Elder Care Issues: How to Reduce Caregiver Anxiety Symptoms

Caregiving is, by its very nature, the giving of yourself for someone else. Caregivers need to respond to the every need of the person they care for, and they often find themselves essentially giving up their own life for the life of someone else – all while dealing with the natural stresses and anxieties of caring for someone with special needs.
That kind of sacrifice comes with a price. Caregivers are often prone to serious stress and anxiety that can be debilitating, and may take away from your ability to deal with the needs of the person under your care. For those that are suffering from caregiver anxiety, consider these tools and tips for improving your own mental health.

Caregiver Anxiety Tips

  • Be “Selfish – Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your mental health affects your ability to be a good caregiver. Caregivers with anxiety and stress won’t be 100% at all times. So if the stress is starting to get to you, it is in your best interests – and the best interests of the person you care for – to take a moment and find a way to relax. It’s not selfish to want yourself to be at your best, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
  • Join Support Groups – So much of caregiving involves taking care of those with dementia, or fading health, or Alzheimer’s, or some other disorder. Witnessing that breakdown can be emotionally difficult. Support groups give you an opportunity to surround yourself with others experiencing the same thing. It makes you feel like you’re not alone and supported. Developing that type of community can be powerful.
  • Exercise – One of the first things that caregivers neglect when they start caring for others is attention to their own physical health. Yet the mind and body are powerfully connected. If you’re consistently inactive you’ll end up with excess energy that will only fuel your anxiety further. If, on the other hand, you exercise regularly, you’ll burn away not only excess energy, but also cortisol (a hormone released when you’re stressed).
  • Go Out With Friends – As hard as caregiving is, chances are you have some free time (as little as it may be). It’s important you do not let yourself fall into the trap of using that time to simply mope about your stress. Force yourself to stay active. Go out and spend time with your friends, and allow yourself the opportunity to create social support for yourself, laugh, and create memories outside of your caregiving.
  • Therapy – Many people look at therapy the same way they do pharmaceutical medicines, and this is simply unfair. Therapy can be extremely effective at helping you cope with your stress and anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has received ample research into anxiety reduction tips and strategies, and seeing a therapist is 100% side effect free. If you can afford it, therapy can be an extremely helpful option to consider.

Developing Strategies to Cope With Anxiety

You can also find your own coping strategies as well, provided they are emotionally healthy. Skipping stones at a park or walking your dog may be a worthwhile way of coping, and if it helps you improve your mental health you should always find time to do it, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
The above methods of decreasing stress and anxiety are valuable, but they’re just suggestions. The most important thing you can do for your caregiver anxiety, however, is recognize that you own your mental health matters. No matter how much you need to care for someone else or how important that other person is, they – and you – need to always make sure that you’re taking at least a bit of time to ensure you are able to relax, otherwise neither of you will get the attention that you deserve from the caregiving relationship.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist that has written countless tips for managing stress and anxiety. He has a website dedicated to anxiety disorders and treatments at www.calmclinic.com.

More Tips for Finding Assisted Living Communities

In a previous blog post, I discussed some of the early steps you can use to start creating a list of potential assisted living communities for your loved one.

Here are some more tips for finding potential communities and narrowing down the list to the right facility that your loved one can call home.

A recommendation from a friend or other reliable source about a community can go a long way in this early screening process. Don’t hesitate to ask around. After all, you’re about to begin a long and detailed journey – one that ultimately affects the happiness and general well-being of your loved one. It’s best to tap every resource you can!

As you begin to tour communities, your head will be racing with questions, reactions and things you notice from one community to the next. I recommend you buy a spiral notebook, writing questions and comments before and after you tour each community.

Deciding on the Right Assisted Living Community

After you tour a few communities, you’ll find the details blend together and your memories cease to different each tour. Some will eliminate themselves quickly. Some will make the final cut. In the end, you’ll need to rely on initial impressions and your notes to make that all-important decision on the community best for you and your family. Choosing the right assisted living community is a challenging task. Whether you are searching for yourself, a family member or a friend, you’ll want to make sure that the assisted living community is able to meet the physical and safety needs of the prospective resident.

At the time of her stroke, mom lived in North County San Diego – about 50 miles from me in Orange County. For almost 6 months after her original discharge, she went back and forth between skilled nursing and the hospital. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to keep her close to friends who could come and visit her while I was as at work. I was down to visit 4-5 times a week, mostly after what was a 50-60 hour work week.

Choosing the location of an assisted living community will likely be the most important decision you make. For anyone, a move away from familiar surroundings can be stressful experience. Combine that with the emotional drain of accepting assisted living, and it’s easy to imaging the challenge your loved one is facing. You’ll likely be leaned upon frequently during this difficult adjustment period.

Here are a few things to consider as you choose the location of the community:

Make the commute easy. During the first weeks and months of assisted living, you will likely be the closest friend and confident for your loved one. If at all possible, choose a location that is close to your home and/or other family members that can regularly visit without negatively impacting their own responsibilities. Your loved one will look forward to your visits – even count on them. Make sure you are close enough to stop for a quick visit – even if it’s a short one.

Don’t ignore the “nice” neighborhoods. It would seem that nicer neighborhoods would charge a premium. While it may be the case in some places, don’t take this for granted. I called or visited almost every place in a 15 mile radius of my house and all were about the same price. On a whim, I called a beautiful community near the beach – complete with ocean view – and it turned out to be the exact same price as communities in some of the less desirable neighborhoods in the county. Don’t let your lack of a phone call cause you to miss a great opportunity.

Match town size and options. Your loved one likely came from an independent environment where they could come and go as they please. Whether it was shopping at the mall, dining out or playing cards at the Senior Center, they had options. Make sure you locate them in an area that has a similar set of options to the area they came from. The transition will be less of a contrast and it will be easier to get them back into the swing of things.

Always remember what Andrea Arambula told me: “people rise to the challenge.” Because of our situation, I was faced with the need to make a quick decision: should I put my mother in a skilled nursing community or assisted living? In skilled nursing, she’d be by far the most advanced of any of the patients, though she still needed a lot of physical therapy. In assisted living, she’d be the least mobile, but would be on par socially with far more residents. With some encouragement from the admissions director, my mom and I chose the latter. She’s a fighter, and neither of us has ever regretted the decision. She certainly rose to the occasion.

Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Tips for Finding Assisted Living Communities

Recall that assisted living communities offer your loved one a place to live where they can receive basic assistance, while retaining a measure of their privacy and independence. This assistance could be housekeeping, meal preparation, 24-7 monitoring, shower assistance, toileting, medication assistance or reminders; transportation and help with eating, or dressing. The amenities of assisted living should also include interesting and engaging activities, as well as opportunities for social activity.

Assisted living communities vary in size. In a small assisted living community, you will have 16 or fewer apartments/rooms (much like a residential home). In a large community, you will have over 17 apartments/rooms and up to over 100 apartments/rooms.

You can locate local assisted living communities through a number of means. I’ve found both the Medicare tool and several public web sites will cast a wide net for you to start your search

Medicare’s Long-Term Care Planning Tool

The Internet is playing a growing role in caregiving and healthcare. One such tool worth mentioning here is Medicare’s Long-Term Care Planning Tool. The stated goals of Medicare’s Long-Term Care Planning tool are to help you understand:

  • What long-term care services are available
  • How much you can expect to pay for long-term care
  • What financing options are available to support your long-term care costs

This tool will ask between twelve and twenty questions and will then provide you with the long-term care results you need by comparing your answers to those of individuals with similar profiles.

For those that want a quick snapshot of communities, the tool only requires a few questions. However, if you have specific care needs, financial constraints or care needs, the tool enables you to indicate those requirements.

While the results of this online tool are general in nature, and certainly not intended to replace comprehensive financial and other long-term personal planning, they will give you important insights.

An initial recommendation can be provided from only a few basic questions. By answering optional questions, the user can further narrow the list of recommendations. Here’s a tip: be sure to check out the Resources tab while you’re on the site. There’s a wealth of links to various government programs and agencies

Other Ways to Search

In addition to the Medicare online tool just mentioned, I’ve got some tips to get you started on choosing the right assisted living community for your loved one. First, you’ll want to know all of the options in the area in which you are interested. To get a full list of the communities near you, you can:

  • Visit or call your local senior center
  • Use Google to find the listings for assisted living in your area or zip code
  • Get a list from a local hospital or skilled nursing community
  • Or Go “old-school” and look in the Yellow Pages

Assisted living communities aren’t always easy to find, and many are nestled in between neighborhoods. While there are many sites on the Internet that list assisted living options on a regional basis, such as the ones listed above, the three that I found most useful are noted below. They’re good places to take a broad view of what’s available. Write down the ones closest to you. As you work your way through the process,  you’ll want to narrow this down to a short-list to choose from.

My favorites:

Snap For Seniors
Snap for Senior is a great resource for senior care communities and has the largest database of senior resources in the country.  I’ve met the co-founders Derek Preston and Eve Stern and they are fantastic people with a high-degree of integrity.  I would start my search there.

Senior Housing Net
Senior Housing Net is a fee community located from Move.com. Through this site, you can find local assisted living communities as well as prepared for your loved one’s move.

ElderCarelink is an internet-based referral service–free to consumers–that specializes in eldercare case matching for elders and their families. ElderCarelink assists families in finding a multitude of services, including assisted living, nursing homes, adult day care, private duty nursing, care management and homecare.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post next week with more tips and suggestions on finding assisted living communities.

Photo Credit: maureen lunn

3 Common Signs of Functional Decline

Everyone changes physically and mentally with age, but there are some changes that can really put a loved one’s safety at risk.  If you think that a loved one may require a transition to assisted living or elderly care, then you must first assess whether they are undergoing a true functional decline.

Functional decline is sometimes difficult to diagnose as individual symptoms often go unnoticed. Below is a list of symptoms of functional decline to be familiar with.

  • Misusing medication (over or under use and deviating from a schedule)
  • Reports of inexplicable behavior from friends, neighbors or family members
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Unpaid bills
  • Changes in spending patterns
  • inappropriate clothing
  • Stains on clothing or upholstery from urine or feces
  • Forgetting how to use simple tools
  • Poorly cared-for pets
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Difficulty in communicating
  • Confusion
  • Unfinished tasks and chores
  • Spoiled or poorly-prepared food

Studies have documented that functional decline, i.e., the loss of either complex or basic ADL functions is due to changes in one or more of six areas: physical, perceptual, cognitive, visual and hearing, falling and psychological.  Below I will describe the first three areas in more detail and I will discuss the latter three areas in the next blog post.

1. Physical Changes

It’s obvious to anyone: as the human body ages it loses physical strength, stamina, muscle coordination, and balance. Those of us who had aging grandparents or aunts and uncles saw firsthand how the natural aging process affected their abilities to perform commonplace tasks.

2. Perceptual Changes

Here we’re considering all the senses: vision, hearing, sensitivity to touch, taste – even smell. After all, each is important to overall well-being. If you can’t smell smoke, you may lose your life to a house fire; if your sense of touch is diminished by poor circulation, you may be burned by scalding water.

Many medications are responsible for changes in taste perception. When this happens, it’s easier to eat spoiled food, or even choose not to eat at all, as food no longer tastes like it used to. I have noticed that after older people are less able to use the telephone with ease. Warning alarms and buzzers may go unnoticed.

3.  Cognitive Changes

While our thinking may remain clear, the speed at which a human can process information slows considerably as we age. It’s not just the speed at which we perform tasks. It’s also our ability to multitask. Our ability to divide our attention fades as we age.

Those changes are within the range of normal and expected changes; but what of the complications of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? With dementia and Alzheimer’s loss of memory, language processing skills and inability to solve problems greatly affects your loved one’s level of independence.

Look for these warning signs:

  • Disorientation, fright or confusion when faced with a change of location, such as a doctor’s visit, visiting friends or family, or eating out at a local restaurant.
  • Giving incorrect or evasive answers when asked simple questions. For example, “What day is it?” gets the response, “What, don’t you know?”
  • Aggressive behavior or noticeable personality changes.
  • An inability to concentrate on television programs, tasks or conversations.
  • A gradual (or sudden) loss of memory.
  • Disinterest in routine tasks, such as cooking or housekeeping.
  • A decline in social skills, such as successfully engaging in conversation, or eating a meal with the correct utensil.
  • A decline in judgment skills, or inability to recognize consequences. This could manifest itself in leaving the water running, not shutting off the stove, or leaving the front door unlocked.

There are three more areas to monitor in order to determine whether a loved one is experiencing a real functional decline: hearing and vision loss, frequent falling and negative psychological changes. In the next blog post we’ll discuss symptoms within these three areas and how these problems can lead to a functional decline and loss of independence in aging individuals.

Photo Credit: Flickr user e-MagineArt.com.

Ellen Dunnigan Provides Dementia Care and “Relief” With Sollievo (Podcast)

Ellen Dunnigan combines dementia care with a 360-degree home care philosophy to provide a unique option for families struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The Sollievo model is one of many unique care models that are emerging as we grapple with how to care for our elders. What I found interesting about Ellen’s approach is her keen attention on serving the seniors AND providing stress relief to the family.
How Ellen Describes Sollievo

Sollievo is a care management network for families caring for an aging parent. We provide expert answers and relief to the daughters and sons who have taken on the exhausting caregiving of a parent who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.

Typically we guide daughters who are trying to be both SuperMom and SuperDaughter, doing one job all day and then coming home in the evening to start the even tougher job.

They are stressed out, tired of being tired, and feeling guilty; consumed with trying to be the “answer” to everyone including their siblings in other states. They wish someone else could help them without getting in the way. And they need just-in-time resources to safely keep their mother or father at home longer.

Our process begins with a three-pronged assessment of the living environment, the well-being of the person diagnosed with dementia, and the burdens placed on family caregivers. We supply education and clarify expectations. We tailor strategies to make the days and nights better. Our 24/7 helpline is always answered live to address their immediate concerns. And most importantly we deliver the “just right” answers and network of services the first time, and every time.
About Ellen Dunnigan

As a strategist healthcare product development, and a Speech-Language Pathologist, Ellen Dunnigan has produced several healthcare product lines including Alzheimer’s care, Geri-psych programs, diabetes care, traumatic brain injury programs, and others. She has developed a balanced model of Alzheimer’s care for the long-term care segment which guides caregivers to exceptional results in patient care and meaningful resident days. Additionally, she has initiated a first-of-its-kind community model for the coordinated care of families caring for an aging parent diagnosed with dementia.

Ellen has a Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology, certification in gerontology and case management. She is the author of several best practice clinical and operational methods in Alzheimer’s care and speaks internationally. She founded Alzheimer’s Care Group in 2002 and has grown it to a nationwide consulting firm specializing in healthcare strategy. Alzheimer’s Care Group has five associates and operates in care settings in 30 states. Their community resource network is called “Sollievo” and operates throughout Indiana, with plans to expand to neighboring states.
Contact Information

Sollievo office: 317-218-5111
24-hour Helpline: 317-753-7447



Jan’s Story

Jan's StoryThe following is a guest post from Barry Petersen, Emmy Award-winning CBS News correspondent and author of “Jan’s Story: Love Lost to the Long Goodbye of Alzheimer’s”

When does a marriage die even if the love never does?

We are not talking about the kind of rifts that can lead to divorce. We are talking about when someone fades and disappears so far away mentally, that there is no longer a relationship.

A hypothetical question? Not in my life, and very soon…not in the lives of millions of unprepared Americans. As Baby Boomers age, more and more couples will face this…one with a mind diminished and slowly being erased, the other healthy and vibrant. There will be many travelers on this journey.

The reason is Alzheimer’s Disease. I first heard those words in 2005 when my wife, Jan, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. She was 55. At first, I cared for her by myself. I am a CBS News Correspondent and at that point we were based in both Tokyo and Beijing, traveling between the two cities. Then, as Jan worsened and because of my need to travel for my job, I hired a live-in caregiver, a retired nurse from Tacoma, WA.

Finally, in May, 2008, I made the decision that ended our shared life as we knew it; I placed Jan into an assisted living facility in the United States. I kept living in Asia, continuing to work, and each time I went back to the US and visited her, I could mark the changes as she spiraled downward.

I learned to accept that she no longer knew me when I came to visit. The Barry she remembered is someone deep in her past, not the man in front of her today. There were tears about this, but always in private, never in front of her. She would not have understood, and that would have frightened her.

Yet it ripped at my soul. This woman I had wooed and won, who had shared adventures living in Asia and London and Moscow, who had once been a successful foreign correspondent in her own right, had gone away.

People who know us would use one word to describe us: “BarryandJan,” because we so loved being together. Now, she was adrift somewhere else, and the Alzheimer’s meant she could not tell me where she was, or why, or what it was like there.

And there was guilt. Who cannot weep when the one you love disappears, who cannot feel the rage I felt, asking myself: “Why her. Why not me?” Jan was the better person of us as a couple, the bright star in whose glow I happily lived. She was the good of us. Who had the right to take that away.

And in time there came the hardest question of them all: Is it still a marriage if only one person is mentally present?

In that answer lies the future…to spend the rest of my life alone, even though Jan had gone away? Or – decide that I needed to go on with life.

To move on was to tempt the rage of those who told me I was violating my wedding vows. Their morality was clear – the vows say ‘till death do us part,’ and that is what people have forever promised.

Jan's Story 2Except now, people live longer, and that means Alzheimer’s comes more often because the major risk factor is simply … growing old. One in eight people over 65 have Alzheimer’s. Almost one in two will have it by age 85, according to Alzheimer’s Association. And 85 isn’t that old anymore.

There were others who told me it was time to accept that my relationship, and with it my marriage, had changed and that I was alone. I was surprised at some who said it. A couple I know who have been married, happily, for decades – people I thought would be strongly pro-marriage at all costs and would tell me never to break those vows – were among the first and most adamant to say: find someone to be with, create a new life, do not surrender to loneliness, do not fold up, dry out, and die.

Dying was an option. I thought about it, faced with the sense that I had lost the one reason for getting up and going to work and enduring Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” My fortune was dark and doomed, or so it seemed.

It was time to make a call. I could not keep going on as I was, finding solitary friendship in ever more late night alcohol.

I reached out, not well at first, after a friend signed me up for an internet dating site. I set one rule – that I was honest about still caring for Jan, yet willing to explain that the marriage, the relationship, were victims of Alzheimer’s. The marriage, as I defined it, was gone. Finished. But if someone could understand and accept that, they also had to understand that Jan was still with us, still alive, and I was still her husband and the man who was watching over her. Jan and my care for here was a part of the package.

There were women who instantly rejected me for this, and I understood. There were others who wanted to move quickly into a relationship, and that I also understood…and rejected. Frankly, they scared me off.

In time, and with time, there was one. Mary Nell is a widow, wise in the ways of grief, who understood the being alone part far better than I, and accepted that this would be an unusual pairing because we would not be two, but three. Our relationship would include Jan.

And so it does. Mary Nell and I go together to visit. Jan can’t remember her name, but remembers that Mary Nell is a friend and throws her hands open for a big hug and hello. Even though we are together, Jan sees no connection between Mary Nell and me. And Mary Nell sees Jan as a friend, someone she now cares and worries about. It is more often Mary Nell who says…we need to bring flowers, we need to get her new shoes, or she’s out of her favorite lipstick.

The moment we leave, Jan forgets that we were ever there. She forgets the flowers we bring, or the songs we sang together as I played the piano for her.

Mary Nell and I call ourselves the “New American Family,” and perhaps we are a Marriage of Three. We surely are the precursor of the tsunami of dementia and Alzheimer’s and difficult decisions to come. We will soon be joined by millions of “New American Families.”

I do not consider that comfort. I do not want anyone else to travel this dreaded path, but it is happening. Each diagnosis, and there is one every 70 seconds in this country, will bring others to this precipice.

I have no answers for others, offering only what I have done and learned and chosen, knowing that it was right…for me.

I wish them luck. Like me, they will need it.

About the Author: Barry Petersen is an Emmy Award-winning CBS News Correspondent who has reported on everything from wars and natural disasters to Paris fashions, Welsh choirs and the return of American Jazz to Shanghai, China. His stories have been datelined from virtually every continent in a career that spans more than three decades. Petersen wrote his first book, Jan’s Story: Love Lost to the Long Goodbye of Alzheimer’s published in June, 2010, about the struggle he shared with his wife, Jan Chorlton, who was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease at age 55 and is now in an assisted living facility. Jan was also a CBS News journalist, reporting from both Japan and the former Soviet Union for CBS Radio, CBS Sunday Morning and the CBS Weekend News. Petersen is currently based in Denver, CO, where he reports for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. Visit www.barrypetersen.com.

Dementia and Type 2 Diabetes

Dementia and type 2 diabetes are serious concerns for older adults. Both diseases are becoming epidemics in this country. The Alzheimer’s Association has become a household name, and many people know of someone who has participated in a Memory Walk. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that was once called adult onset diabetes, but that term is no longer used because younger and younger people are developing the disease. In fact, the current generation of children is the only cohort in the history of humankind at risk of not out living their parents because of obesity related diseases.

Being overweight is not good at any age, and it begins to affect the brain. “Being fat has a detrimental impact on the brain,” says Kaiser Permanente research scientist Rachel Whitmer. She is the co-author of a nine-year study of 10,276 people in Northern California that found people who are obese in middle age (body mass index of 30 or more) are 74% more likely to develop dementia than people of healthy weights.

Benefits of exercise

Physical and mental exercise can prevent type 2 diabetes and dementia.  Numerous studies have proven that exercise is beneficial when it comes to diabetes.  Now researchers are beginning to see the benefits of exercise when it comes to dementia.  A study from Seattle Washington found people who exercised at least 3 times per week were less likely to develop dementia than those who were less active. The American Academy of Neurology recently published the result of a study of more than 700 older people in Chicago that concluded, “a cognitive active person in old age was 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than a cognitively inactive person in old age.”

Diabetes and the brain

It’s known that there are cells in the brain that sense blood sugar levels (called glucose-sensing neurons). New research shows that in type II diabetics, at least some of the neurons that are supposed to sense rises in blood sugar aren’t doing their job. Many physicians think of type II diabetes as solely a disease of the body, but we may need to start thinking about it as a disease of the brain as well.

The point is maintaining a healthy body is just as important as maintaining a healthy brain. So when you are between crossword puzzles, start jogging!

Photo credit: jeffdiogenes

About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder of InsideElder Care and author of the ByFamilies, For Families Guide to Assisted Living. He regularly speaks and advises families about how to improve their aging loved one’s quality of life. Ryan is also the president of SmartBug Media, a content marketing agency that helps companies increase leads, customers and influence. You can read more from Ryan on the SmartBug Media blog or follow him on Twitter.

Remembering: Memory Loss on Memorial Day

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, I found myself reflecting on the true meaning of the day.

Memorial Day is commemorated differently. To some it is simply the beginning of summer and an opportunity to gather with friends and family around a BBQ , a beach or park. To others it’s a time to be particularly grateful and honor those who have fought for country and freedom, paying the ultimate price.

I found myself thinking how fragile life is and how for veterans it must be a very personal time to think of friends and shipmates that have gone by, that were lost. It then hit me how fewer and fewer World War II and the Korean War veterans are left and how, because of the current war on terrorism,  there now are also young faces of men and women added on a daily bases to our collective memory of those who have fallen.

One common thread seemed to repeat as I watched veterans and civilians alike line up across the nation to pay homage to heroes: Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who are no longer here, a time of memories replayed loud and clear and in full in our minds. Suddenly I was gripped by a sadness as I wondered how many of those faces maybe slowly suffering from yet another loss in front of my eyes, a loss of exactly those special life shaping memories. How many of these valiant veterans this time next year might not even remember enough to commemorate Memorial Day?

My local involvement with the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) at the University of California, Irvine (www.mind.uci.edu)  and the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) this year have helped me start to understand more the disorders of the brain, particularly those that are age-related.

5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s.  It’s the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and it has an annual health care cost of 172 billion dollars! From 2000-2006, Alzheimer’s disease deaths increased 46.1 percent, while other selected causes of death (Breast and Prostate Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and HIV) decreased.

The time I have spent involved with these amazing and pioneering organizations came to the forefront of my mind on Memorial Day weekend as I asked myself a few questions regarding how I can, in my professional capacity, perhaps assist those suffering from memory loss through proper design and home modifications.  This becomes especially important in the case where an Alzheimer’s diagnosed loved one remains and is being cared for at home.

Keep in mind that each person suffering from Alzheimer’s is unique in both their stage of the disease and how it unfolds in their specific circumstance. As such, each case may require its own personalized approach when it comes to adaptations intended to help ensure safety and independence.

Apart from some of the aging in place suggestions made in previous articles, there are many things that can be done though the main ones that applies here revolves around Safety.  Here are some simple things that can be done immediately:

  • Place decals on glass patio doors to help prevent them from walking into the glass
  • Lock up medications, matches, razors, lighters, household cleaners and detergents to avoid accidental poisoning or overdosing
  • “Accident-proof” your fridge, cabinets and closets
  • Eliminate all furniture with straight or sharp corners or attach corner pads to them
  • Maintain a consistent furniture layout in the rooms to help avoid disorientation anxiety and agitation due to changes in environment
  • Consistency in all things provides a sense of safety; change on the other hand can be traumatic
  • Use plastic covers for your seating to allow for quick cleaning in case of incontinence, or replace your upholstery with one specific for dealing with this possibility
  • Hang clocks in easy to see areas around the house to help loved ones orient themselves during the day to the passing of time and what time it is
  • Use visual aids like pictures and creative signs to help them associate with areas, functions and objects around the home
  • Avoid using shiny, reflective or flickering objects since they cause confusion and depth perception problems
  • Remove items that look like fake food, such as food or fruit shaped magnets on fridges
  • Use sturdy plastic plates to help avoid breakage and wipe able table clothes for ease of cleaning
  • Plan your meal / food selections so as to allow your loved one ease of independent, safe eating
  • Make sure your trash can has a lid or is in a lockable cabinet to deter dumpster diving. This also helps avoid having loved ones throw away something valuable by mistake
  • Consider removing the dials on the stove or installing stove knob covers to avoid your loved one turning it on and starting a fire or burning themselves
  • Lower the hot water temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding injuries
  • Hide car keys to avoid your loved one going for a ride and consider a hide-a-key in case your loved one locks you out of the home
  • Seal off outlets and plugs to avoid electrocution
  • Keep fire extinguishers handy in every room
  • Don’t leave lying around items like coffee makers toasters, space heaters that can be a danger to touch
  • Post in a clear place important information like doctors, 911 emergency, local police, fire and ambulance numbers in case you are not around. Other family members or even neighbors may need to intervene and call for help. Ideally this should be near a main easy to find telephone.

These are but a few things we can start to do to better care for loved ones suffering from memory impairment and Alzheimer’s–all the while working hard towards a cure for this debilitating and fatal disease.

Remember, memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging and slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s. (Go to www.alz.org  to learn about the 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s )

So as Memorial Day weekend comes to a close and as we are enjoying that last hot dog or burger around the BBQ, let us make a mental note to educate ourselves about this disease and commit ourselves to helping find a cure for it. After all, it is our precious and priceless memories and our lives that are at stake.

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.

New Social Security Benefits for Alzheimer’s

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is one of 38 degenerative conditions included in the Social Security Administration’s new Compassionate Allowances program.  This fast-tracking system is designed to aid younger patients and their families in moving quickly from diagnosis to benefits.  Expediting this process aids in reducing stress associated with waiting for the lengthy approval process, and trying to plan the next stages of life while in a state of limbo.  Many of these younger patients–most in their 30s and 40s–are still working and have more extensive financial responsibilities than the traditional Alzheimer’s patient.  More typical Alzheimer’s patients are in their mid-to-late 60s, retired, and also too young to be receiving Social Security retirement benefits in some cases.

Effective March 1, 2010, the Administration will be able to electronically target and make prompt decisions in the best interest of the disabled patients.  In the past, when a younger patient began experiencing the cognitive limitations, they were not traditionally tested for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, they were thought to be suffering from job and life-related stress.  This issue added to the lengthy process of identifying the correct diagnosis and than being approved for disability benefits.  With this new program, it is estimated that tens of thousands of younger Alzheimer’s sufferers will now qualify in a matter of days rather than the traditional months or years it often took in the past.

According to the Administration, approximately 200,000 people under the age of 65 currently suffer from the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Due to the sheer volume of potential benefit applicants, the Administration will also benefit from this new program as it will reduce the time and effort of the appeals process that in the past would contribute to slowing down the system for every patient.

Photo: benprks