Alzheimer’s & Dementia; Common Misunderstandings


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While building friendships thoughout life it was relations with seniors I relished most. We greeted each other in senior centers, we greeted in memory centers, many whom suffered with Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. To this day it was an honor I came to embrace in those whom I served, those moments shared regardless of their memories at free will or fragments of what perhaps was. I am grateful to have met, I will always treasure those moments. Regardless of each persons circumstances, it was time well spent…

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Activities

As an activities coordinator I had first had experience working closely with those whom had Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. The one notable thing I’ve come across that is sometimes misunderstood is the potential of those whom had Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. There are various stages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia but many still have potential to engage in meaningful experiences.

A person with Alzheimer’s may begin to show considerable symptoms of decrease brain functions but underneath the surface of those symptoms one may be surprised with capabilities of what cannot be seen beyond those symptoms. However before I begin to share my experiences on things we can do to maximize quality of life; a life worth living, I’m going to provide a bit of background on Alzheimer’s and Dementia referenced and quoted by National Institute of Aging.

The National Institute of Aging

What is Alzheimer’s?

Scientists continue to unravel the complex brain changes involved in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. It seems likely that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before memory and other cognitive problems become evident. During this preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, people seem to be symptom-free, but toxic changes are taking place in the brain. Abnormal deposits of proteins form amyloid plaques and tau tangles throughout the brain, and once-healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.

The damage initially appears to take place in the hippocampus, the part of the brain essential in forming memories. As more neurons die, additional parts of the brain are affected. By the final stage of Alzheimer’s, damage is widespread, and brain tissue has shrunk significantly.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s follow link provided by

The National Institute of Aging

https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.

The causes of dementia can vary, depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. Other dementias include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia. It is common for people to have mixed dementia—a combination of two or more disorders, at least one of which is dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Other conditions that may cause memory loss or dementia include:

  1.         medication side effects
  2.         chronic alcoholism
  3.         tumors or infections in the                 brain
  4.         blood clots in the brain
  5.         vitamin B12 deficiency
  6.         some thyroid, kidney, or liver             disorders
  7.         stroke
  8.         Parkinson’s disease
  9.         Sleep disturbances

Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible. They can be serious and should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia. For instance, someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse may feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored. Trying to deal with these life changes leaves some people confused or forgetful. The emotional problems can be eased by supportive friends and family, but if these feelings last for a long time, it is important to get help from a doctor or counselor.

The National Institute of Aging is very resourceful if one would like to learn more.

Before I begin I would like to share a tremendous and positive experience I had working in a memory center with seniors whom had Dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. It was my first day as an activities coordinator at this particular memory center (due to confidentiality I cannot disclose information that pertains to clientele).

My trainer and I gather clients whom would appreciate participating in an activity. Many clients were in various stages of Alzheimer’s and/Dementia of being ambulatory, walkers, wheelchairs, etc…

Many were in various  stages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia with memory function, forgetfulness, lethargy, unspoken words…

Some were perhaps, irritable, angry, sacred from the unknown or confusion of where they were…

One thing for sure is everyone needed a sense of belonging regardless of circumstances…

But kindness, compassion and understanding can go a long ways to make the best of circumstances (key word validation)

My trainer and I gathered as many clients as possible at a very large table (I am a big fan of community activities and I will describe in more detain soon) to fits as many clients as possible. We then went to the storage area and grabbed balloons and a water noodle made as floats while swimming. We had the noodles broken in half for this game and called it noodle ball. The estimated amount of clients that participated was roughly 15 and if there was one thing I could assure my readers is everyone participated on their own free will.

We gave everyone a noodle and placed a balloon in the center of the table regardless of where their brain or thoughts may have been. Some perhaps may have been laying dormant. Everyone participated and the many smiles that filled the room to have such a wonderful, somewhat physical activity to play. Those noodles were skillfully used and tailored to each person capabilities of what they could achieve when that balloon came their direction. Surely everyone one had their eye on the prize and this was the balloon. The desire to have this prize come their direction was remarkable and by no means did anyone engage in this game with any other intentions. At times when things became overjoyed to capture the prize we would place a second balloon on the table to bring more joy. I was quite amazed with dexterity because everyone had their own unique challenges to overcome. My thought perhaps lead me to believe that many may have enjoyed volleyball or some sort of sport one time or another. This would include those whom may have laid dormant but they were able to unlock their brain to participate even if it may have been subtle moments. This was a favorite activities among clients and on many occasions they requested to play a bit longer. It was a great distraction from everyday environment, background noise and everyday stressors being away from home.

Unlocking the brain with social interactive activities

I will reference the word “unlocking the brain” as I continue describing potential and meaningful outcomes to engage people whom suffer from Alzheimer’s or Dementia. There as various things we as caregivers can do to try to minimize moments when patterns of the brains disrupt ones ability to get unstuck. By no means can I say suggestions will benefit all situations but maybe more so to minimize behavior changes that may become overwhelming at times. These suggestions will include things that may help caregivers or family member in a home environment too.

1. Background noise can become an undesirable and overwhelming experience for those whom struggle with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. At times this will factor into irritability, frustration and anger.

But if the background noise is desirable such as something they can relate to or enjoy than this is more than likely a positive interaction.

2. Friendships doesn’t need recognition.

In memory centers or day centers I’ve come to recognize some key elements where friendship doesn’t necessarily require one to know another person but rather a substance in fragments. This implies that a loved one may build a friendship without knowing a person’s name nor carry much recognition. But will sit or do activities with a someone based solely on comfort in fragments; partial recognition.

This is crucial for caregivers to be mindful in maintaining these kinds of friendship. Apply this knowledge to everyday use. At times this will fall on the caregiver to help guide an individual to this comfort zone.

3. I’m a fan of community integration and social settings. Sharing a community experience versus small group settings leads to more opportunities to engage as a whole. Often times smaller settings lead to gaps, in return lead to boredom, reminiscing, agitation and loneliness.

It’s been my experience that even if one was at a community center engaging with others it would give them this sense of belonging. Clients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia sometimes benefit from community settings regardless of circumstances. To come together with a sense of acknowledgement and not feel so detached with overwhelming emotions.

It’s a great way for caregivers to see things from a different perspective, to get to know a clients where at times things go unnoticed. Some traits are habitual through body language, cues and gestures. Great friendships are built when we take notice and apply this knowledge to use. Be the person that inspires this method and apply it to daily use.

4. It’s been notable that engaging in activities through past time favorite are preferable. Music would be a great example. Utilize music, movies, or topics in past tense. Current events can be overwhelming at times, especially music. It is crucial for caregivers to remember that clients may not be enjoying the same music or movies. Find what motivates the client interest.

5. I mentioned the use of brain lock earlier. This is implied to be used as an opposite action in thoughts or actions in a way that engages ones attention to unlock things that may keep person stuck.

Many times I used this method towards community engagement to create the most unlikely response to a question on game cards I created for this purpose. These questions are somewhat off the wall but very relevant questions we seldom think about.

As a community coming together we sit with the utmost respect, providing refreshments, snacks and plenty to talk about. Providing an environment with concierge service brings an open invitation to engage with others. This provides the opportunity to further social interaction with others. The cards with random questions became a favorite among clients. Each person has the opportunity to answer every question provided.

After all, how often would a person ask “if you were walking to a friend’s house and it started to rain, what would you do?” The primary objective to random questions is to unlocking patterns that keep a person stuck. Perhaps the question may have been “what if you just came from the grocery store and there’s a stray dog at your door begging for food?” The question remains “if you were in a car going out-of-town and there’s a cow standing in the road?” Ultimately the question leads to “What would you do?”

Key element was to give everyone a chance to respond. Clients maintained social interaction for longer periods of time, found friendships among each other, less isolation and better quality of life…

6. When it comes to Alzheimer’s and Dementia things will be repetitive in nature; by nature, it’s a given.

Expect the unexpected, most importantly there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Carry a non-judgmental stance, compassion goes a long ways; time and patience are virtues of all things.

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Marsha Beede

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s & Dementia; Common Misunderstandings

  1. Pingback: Alzheimer’s & Dementia; Common Misunderstandings | Marsha Beede

  2. Pingback: Alzheimer’s & Dementia; Common Misunderstandings | Marsha Beede

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