It’s one of the most debilitating diseases families are forced to face.
Watching a loved one struggle with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and memory loss can be heartbreaking, especially when the afflicted no longer remember their loved ones or the things they once enjoyed doing.
The sixth leading cause of death in the USA today, 5.7 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Each year June is designated Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time dedicated to increasing awareness about Alzheimer’s and inviting the public to learn about caring for those who are fighting the disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research, “Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia, which is not a specific disease, but an overall term that describes a group of symptoms”.
Because Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, the symptoms typically develop slowly and get worse over time – eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with simple daily tasks.
The 10 early signs and symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association include: memory loss that disrupts daily life; challenges in planning or solving problems; difficulty completing familiar task at home, work, or at leisure; confusion with time or place; trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships that create difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving; new problems with words when speaking and writing; misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps; decreased or poor judgment; withdrawal from work or social activities; and changes in mood or personality.
Locally, nursing facilities like the Adams County Manor and Eagle Creek Nursing Home have adopted specialized treatments such as “Music & Memory” for their Alzheimer’s patients.
The “Music & Memory” program is based on the idea that music can improve the health and quality of life for those suffering from cognitive decline. The program’s work is rooted in extensive neuroscience research, and its results are often nothing short of miraculous.
According to Anita Dunkin, Activities Director at the Adams County Manor, listening to their favorite songs can frequently trigger memories in those afflicted with the disease.
“It brings them back to life and it improves the quality of life for them,” says Dunkin. “We use it with patients who suffer from cognitive decline to help bring them out just a little bit, and we also use it for patients with behavioral issues, it seems to soothe and calm them. It’s been successful, we’ve seen progress with many of our patients.”
Diana Blanton, Director of Eagle Creek Nursing Home, says her staff also uses specialized programs with their Alzheimer’s patients.
“We do sensory therapy involving all five senses, a movement program designed for those who are susceptible to falls, as well as Music & Memory,” Blanton said, adding that the effectiveness of the programs varies from patient to patient.
“It’s a day-by-day thing how well our patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s react to the programs,” she says. “We have had some success, especially with those patients whose dementia isn’t as severe.”
Dunkin says that community support is an important part of the care Alzheimer’s patients and their families receive at the Manor.
“We have some amazing local Alzheimer’s support groups and organizations who provide a valuable service for our patients. We provide information to the families, and we also have groups that talk one on one with social services and with me, plus I work in patient’s homes to help teach the families how to care for them.”
She says “being in the Alzheimer’s patient’s reality” is key to effective treatment.
“When they slip into another time period, you do more harm by trying to force them back to our reality, it leads to fearfulness and aggression,” she says. “You just have to go with their flow.”