Growing old with dignity

Growing old with dignity

1. When my children tell me I should no longer drive, I will believe them and quit, because I know they love me.

2. When it becomes apparent that I need extra help, I will accept it from outsiders because my children cannot do everything. They have other obligations beyond my daily care.

3. It is up to me to make my life fulfilling. It is not my children’s responsibility. I must stay active and learn to entertain myself so I do not become a burden to them.

4. If my children tell me I am becoming confused and that it is no longer safe for me to be alone, I will believe them and not become defensive.

5. If I am unable to get along with my children, I will seek counseling so we can learn to manage the changes in my life together.

6. I will get my legal affairs in order and trust the advice of professionals so there will be no problems about money or property down the road.

7. I will not complain about feeling poorly. My children cannot fix my health, and such complaints are emotionally draining for them to hear.

8. My children are not my indentured servants. I will remember to thank them for everything they do for me, and I will do loving things in return.

9. I will avoid making my children feel guilty. Age is no excuse for insults and manipulative behavior.

10. For as long as I can, I will take good care of myself physically, dress well and carry myself with dignity. Nothing saddens a child more than to witness parents who give up on how they present themselves.

SEPTEMBER IS WORLD ALZHEIMER’S MONTH

September is World Alzheimer’s Month with World Alzheimer’s Day taking place on 21 September. 2017 will mark the fifth World Alzheimer’s Month, which aims to raise awareness and challenge the stigma and misinformation that surrounds this illness.

Currently, it’s believed that around 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Unfortunately, this figure is only predicted to rise alongside a growing population and an inevitable increase in life expectancy. In fact, it is expected that over 131 million people worldwide will be living with dementia by 2050.

With so many people currently living with dementia, it’s surprising that this is a topic that is rarely spoken about. Campaigners believe that this is down to people’s lack of knowledge. So, with that in mind, we’ve decided to answer the most common questions surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s, dementia and just getting old?

Many people are unable to define Alzheimer’s disease, or establish the difference between it and dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s  Disease International state that two out of three people globally have little to no understanding about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in their country. The most common misconception is that it’s just about having poor memory.

Of course, every one of us is forgetful from time to time. How often have you forgotten where you put your keys, or walked into a room looking for something, only to forget what it was? As our bodies and brains age, our memory is bound to be less sharp than it was when we were in our 20s. Nevertheless, contrary to what some people believe, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of the aging process.

So, when is it time to stop blaming it on ‘old age’ and contemplate whether it’s something more serious? If memory loss and mental ability become so severe that they start to interfere with daily life, then it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But, what’s the difference, and how do they affect more than memory?

Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a progressive, physical disease that directly affects the brain, leading to the eventual death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.

Dementia:

Dementia is a set of symptoms, rather than a disease. These symptoms can include memory loss and trouble with language, thinking or problem-solving. They can occur when the brain is damaged by a disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

There are four common types of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed all over the world and do not discriminate against gender, ethnicity, social or economic circumstance, nor age. However, they are most likely to affect the elderly.

Dementia develops in approximately one person in every 1,000 up to the age of 65. This sharply rises to one person in every fourteen over the age of 65. Over the age of 80, the chance of having the condition rises significantly to one in six.

What causes Alzheimer’s?

Unfortunately, no one has been able to definitively declare what causes Alzheimer’s or dementia.

In some cases, abnormal genetics have proven to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, due to an inherited mutation in one gene. However, this has typically been found to cause ‘early onset’ Alzheimer’s disease, which affects people under the age of 65.

Nevertheless, genes are believed to contribute to someone’s susceptibility to the disease. For example, those with a close family member who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is three times more likely to develop the disease themselves than someone of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. In cases like this, it is believed that genetics may play a part, but are not necessarily the direct cause. Nor does it mean that dementia is irrefutably inevitable.

What are the warning signs?

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect everyone differently, with symptoms varying between Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. However, there are similarities between them all, with a sudden change in memory being the most common early symptom.

Both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect the short-term memory in their initial stages. Of course, that’s not to say that if you forget where you put your wallet, you’ve got dementia. Rather, someone with early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia will be perfectly able to recall a childhood memory, but struggle to remember what they ate for breakfast that day, or if they even had breakfast at all.

  • Another red flag is if their memory worsens over time. Other warning signs include:
  • Having trouble forming sentences or naming objects
  • Difficulty performing day-to-day, familiar tasks, such as cooking or getting dressed
  • No longer caring about how they look or forgetting to bath or shower
  • Extreme mood swings, i.e. being perfectly calm one minute and then aggressive or anxious the next
  • Strange behaviour and impaired judgement, such as taking clothes off in public
  • Suddenly being unable to name – or even recognise – friends or family
  • General confusion and disorientation
  • Getting lost, particularly in familiar surroundings like their own neighbourhood

If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself, or someone you love, then you should talk to your local doctor. An early diagnosis can help in enabling those with dementia and their carers to be better equipped to handle the disease’s progression.

Does Alzheimer’s disease kill?

Because Alzheimer disease and dementia are both progressive, it does mean that symptoms worsen over time. Late stages of Alzheimer’s disease can see people unable to speak or interact with their surroundings in any way.

Many people with late stage dementia require round-the-clock care and cannot walk or sit. They can also become more susceptible to catching infections, such as pneumonia.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

Unfortunately, doctors and medical experts are yet to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, it is believed that the progression of the disease can sometimes be slowed down, while some symptoms can even be treated.

For example, medication can be administered to tackle symptoms such as agitation or sleeplessness. Other treatments are believed to slow down the progression of the disease for some patients for between 6 and 18 months.

How can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Not enough is currently known about what causes Alzheimer’s disease to recommend any specific preventative measures. Even though it is recognised that Alzheimer’s disease is common with increasing age, it is not known what triggers the brain tissue to change.

However, a healthy lifestyle is always recommended. While there’s no definitive proof yet that it will prevent dementia altogether, there have been encouraging hints that a healthy body does in fact lead to a healthy mind. These healthy lifestyle factors include:

  • Being physically active
  • Staying socially engaged, especially in older age
  • Keeping mentally active by reading, doing crosswords, puzzles or playing chess and bridge, especially in older age
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, especially in mid-life (45-65)
  • Avoiding high blood pressure, especially in mid-life (45-65)
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation

Our Best is Good Enough

Christmas is Here: Our Best is Good Enough

The decisions caregivers of elderly loved ones must make during the Christmas holidays are fraught with opportunities to make mistakes in judgment. Chief among them is how much to include a loved one who has dementia in the festivities.

Will the Christmas tree bring Mom happy memories of past Christmas pleasures or will it remind her of the Christmas tree fire in her home when she was a five year old child? Will the gathering of loving relatives bring her a feeling of being loved and cared for or will she suffer from horrible anxiety because of all of these people who have become strangers?

Is it better to leave Dad, who now lives in a memory unit at a wonderful assisted living facility, to your home for the family gathering or should you let him have a quieter Christmas and visit him in his new home – the memory center?

The most frustrating and painful part in this stew of choices is that, in most cases, there is no right answer because we are aiming at a moving target.

Depending on where Mom is in her mind on that particular day, the Christmas tree may bring back wonderful memories or it could bring back that childhood horror. The gathering of loving relatives may seem familiar to her or it she may be too lost in her dementia to remember any of the people, thus making the group a crowd of frightening strangers. You, the caregiver, will have no way to know how your mom will react on that day.

The same, of course, goes for Dad. If you bring him home, will he enjoy his time there remembering good things and then return to his memory unit home without a problem with readjustment? Or will the home you brought him back to just seem like another strange place that causes anxiety and more turmoil? Worse yet, will taking him out make it harder for him to readjust to the memory unit once he returns?

By this time you will already have made up your mind about how you are going to handle these and other complicated holiday decisions. All that I can say to you now is that you’ve done the right thing.

Yes, whatever you decided can backfire, but you have no way of predicting the future. You made the choices with love in your heart and with the best intentions for all concerned. Whatever the result, you will have done your best. You’ll rejoice in the results of this year – or you’ll somehow cope if the outcome is difficult.

I hope that all goes well for you. However, I’m sending my heartfelt understanding to you because I’ve been in your shoes for more holiday seasons than I care to count. Some have gone well. Others have been chaotic and begged to be forgotten. However, I do know that I have done – and am still doing – my best, just as you are.

Don’t let go of this truth. You haven’t made mistakes in your Christmas planning. If there are things that you wish would have gone smoother or if this is a year you’d like to forget, drop the guilt and move on. That’s all we can do. We cannot predict how someone will respond to our best efforts. We try and then we let go of the result.

Our best is good enough.

Carol Bradley Bursack

www.minding our elders.com

www.mindingoureldersblogs.com