day after they wake and before they become tired. For others, though, a different time is better. Knowing the person and their preferences can really help. And, remember, as we age we lose much of the oil and sweat production from our younger days, so showers aren’t often necessary as frequently.