In 1964, at age 45, my mother began exhibiting strange behavior such as forgetting how to use a fork and the names of her close friends and family.
The reaction to these odd behaviors from our local community was to label my mother “crazy” and to be cautious of coming into contact with her for fear of catching this affliction. She was subjected to a battery of tests, but the prevailing diagnosis was early senile dementia. Now, when I read through those medical records, I see there is one doctor who wrote “Alzheimer’s”. Despite never having been formally diagnosed or having had an autopsy performed, our best guess is that she did have early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Since little was known about caring for people with dementia, 48 years ago, my mother was placed in an institution when my Dad and I could no longer care for her at home.
Thankfully, our society now recognizes that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, but an irreversible, progressive brain disease that destroys brain cells and leads to death. We don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but we do know that it is not contagious. How much easier my family’s life would have been if we better understood what was happening and why. What a better quality of life my mother would have had if there had been caregivers trained to work with her.
My personal experience with this dreadful disease inspired me to help others as I know firsthand the kind of patience and kindness it takes to help clients and families to live each day with the progressive deterioration of Alzheimer’s. As an employee for Associated Home Care, one of my roles is providing caregiver training entitled “Caring for People with Alzheimer’s Disease”, using a habilitation therapy curriculum written by the Alzheimer’s Association.
We host training sessions each month, arming our caregivers with the knowledge and tools they need to care for clients who have Alzheimer’s’ and other forms of dementia. This training teaches our caregivers to better understand the way that Alzheimer’s affects the brain, how it progresses and how to deal with certain behaviors and issues as they arise. I wish my Dad and I had the information, the programs and training that there is today to help families and caregivers.
Employing well trained staff is very important to a company like ours – who provides care throughout the North Shore for families needing home health care for their loved ones. As a company in the caregiving business, we are always striving for more... more awareness, more resources, and more solutions. Alzheimer’s can take its toll on patients and families and we firmly believe that the techniques and programs we have put in place for our caregiving staff helps families to better cope and understand.
We go through activities that can make the day easier – like pouring through old photographs, keeping a behavior journal, understanding language cues and brainstorming ways to create a positive environment. Just as in childcare, sustaining a positive environment throughout each day isn’t always easy but we share tips and techniques on how this can be accomplished. Exuding positive emotion is the best way to connect with people with Alzheimer’s and to encourage clients to do what we need them to do - such as taking medications, going to the doctor’s or taking a bath.
It is helpful for families to be educated, so that they better understand ways to cope with the changes in a loved one’s behavior. For example if a client won’t eat, it is important for the caregiver to sit and eat with them. Eating is a social event and a client may not want to eat simply because they don’t want to eat alone while someone stands next to them watching.
If we give caregivers and families the tools they need and the education to use them properly, they can create a more positive environment for the many people struggling with any form of dementia. When clients are happy, families are educated and caregivers do what they are trained to do – it’s a win-win for everyone.
Our Associated Home Care team will participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s; at Brickstone Square in Andover on September 29th. We will have brochures on hand and be there for families who are seeking services and information.
Associated Home Care