By Pamela McKee Kelly, LPC, NHA
are the major advancement in Alzheimer’s care. YOU
, the son, the daughter, the neighbor, the one reading this article… YOU
have made the fight against Alzheimer’s bearable for someone else.
I was asked to write about the advancements made in Alzheimer’s care. As I thought about this topic, I thought about the changes in the care and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). I thought about all the new prescriptions and clinical trials for experimental drugs. I thought about science and biology. I thought about all the advertisements on TV. But the overwhelming thought was how much society has changed its perspective on adults living with dementia.
Twenty-five years ago, when I first entered this field, there was a strong negative stigma attached to ADRD. Physicians weren’t too sure how to treat the condition and its related problems. Friends and family couldn’t communicate their concerns, because it was unfamiliar and the symptoms were inconsistent. Most importantly, the person living with dementia/memory loss had no idea what was happening to them.
As life expectancy increased, so did the number of new problems presented to the doctors’ offices. Paranoia, insomnia, mood swings, depression, anger, coupled with sporadic memory loss, created a messy diagnosis for many. Communities and families were unprepared to care for the new challenges of the aging adult. Around 1998, a physician friend told me, “I’m not sure what is common for a 96-year-old—most people don’t live that long. We don’t know how to treat them, because there aren’t too many of them around.”
Our country was once unfamiliar with how to meet the needs of the true elderly population. We weren’t sure what the typical octogenarian or nonagenarian needed or how to meet their physical or social needs. There were no case study groups or large research pools of these aged persons. We just had to muddle through as best we could. The terms ”hardening of the arteries” and “senile” were tossed about with no particular rhyme or reason. Older people were supposed to act a little off and forgetful because of this bucket diagnosis—it was considered a “normal” part of aging. Today, we know that there is absolutely nothing normal about ADRD.
Still, everyday, we try our best to meet the ever-changing needs of our aging population. We, as a society, have come together to educate each other, support each other, and freely share information so that we can help someone navigate the mine field of aging and memory loss. The disease affects every single person that interacts with the one diagnosed. It affects the family unit in a manner that is hard for anyone to prepare for—mentally or physically.
Our communities have joined together and taken steps to ensure that our most vulnerable group of citizens are protected. There are Silver Alerts when anyone that is vulnerable is determined to be missing or endangered. The Vulnerable Persons Act of 1990 and the Elder Justice Act of 2010 were established. Both of these acts address abuse, neglect, exploitation, and/or crimes against older or vulnerable persons. Groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Mississippi are two advocate organizations that are available within the state. Local physicians and healthcare clinics are great sources of information and upcoming educational events. Hattiesburg Clinic has the Memory Clinic which specializes in helping those persons experiencing memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Some interesting and helpful websites would include ALZ.org (Alzheimer’s Association); alzms.org (Alzheimer’s Mississippi) and Hattiesburg Clinic – Memory Center Link (hattiesburgclinic.com/department/memory-center/).
Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) are diagnoses related to an unstoppable, progressive brain disease. It is an internal ailment not immediately visible to an observer. The signs and symptoms are usually first noticed by someone who has personal or previous experience with ADRD and its pattern of symptoms. Family members, who spend
a large amount of time with their elder, may not notice these subtle changes. These changes become “normal” and can be shrugged off as someone being tired or having a bad day. It is so important to keep regular doctor’s appointments and to inform the physician of any changes that occur.
As fellow brothers and sisters struggling to make sense of the changes within our loved one, we rely heavily on those going ahead of us to guide us. We instinctively search out those who have fought similar struggles. We long to share our fears. We want to hear your tricks and tips on how to get through the bad days. We find comfort in the sharing of stories. We find safety in the awareness that we are not alone in this battle against time. We find perspective and gather strength when we can openly talk with each other about the effects of ADRD.
Our openness to share our fight for those we love is the best advancement in the care of Alzheimer’s. Education and trainings are available. There are support groups locally as well as on-line.
I am not sure if there will ever be a cure for Alzheimer’s. I am not sure if there will ever be a definitive cause or etiology for this disease. As our population continues to age, I believe we will learn many things from the group known as “the greatest generation.” I believe that we should listen to them reminisce and pay attention to their teachings. We should advocate and fight for them, take care of the caregivers, and share our successes while asking for help when we need it.
In summary, YOU
have made the advances in Alzheimer’s care; YOU
have brought this disease into the light and into the conversations; YOU
have put a face with this diagnosis; but most importantly, YOU have put a voice where there once was silence.
For more information on Bedford Alzheimer’s Care Center, or any of the eight Bedford Care Centers located in Mississippi, please call 601-544-5300 or visit our website, www.bedfordcarecenters.com.
Pamela McKee Kelly is the Nursing Home Administrator for the Bedford Alzheimer’s Care Center, South Mississippi’s only nursing facility entirely dedicated to Alzheimer’s residents. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has been working with cognitively challenged older adults for more than 25 years. You may contact her at email@example.com.
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