Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Overcoming the stigma of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of people and their loved ones every year. There are some genetic factors that may increase a person’s likelihood but for the most part, it can strike anyone and there is no cure, yet.

With such a uncertain outcome, it makes sense why so many people misunderstand the disease and the people it affects. The stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s prevents people experiencing symptoms from seeking medical treatment, developing a support system, benefitting from early diagnosis and treatment, and living the best quality of life possible.

Here’s some tips from the Alzheimer’s Association for overcoming the stigma you and your loved ones may face after diagnosis.

  1. Be open and direct.
    Engage others in discussions about Alzheimer’s disease and the need for prevention, better treatment and an eventual cure. Engage with others like you on message boards.
  2. Communicate the facts.
    Sharing accurate information is key to dispelling misconceptions about the disease. Whether a pamphlet or link to online content, offer information to help people better understand Alzheimer’s disease. Learn the facts about Alzheimer’s and find an education program near you.
  3. Seek support and stay connected.
    It is important to stay engaged in meaningful relationships and activities. Whether family, friends or a support group, a network is critical.
    Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter about an early-stage support group near you.
  4. Don’t be discouraged.
    Denial of the disease by others is not a reflection of you. If people think that Alzheimer’s disease is normal aging, see it as an education opportunity.
    Tips for helping family and friends.
  5. Be a part of the solution.
    As an individual living with the disease, yours is the most powerful voice to help raise awareness, end stigma and advocate for more Alzheimer’s support and research. Learn how you can take action in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Meth-Wick understands the difficult situation families are in when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That’s why we have Arbor Place, assisted living on our campus dedicated solely to residents with memory needs.

The safe and secure facility practices a standard of care that recent research indicates will afford the greatest benefit to people with cognitive losses: provide small groups of people with a quiet, family-style home where they feel safe and are encouraged to take part in wellness and recreation programs that promote quality of life. Arbor Place’s high caregiver-to-resident ratio ensures each resident receives the individualized attention they need.

Using ‘love language’ to communicate with a person with Alzheimer’s

People with Alzheimer’s have unique needs. And although their memory robs them of the details of their life, it doesn’t take away their ability to feel love.

A Live Strong article offers ideas on how you can show a loved one with Alzheimer’s you care. The article is written by Debbie Barr, who co-authored a book with Gary Chapman and Edward Shaw titled Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: the 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer’s Journey.

The book is based on the “five love languages” concept introduced by Chapman in a number of published works. According to his concept, each of us has at least one emotional channel. When someone uses that channel to communicate with us, we feel loved.

Love Language Tools

In her Live Strong article, Barr shows us how we can tailor Chapman’s concept to enhance the life of a friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s:

  • Physical Touch: Expressive touch, such as holding hands or stroking the hair, or task-oriented touch, such as assisting with bathing or dressing.
  • Quality Moments: Giving someone your undivided attention because as memory fades, life is experienced only in moments.
  • Gifts: Purchased, found or handmade tangible tokens of love.
  • Words of Affirmation: Compliments or words of kindness and encouragement.
  • Acts of Kindness: Anything done to preserve a person’s dignity or make them feel useful. For example, including a person in a conversation even though he can’t contribute or asking him to “help” by folding towels.

In order to get the most out of the above tools, you will need to identify the primary love language of the person with Alzheimer’s. For help with this, Barr suggests using the diagnostic quizzes provided in her book.

Putting ideas into action

In order to demonstrate how you might adapt the love languages concept, Barr offers suggestions based on a scenario where you are communicating with your grandfather, whose love language is Words of Affirmation.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Brag about him to others while he is present.
  • Tell him you are proud of the things he accomplished in life.
  • If he asks the same question over and over, answer respectfully and patiently, responding each time as if the question were being asked for the first time.
  • Tell him that you have taken care of everything.
  • Tell him he looks handsome, even if he’s wearing the same clothes he wore the day before.

Communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be frustrating and often appears to be futile. That’s why Barr’s suggestions are so inspiring. As the late poet Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A yarn you can believe: knitting reduces risk of Alzheimer’s & other dementia

The National Institute on Aging estimates that over five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in older adults. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, multiple research studies over the past decade have found ways to slow its onset.

Alzheimer’s is one of many forms of dementia, or loss of cognitive functioning, which includes thinking, remembering and reasoning. That’s why many researchers focus on cognitive experiments to evaluate the impact that various activities or tasks will have on the thought process.

The Zen of needlework

Kathryn Vercillo, author of “Crochet Saved My Life,” wrote about a Mayo Clinic study on the Lion Brand Yarns website.

Citing the study, Vercillo said the following factors show why cognitive exercises, including knitting, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 50 percent:

  • Learning a new skill, especially a difficult one, fires up the brain cells and helps prevent Alzheimer’s. Knitting and crochet fit the bill, offering many techniques that require focused attention in order to be learned.
  • By improving hand-eye coordination, you can build nerve networks that protect against Alzheimer’s.
  • Through crafting, a person experiences emotional self-care. This reduces stress, important to reducing early Alzheimer’s.
  • A correlation has been found between depression and Alzheimer’s. Crochet and knitting (as well as other needlework) help battle depression.

All forms of dementia benefit

While it is great news that knitting and crochet can help reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, the benefits extend to other forms of dementia as well. This ripple effect was explored in an article by Lab Reporter, a news site that reports and interprets research in technology, science, health and environment.

The article suggests that the skills set for knitting make it a great activity for people at any stage of dementia.

(People) with onset dementia can start with simple patterns and (those) who are just beginning to show signs of the syndrome can work with more challenging patterns. As a subject learns how to knit they are able to progressively move on to more difficult knitting patterns. This allows (them) the opportunity to continue to strengthen their cognitive ability and fight off the symptoms of dementia.

Although this is exciting news, scientists don’t completely understand the connection between intellectual stimulation and Alzheimer’s. But they do theorize that mind-challenging activities provide “cognitive reserve,” which is the brain’s ability to operative even when it is damaged.

So break out the crochet hook and knitting needles (or any other creative tool of choice). The research continues to give a thumbs-up to the benefits of challenging creative activities to the mental health of older adults.

Tips on De-Stressing the Holidays for People with Dementia and Their Families

While the holidays are a busy and stressful time, it is especially so for families who have a loved one with dementia. The key to enjoying family gatherings is to plan ahead and have reasonable expectations.

Mara Botonis, author of “When Caring Takes Courage,” offers a helpful guide on how to make the holidays enjoyable for those with dementia and the people who love them. An overview of her suggestions is provided on Alzheimers.net, an online community dedicated to supporting people with dementia and their caregivers.

  1. Be inclusive. You can help your loved one celebrate the season by encouraging reminiscing, asking them to help with easy activities, and including them in conversations.
  2. Be forgiving of yourself, your loved one and your family. Focus on the positive and overlook critical or insensitive comments.
  3. Show your loved one your best self. Be patient and reassuring and try to refrain from correcting them.
  4. Redefine success. Remind yourself that dementia is a progressive disease, which means holidays will become more difficult with each passing year. Focus on important things, like creating moments with your loved one, and do without less important activities like sending cards and baking day and night.

More tips for merrier holidays

Author Jolene Brackey was a speaker at a recent Caregiver Wellness Day, sponsored by Meth-Wick. Brackey offered her own version of tips for coping during the holidays, which are also covered in her book, “Creating Moments of Joy.”

Here is a shortened version of her suggestions:

  • Call a family meeting before the holidays. Discuss traditions that must be continued and those that can be discarded or changed.
  • It can take two weeks for the person with dementia (and their caregiver) to recover from a family gathering. To reduce stress, break up holiday celebrations into mini celebrations: Christmas church service one week, family dinner the next week, open gifts the week after that.
  • Keep gatherings to a small number of family members. Have multiple family dinners to accommodate all.
  • Put the caregiver and the loved one with dementia first. Everyone else can adjust.
  • Make sure the loved one with dementia sits next to the person they are most comfortable with.
  • Be sure the loved one is never left alone in a crowd.
  • Place something in the loved one’s hands or lap like a pet or a plate of finger food to provide a positive distraction from the noise and stimulation.

Each family needs to focus on creating moments and memories and forego the complications that cause stress and take the joy out of the season. Let’s give ourselves and our family members the best possible gift by putting feelings ahead of festivities. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Creative Storytelling an Effective Method for Helping Those with Dementia

Caregivers often encourage people with dementia to talk about their past as a way to keep them engaged and responsive to their surroundings. While this type of therapy can be useful, it also has challenges. It can be frustrating for the caregiver when the person with dementia does not respond to questions, even when the caregiver uses verbal cues to “fill in the gaps” for them. It can be equally taxing for the person with dementia, who can become stressed and agitated when they can’t find the memory they need in order to respond.

A growing body of research has identified creative storytelling (making up a story as opposed to remembering one) as a better method for stimulating the brains of people with dementia.

Storytelling Science

Kathy Birkett explains the science behind creative storytelling in an article written for Senior Care Corner. A large portion of the brain is more likely to respond to new information presented in an emotional, rather than factual, context. Creative stories use words that help our brains imagine. When you add compelling characters that must overcome obstacles to a story, the brain is more likely to remember it.

In order for people with dementia to benefit, they must take an active part in the storytelling. TimeSlips™ is an improvisational storytelling process created by Anne Bastings, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin. One of the methods Bastings found effective while studying seniors at a local nursing home was to show photos of people and animals and invite participants (staff and residents) to create stories about what was happening.

Bastings believes that reminiscing exercises and even basic questions can create a sense of failure with people with dementia and risks their withdrawal from all attempts at communication. Through trial and error, she found the best method of engaging them was to invite them to use their imagination.

Sense of Community

Anne-Marie Botek interprets Bastings’ study results in an article for Aging Care. She cites one of the key benefits of storytelling as the sense of community it creates. A facilitator certified in TimeSlips training asks open-ended questions and records answers on a large, visible board, as participants take turns responding.

Botek describes the transformation in people with dementia and caregivers who participated in creative storytelling as “magical.” People with dementia have a newfound confidence and engagement when the pressure of being asked questions they often can’t answer was eliminated.

Although TimeSlips is designed to work best in a group, Bastings said it can also be used one-on-one to help draw a person with dementia out of isolation and connect with their caregiver in a relaxed and playful way. She believes creative storytelling gives people with dementia a sense of purpose. “They gain trust again in their ability to communicate, to make meaning,” said Bastings.

It’s official: Dancing is good for the brain

Recent research shows that social activities, like dancing, can reduce the risk of dementia among seniors. Stanford University’s dance studies department highlighted a study on the school’s website that took the research one step further.

The research was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and funded by the National Institute on Aging. It studied adults 75 years and older to determine which physical or mental exercises improved cognitive sharpness.

Researchers looked at a number of mental and physical activities that included reading, writing, crossword puzzles, playing cards, playing a musical instrument, swimming, cycling, tennis, golf, dancing, walking and doing housework.

The study found that, although physical activities offered cardiovascular benefits, most did not reduce advancement of dementia. That beneficial gold medal went to social dancing.

Shown below is the risk reduction each activity provided:

  • Reading: 35% reduced risk of dementia
  • Cycling and swimming: 0%
  • Doing crossword puzzles a minimum of four days a week: 47%
  • Playing golf: 0%
  • Dancing frequently: 76%

Use it or lose it

Richard Powers, a social dance instructor and historian at Stanford, wrote about the Einstein study and its implications on Standford’s website. According to Powers, as people age, brains cells die and are not replaced, reducing the number of nerve cell connections to stored information, like names. This makes it more difficult to retrieve information that was familiar and readily accessible at one time. If all nerve cell connections fail, the person can no longer retrieve the desired words.

But all is not lost. The existing connections can be strengthened and new connections can be built with challenging mental activity on a regular basis. The more challenging the task is, the greater the benefits. That’s where dance comes in. While it may seem like only a fun physical activity, it is actually a great way to beef up the brain cells. Powers said dancing engages a number of brain functions simultaneously: kinesthetic (movement of muscles, tendons and joints), rational, musical and emotional.

Powers points out that not all dancing will be equal in terms of cognitive benefit. The best form of dancing is freestyle lead and follow because it requires split-second decision-making on the part of both partners. Social dancing that will provide this mental stimulation includes basic foxtrot, waltz and swing.

Choose new over familiar

A research study led by Denise Park, psychological scientist and lead researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas, provided insights similar to those of the Einstein study. “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” said Park. “When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside your enhancement zone.”

Use Therapeutic Fibbing to Calm Loved Ones with Dementia

Therapeutic fibbing, or white lies, can be a very effective technique for decreasing anxiety in people with dementia. Because their brains are damaged and no longer function like a healthy brain, those with cognitive impairment live in an altered reality, though very real to them.

When dementia causes a person to forget that they no longer drive or live in the home they had for many years, hearing the “truth” can cause anxiety and emotional damage because they are unable to process the truth. Using a therapeutic or white lie, such as “the car is being serviced,” can be one of the kindest and most effective responses a caregiver can give someone living in the past because of memory loss.

This evasive technique, along with re-direction and diversion, protects them from a reality that will only cause pain and agitation due to their damaged brain. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “meticulous honesty can lead to emotional distress when someone has dementia and does not remember their parents are no longer living.”

Using this technique does not mean you are trying to deceive a person. Rather, you are helping them to feel comfortable, safe and calm. The word “therapeutic” means “having or exhibiting healing powers.” So when you use this method you are helping to comfort a loved one’s fear and promoting moments of joy as opposed to moments of anxiety.

Socializing Has a Positive Impact on Senior Health

meth-wick-benefits-of-staying-involved

You enjoy your book club, visits with grandkids and lunch with friends, but did you also know these are good for your health?

Research shows that social interaction is good for everyone, but it is especially beneficial for older adults. “Social capital” is the name researchers have given to the ties that help us build trust, connection and participation. As part of the aging process, people often retire from jobs, lose friends through death and lose family due to busy careers or relocation. This reduction in social interaction can have a negative impact on an older person’s physical and mental health.

All Interaction Helps
Fortunately, it is never too late for an older adult to reap the rewards of a social life, according to an article from the Health Behavior News Service of the Center for Advancing Health.

The article quotes the author of a study related to the effects of socialization among older adults: “People have some control over their social lives, so it is encouraging to find that something many people find enjoyable—socializing with others—can benefit their cognitive and physical health,” says Patricia A. Thomas, Ph.D.

Dr. Thomas and her research associates studied how a person’s changing social connections over time affected health. Study participants, all over the age of 60, were asked about social activities such as visiting family and friends; attending meetings, programs or clubs; and volunteering in the community. They were also asked about mental and physical limitations.

Thomas found that participants with medium to high levels of social engagement delayed the onset of cognitive and physical health issues. She points out, “Even if older adults weren’t socially active when they were younger, when they increase social activity later in life, it can still reduce physical and cognitive health issues.”

The Impact of Communities with Rich Social Capital
Compelling arguments for the importance of social connections are also shared through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkley.

An article on the Center’s website discusses the research work of Yvonne Michael at the Drexel University School of Public Health, who studies the effects of social capital on seniors.

Her studies involve asking older adults living in various communities to answer questions such as “Are your neighbors willing to help each other with routine maintenance?” or “Can you trust your neighbors?” Using the results, Michael determines the connections between health, behavior and social capital.

In a health study involving 14,000 older adults, Michael found that seniors who live in neighborhoods with high levels of social capital are more physically mobile than those living in neighborhoods with low social capital.

In summary, Michael said, “Living in a place with greater social capital—where there is more trust and more helpful neighbors—you will feel more comfortable walking around to get to places you need to go, which helps you stay mobile.”

A Healthy Answer to Isolation
Senior living communities like Meth-Wick provide a solution to the decline in the social capital of older adults. We offer an environment where companionship and interaction are easily accessible.

Meth-Wick’s Town Center is our hub of social activity, where residents can join friends for a leisurely cup of coffee or participate in one of many programs to exercise the body and mind. There are also many on-campus opportunities to volunteer, which is another important way to build social capital.

At Meth-Wick, we believe in helping our residents live their best life through many forms of social engagement, while at the same time respecting personal privacy.

Assisted Living for Memory Needs

 

Arbor Place is an assisted-living facility for those with mild to moderate cognitive losses from Alzheimer’s disease, providing a safe and secure living environment.

Most people with Alzheimer’s disease have “late-onset” Alzheimer’s, which usually develops after age 60. Because of this, Meth-Wick caregivers in Arbor Place practice the standard of care that recent research indicates will afford the greatest benefit to people with cognitive losses: providing small groups of people with a quiet, family-style home where they feel safe and are encouraged to take part in wellness and recreation programs that promote quality of life. Arbor Place’s high caregiver-to-resident ratio ensures each resident receives the attention they need in a warm, caring environment.

Arbor Place is set up in four cottages, each with up to eight residents who have private rooms. The atmosphere can be thought of as a “busy household.” Each cottage has a caregiver that works with the residents on a daily basis. It is important that the caregiver is consistent with the residents so they get to know each other well.

Arbor Place residents have access to two secure outside gardens, which creates a constant flow of people in and out throughout the day. Activities for residents are normal day-to-day things we would do for ourselves, laundry, cooking and baking. They also have more structure activities likes exercise, crafts and music. Like we said, it is a busy household!

In addition to the daily atmosphere, there are a few things that make this type of care at Meth-Wick different than in other retirement communities:

  1. Access to a 24/7 nurse – There is a full-time nurse manager at Arbor Place Monday through Friday.
  2. Each room is private. Each cottage has it’s own living room, kitchen and all eight residents can dine together and can socialize with one another in a large common area.

“Arbor Place care is highly individualized and residents receive a lot of attention,” says Sue Schmitt, Director of Post-Acute Care. “Comfort and peace are important factors in creating a home for residents. Individual and group activities are planned with each person in mind and provided by staff members who know each of them well. The place has an energy and vibe indicating there’s stuff going on; the residents are happy and busy.”

Get The Facts & Resources The First Time

Know the factsWhen turning to the internet for information on senior living options, hundreds of websites and links appear shortly after typing in your desired search. How do you choose the right link? Is all the information out there correct? This is the age of technology, and turning to the internet for facts, resources, and information, is natural. The information may be easily accessible, but the challenge comes when you need to find resources that are applicable to your own personal situation.

Too much information can be stressful, and when it comes to considering senior living options, most people are first time shoppers. There are a number of different options to choose from such as: senior living services, levels of care, for profit vs not for profit, and more. It is hard to find the option that seems best for your loved one.

How do you get the facts and resources you need right at the beginning of your search so you don’t have to filter through endless pages of generic information? At Meth-Wick Community, we offer valuable information on our website to help you get started. Under our guided tabs such as Styles of Living, Services, and Resources, you can learn about the different levels of care we offer, the services offered such as home and health services, rehabilitation services, wellness and recreation, and downsizing services, as well as links to our calender downloads, and our most frequently asked questions. While you are there, browse campus photos and view videos.

If you like what you see, but still have more questions, take your search one step further and contact one of our Sales Representatives for Independent Living or our Admissions Coordinator for health services areas. Our team is ready and willing to help you every step of the way, and can provide you with the right facts and resources to aid in your decision making process. Call 319-365-9171 or email today!

Additional Resources:
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