Does My Parent Have Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia?

Does My Parent Have Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia?

If you have concerns about an aging parent’s behavior or memory, you’ve probably wondered if they have Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. What should you do about your worries? First and foremost, tell the doctor!

If you’d like to share your concerns with your parent’s doctor but are worried about upsetting your parent, send the doctor your concerns in writing. No HIPAA authorization is needed for you to share your thoughts with parent’s health professional.

However, if you, your parent, and your parent’s doctor truly want to get to the bottom of things, you can take a simple approach that is incredibly effective: start taking notes on the behaviors known to correspond with Alzheimer’s.

By doing so, you’ll be gathering the kind of detailed information that doctors need in order to confirm cognitive issues and likely detect the disease.

Eight Alzheimer’s Behaviors to Track

Research shows that there are eight primary Alzheimer’s behaviors to track and for each of the behaviors, it’s important to take down the following:

  • What kinds of problems you see your parent having now
  • When you — or another person — first noticed problems, and what you observed
  • Whether there’s been a change or decline compared to the way your parent used to be
  • Whether this seems to be due to memory and thinking, versus physical limitations such as pain, shortness of breath or physical disabilities

Note: If you don’t notice a problem in any of the following areas, be specific in documenting this. (e.g. “no such problem noted.”) That way, you and your family will know you didn’t forget to consider that behavior.

1. Daily Struggles with Memory or Thinking
It’s normal for older adults to have a lapse here and there. But if your parent seems to experience a memory or thinking problem every day, make a note of this. It’s a good idea to add specific examples describing what you — or another person — observed.

2. Difficulty Learning to Use Something New
Any difficulty learning to use a new appliance or new gadget, such as a smartphone? Make note of what your parent has difficulty adapting to and how he or she tried to manage.

3. Difficulty Managing Finances
Have you noticed any problems managing bills, expenses or taxes? You might have to ask your parents about this if you aren’t usually involved in their finances.

4. Forgetting the Month or Year
Any difficulty keeping track of the current year or month? If it happens more than once, make a note of the especially.

5. Poor Judgment
Have you noticed any behaviors or situations that seem to indicate bad decisions? Any excessive or unusual spending? Or perhaps a poor understanding of safety concerns that everyone else is worried about? Write down anything you or another person close to your parents has observed.

6. Problems With Appointments and Commitments
Has your parent missed any appointments or forgotten about a get-together that you’d planned? Everyone forgets something occasionally, but if this happened repeatedly, be sure to document when it started and how bad it’s gotten.

7. Reduced Interest in Leisure Activities
Have you noticed that your parent no longer seems as interested or involved in his/her hobbies? Did your mother read voraciously but now hardly picks up a book? Any change in hobbies or leisure activities should be noted, especially if such a change doesn’t seem to be related to a problem with physical health.

8. Repeating Oneself
Any repeating of stories? Any asking the same questions repeatedly? Has your parent been declaring the same thing, e.g. “I really love those roses you gave me!”, over and over again? If so, write that down.

How to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease

The eight behaviors listed above correspond to the brain’s ability to learn or manage memory or judgment. To diagnose Alzheimer’s or another dementia, your parent’s doctors must document that your parent has been having persistent difficulties in two or more areas of brain function. (This is necessary but not sufficient for diagnosis as the doctors must also rule out other causes for thinking problems).

While doctors can assess the different aspects of brain function through certain office-based thinking tests, research has found that asking family members about the behaviors previously listed can be just as effective when it comes to spotting probable dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Getting this type of observational information from family members helps doctors determine whether the behavior is a persisting, and maybe even worsening problem. This matters because a single office-based test only provides a snapshot of how your parent’s brain is doing that particular day.

Last but not least, geriatric doctors very much appreciate getting these kinds of behavioral observations from families as its practical information related to people’s daily lives. By knowing more about what kinds of problems an older person has been experiencing, physicians can make useful recommendations right away to help families with family conflicts, independence, and safety.

Ways to Help Your Parents Get the Right Care

Doctors who knowledgeable about dementia will ask a family about problems related to the eight behaviors previously mentioned. Unfortunately, many primary care doctors aren’t experienced in evaluating dementia. It’s not unusual for doctors to wave off a family’s concerns or have them be told that this is just what happens when people age. Such a scenario can happen partly because families are often a bit vague when they voice concerns. This means the doctor has to do more work in investigating the concern and in documenting specific problems that can help diagnose Alzheimer’s. Some doctors will do this work, but since office visits are often rushed, many of them won’t get around to it.

Unless you are proactive and bring detailed information to help the doctors take further action. The more specifics you can share regarding what you have observed, the more likely you’ll get the help your parent and your family need. Plus, whether or not Alzheimer’s caused these behaviors, they often cause anxiety and frustration within families. So it’s important to bring them up to a doctor so that you can get help understanding the cause and learn what to do next.

Don’t go on for too long with the worrying and the wondering. Take notes so that you can take better action.

With the Holidays Around the Corner, Plan Now to Have Conversations about Senior Living with Loved Ones

With the Holidays Around the Corner, Plan Now to Have Conversations about Senior Living with Loved Ones

Many families head home for the holidays, gathering together and reconnecting with loved ones who they may have not seen in a while. Many times, these gatherings are the first settings where family members notice age-related decline, as well as cognitive and health or safety issues facing older loved ones.

Maybe a family member is having mobility issues or seem to need more help with the activities associated with daily living. Perhaps there is nothing wrong but you just feel like it’s important to discuss options surrounding topics such as senior living, finances, or even end-of-life wishes.

Whatever the reason, The Classic wants to help families learn how to recognize problems and provide advice on having tough conversations with them this holiday season.

Prepare for the Talk

Before your family arrives for the holidays, create a list of all the things you want to cover. There are certain topics that should probably be discussed, including:

  • Any perceived age-related decline and/or cognitive ability
  • Financial planning
  • Health and safety
  • Legal planning
  • General well-being

If moving to a senior living community is definitely off the table, you and your family members may want to discuss who would take over as a caregiver(s) if it becomes necessary.

Discussing Health and Safety Issues

Physical decline is a natural part of the aging process, but it can be difficult for both you and your family member to discuss. Despite this, families are encouraged to open a dialogue regarding health and safety issues.

The first elements to ask about are the activities of daily living, which includes tasks such as:

  • Dressing themselves
  • Cooking/feeding themselves
  • Proper grooming and hygiene
  • Using the restroom
  • Housekeeping and basic home maintenance
  • Shopping for groceries and other essentials
  • Walking around and general mobility

If your family member has any difficulty performing these basic necessities of life, it can lead to major issues, and it may be an indicator of other possible health issues.

Discussing Financial Planning with Your Aging Loved Ones

Bringing up the subject of finances with your parents or another relative can often be a sensitive subject, but as loved ones get older it becomes increasingly important. Modern medicine is helping us live longer than ever before, and while that is generally a good thing, it can cause problems down the road if you don’t adequately prepare yourself financially.

Being prepared for any potential future costs requires a thorough conversation regarding your loved one’s current and future financial position, expenses, lifestyle, medical needs, and other sensitive topics.

Approach the conversation with care, and make sure to:

  • Ask your parents about their goals
  • Practice what you want to say
  • Talk in a comfortable setting

Speak to a financial professional, preferably one with experience in retirement planning, and be sure to stay involved as your loved one will let you. Use caution, as there are unscrupulous financial advisors out there who could try to take advantage of senior clients.

Discuss Legal Planning with Your Loved One

Legal planning is an important aspect of retirement planning. The main goal of any legal plans should be to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are carried out while also protecting you and your family. For these reasons, we recommend discussing legal matters with them candidly.

Everyone, regardless of their age or status, should have both a will and a living will, but this is especially true for older adults. It’s also important that they have (and you are aware of) the following legal items:

  • A life insurance policy
  • An end-of-life wishes letter (for things not covered by a will)
  • Authorization to release health care information
  • Health insurance
  • Health care proxy (durable healthcare power-of-attorney (POA)
  • Insurance cards
  • Lists of current medication and health conditions
  • Organ donor information

Assessing and Discussing Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Cognitive (mental) decline can be one of the most intimidating facets of aging for many older adults and their children. During the holiday season, you should keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • Repeatedly asking the same questions
  • Changes in normal behavior
  • Difficulty holding a conversation
  • Difficulty with short-term memory
  • Forgetting names

Some older adults learn to develop coping mechanisms to deal with one or more of these issues, so you may have to pay close attention to notice if they are having any difficulties or displaying any of the aforementioned warning signs.

When and How to Talk About Senior Living Options

It’s recommended that you discuss the topic of your loved one’s situation with other family members before you bring it up during the holidays. Consider waiting until everyone has arrived and settled in before broaching the topic. Many times, people are worn out from traveling and fatigue can be a major contributor to frustration. The last thing you want is a big “blow-up” at the start of your holiday celebration.

If at any point you feel these topics are upsetting your loved one, take a break for a while. Making the situation seem urgent will just further contribute to frustration. Many people associate making the move to a senior living community with a loss of independence or usefulness, which is why, when, and how you discuss these topics is so important.

Other tips to help this conversation go more smoothly include:

  • Be sure the person understands that the move will make them more comfortable and keep them safe.
  • Reassure them that this their choice and the decision is entirely up to them.
  • If you or your loved one know someone who lives in a senior living community, invite them to come and talk about their experiences with you.
  • Make sure the whole family is on the same page. You don’t want others offering conflicting opinions or advice.
  • Reassure them this is just a change of address and that you will visit regularly.

Having these conversations may not always be easy. It’s important for you to be your loved one’s health advocate, especially if they are experiencing physical or mental decline. While their opinion and wishes are important, it’s also critical for you to know when to be compassionate but firm in explaining what you believe is best for their overall welfare.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Since 1983, Alzheimer’s Awareness Month has been observed in November, thanks to a presidential proclamation from President Ronald Reagan. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of U.S. citizens dealing with this disease has now grown to more than five million.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that leads to memory, thinking, and behavior problems. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80 percent of all cases. It is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time and eventually comes to a point where a person can no longer accomplish daily tasks. In the beginning, memory problems are mild, but as the disease progresses, patients become unaware of their environment and may no longer be able to carry on a conversation. Once their symptoms become noticeable, Alzheimer’s patients typically live an average of eight years, but can survive for as many as 20 years—depending on other health factors. Although those ages 65 and older are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, there are thousands of others under the age of 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Is there a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease?

There are no drugs or treatments to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but there are treatments that can slow down its progression. Researchers are constantly looking for new treatments as they search for a cure for this mind-robbing disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Part of Alzheimer’s disease awareness is knowing the symptoms so you can know whether a loved one may be developing it. Symptoms include:

  • Memory Loss – People may forget things they’ve learned as well as dates and events. They may also ask for the same information over and over again.
  • Trouble Planning or Solving Problems – You may notice a loved one taking longer to complete tasks they used to be able to do much quicker. You may also notice they have trouble following directions, even a simple recipe becomes complex.
  • Confusion with Time or Place – People with Alzheimer’s often lose track of time. They also forget where they are and even how they got there.
  • Misplacing Things & Unable to Retrace Steps – As people forget dates and events they may also start to misplace objects. Although they would be able to retrace their steps in the past and find what they are looking for, that is no longer the case. This may lead them to accuse others of stealing because they can no longer find what’s theirs.
  • Mood & Personality Changes – Because of the changes that are going on in their mind, you may notice major shifts in mood and personality. They may become confused, suspicious, and even depressed.

Helping People with Alzheimer’s Disease

Although there is no cure Alzheimer’s disease, there are things you can do to help a loved one, especially if the disease is still in its early stages.

  • Keep a Daily Routine – This helps to avoid confusion and lets the person know what can be expected. Alzheimer’s patients like routines.
  • Don’t Overstimulate – Keep things simple. Say one thing at a time. Present only one idea so that the person can understand it the best they can.
  • Be Reassuring – Always try to make the person feel safe and comfortable. Sometimes even saying the words, “You are safe with me” is enough to make the person feel at ease.
  • Don’t Yell or Argue – As frustrated as you may get, imagine how your loved one feels. They can no longer grasp what is going on inside their own heads. Don’t yell or argue out of frustration. Be the calming voice they need.

While you may be able to care for a person with Alzheimer’s in the early stages of the disease, doing so as it progresses can become more challenging. Many times the patient can present a danger to themselves by wandering off or forgetting to turn off the stove. If this is the case, it may be time to consider a memory care community than can monitor and manage the care of your loved one.

For those living with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, The Classic at Hillcrest Greens provides an optimal balance of security, independence, empowerment, and honor.

Our highly trained, licensed professionals ensure 24-hour individualized care, while our Life Enrichment staff is trained in the concept of generating daily moments of success by offering opportunities for residents to find happiness and meaning along with supporting their unique needs. This overall approach to interaction with our residents focuses on creating feelings of belonging and purpose while seeking to preserve their identity and sense of self.

When Is It Time to Place a Loved One with Dementia in a Long-Term Care Community?

When Is It Time to Place a Loved One with Dementia in a Long-Term Care Community?

As the pool of seniors in American becomes increasingly greater with each passing year, a frequent question more and more families are faced with is: “How do I know when it’s time to place my loved one with dementia in a long-term care community?”

Most long-term care experts will agree that every scenario can be unique and different. The general rule of thumb however is that there is really no downside to placing a loved one in community too soon. However, there are many drawbacks in waiting too long.

If your loved one requires a higher level of care, and for whatever reason(s) you decide to wait, the number of things than can potentially go wrong are endless.

Medication Management
In a facility like a memory care unit, all medications are carefully regulated. They are administered on a strict schedule, the nursing and care staff look for any indications that a resident’s regimen should be changed, and they can usually implement these changes quickly once the doctor has approved them.

When your loved one is living at home, all of the medication oversight falls to you. While many family caregivers learn a great deal while caring for their loved ones with dementia, there are certain signs and issues that only medical professionals can pick up on and address. Even if you do notice a problem, getting them to the doctor for an evaluation to change their meds can be a struggle.

Mobility Issues
Toward the end stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, patients have extremely limited mobility. This is a serious hazard for both the patient and their caregiver. For example, a petite 70-year old woman could easily get hurt trying to get her 180-pound husband to the bathroom two or three times each night. Continuing to care for him at home puts them both in danger of falling.

Bathing, toileting, dressing, and other activities of daily living all come with risks, but a facility is far better equipped to safely handle any of these concerns. They have the proper equipment, training, and manpower to assist residents and prevent accidents.

Wandering
A loved one can easily get out of the house without their caregiver realizing, and this can be a life-threatening situation. Wandering can (and does) happen in facilities, but the residents are limited to spaces within the building and, in some cases, a secure area outside. This is why supervised memory care is so valuable for dementia patients and their family members. The residents are able to move about, but the premises are heavily monitored and often feature special security measures to prevent them from wandering away from the facility and getting lost or injured. The response time when someone does wander is greatly increased as well, due to the number of employees available to look for them.

Caregiver Stress
It doesn’t matter if you are in your thirties or in your seventies, the stress that dementia puts on a caregiver is the same. If you are in your thirties, chances are you are in reasonably good health, but older caregivers are more likely to have medical conditions of their own to contend with. Stress can quickly manifest itself in people of any age, and is known to exacerbate even minor ailments. Be honest with yourself about your emotional and physical limits while caregiving. Sometimes placement in a facility is best for both the caregiver and the loved one’s overall health and well-being.

Long-Distance Caregiving
Caregiving from afar rarely works, especially for loved ones with progressive illnesses like dementia. How could it? Some local family members can provide intermittent support, but they still struggle to stay on top of the level of care and assistance that their loved one requires. Adequate supervision and care can’t be provided from afar. The patient’s needs will continue to increase, and it will only put more strain on the caregiver and leave the person with dementia more vulnerable.

In a long-term care facility, yes, there are more residents, but there are also more caregivers. Unlike family member who lives across town or across the country, nurses and aides are on duty around the clock to ensure residents are safe and their needs are met.

Rely on a Plan, Not a Promise
The most important reason to have a plan way before it is time to even think about placement is because you probably make a promise years ago that you would handle a loved one’s care yourself. It is common for people to promise to take care of their parents, spouse, siblings, whomever and pledge to never place a loved one in a nursing home for any reason.

There is the fact however that as a patient, a person deserves and should demand to be taken care of to the best of one’s ability. A dementia patient’s daily care should not be substandard simply because of a promise their family member made some 20 or 30 years ago. We all have made promises we haven’t kept for one reason or another. This thing about, “I promised my mom I would never put her in a facility,” is noble, but that’s about it.

Sometimes it can simply be a matter of pride for caregivers. A caregiver doesn’t want their family to know that he/she is struggling with Dad, so they do the best they can, not even realizing that the care they are trying to provide is substandard. Every person deserves to be taken care of. A loved one may not be able to communicate or have any idea what is going on around them, but they deserve to have their dignity intact.

Placing your loved one in a long-term care community doesn’t have to be as dramatic as it is often portrayed to be. Communities that offer Memory Care are nothing like the nursing home setting of 30 years ago. It’s highly likely that neither the potential resident nor the caregiver has ever been in a specialized facility that cares for individuals with dementia, because most people don’t have a plan in place for that scenario.

There is research involved, a medical assessment of your loved one must be conducted, and there needs to be a financial plan in place to cover the costs of professional care. When you take your time to prepare, there is less drama and fewer surprises.

Do yourself and your loved one a favor and be prepared. Placing a loved one is one of the most loving things you will ever do for them. You are doing something your heart tells you not to, but you are doing something that your mind knows is the right thing to do. At the end of the day, this is exactly what you said you would do all those years ago….take care of them. When you can no longer manage, you seek out placement. This is, in fact, taking care of them.

My Parents Need Assisted Living. Where Do I Start?

My Parents Need Assisted Living. Where Do I Start?

It can be difficult to realize that dad or mom need more care in a setting like assisted living. Just as your parents kept us safe and secure when we needed it, there comes a time when we’re called upon to return this same caring concern with our parents.

Steps to Take When Your Parents Need Assisted Living

Some of us will provide care to our parents or senior loved ones in our own home for a period of time, but this scenario is not always possible for all families, or…always desired by the children or parents themselves. Many families will in turn, find themselves searching for an assisted living community. These communities provide an intermediate level of residential care for seniors who aren’t safe living by themselves.

Ideally, your parents can be full participants in the search, but if your loved one is impaired by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you may to proactively take more control of the decision making.

If you see that your parent(s) need assisted living, here are some steps that can help you find them the right care:

1. Determine what you can afford.
Like it or not, money is going to be a factor in many families’ searches. Look at what your family can afford on a monthly basis. You may be need to look into creative ways to pay for care, like social security, veterans benefits, or long-term care insurance if your parents have that available to them. Some families may have to consider difficult options such as pooling resources from the adult children, selling a family home, or even cashing in a life insurance policy.

2. Research assisted living communities in the area you are planning to have your parents live.
Make a list of needs and preferences and research which communities can meet those criteria while being in your price range. For those families who ultimately cannot afford private-pay senior care and will require state assistance in the form of Medicaid, an appropriate resource is your county’s Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC).

3. Visit a number of assisted living communities.
No amount of time viewing brochures, floor plans, photos, or reviews can substitute for an in-person visit to an assisted living community. Schedule visits for you and your parent at a minimum of three communities on your short list. If you and your parent have the time and stamina, it may be helpful to visit more communities as you narrow the search. A good time to tour is during a meal, such as lunch, so potential residents can try the food and get a good sense of the community’s culture; as many residents will be out and about during a mealtime. Based on these initial tours, narrow down your search to two or three favorites. Perform follow-up tours…perhaps even unannounced…to get a good sense for the community you and your parent are considering.

4. Include your parent or senior loved one.
The more involved your parents are in the search, the better. Of course, you can do much of the legwork for them, but have discussions with your parents about their desires and preferences and, ideally, present them with a range of options.

5. Prepare to move.
If you’ve come this far in the process, there’s no sense in delaying the move. It’s risky to procrastinate when a parent needs care, as the delay can lead to avoidable accidents and medical problems.

6. Work together towards a decision.
Whether your parent is choosing the community themselves or you need to make that decision for parents impaired by Alzheimer’s or dementia, try to make sure that everyone in your family feels good about the choice. When possible, have conversations with your parents discussing the pros and cons of each option and try to find consensus about the right option.