Tag Archives: dementia

‘What They Had’ will resonate with dementia caregivers

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I saw an excellent movie recently that I wanted to share with others who are or have been dementia caregivers. The movie is called, “What They Had,” and it has a great cast, starring Blythe Danner, Hilary Swank, Robert Forster and Michael Shannon. The film has a fairly simple plot: matriarch Ruth’s dementia is getting progressively worse, and the family is drawn together to figure out the next steps.

Those of us who have been dementia caregivers know what’s coming next, to a certain extent. The family’s internal dynamics are stretched to their breaking points as they each approach the “solution” to caring for the woman they love who is losing her mind and memories of them.

What is remarkable about the film is how realistically it depicts the challenges of a family grappling with Alzheimer’s. First-time director Elizabeth Chomko, whose grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, captures the raw and complex emotions perfectly. The movie is uncomfortable to watch in a good way, in that the plot, dialogue and acting is so realistic that you feel like you are eavesdropping into a family’s nightmare.

Watch the trailer:

I related quite a bit to the character of Nick, who is the son and brother. He’s the hands-on sibling, because he lives near the parents in Chicago, while Swank’s character Bridget is the sister who moved away to California. Nick has understandably built up some resentment and even though he comes across as pessimistic and critical, he cares deeply and understands the mother’s condition in a more realistic way than the rest of the family. I related so much to Nick’s frustration with the rest of the family who were overly optimistic or avoiding the tough decisions, as I dealt with that with my mother when making medical decisions for my father.

Bridget’s response to being thrown into a family crisis prompts her to question everything about her life, including her marriage. Danner plays the character of Ruth with heartbreaking tenderness, though there are moments of humor as well. And Forster, Ruth’s husband and primary caregiver, demonstrates a loving resilience underneath his gruff, practical exterior.

Both Danner and Swank have experienced real-life caregiving, which I think brought an extra layer of realism to their portrayals.

The film is available on video-on-demand services. (I watched it on Vudu.) It does contain a fair amount of profanity, but it seemed to be a natural fit for the characters’ personalities. If you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to know what you thought about it.

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Protect your loved one with dementia from becoming a victim of a scam

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It’s heartbreaking to hear stories where elder loved ones are scammed out of thousands of dollars. These criminals can be found all over the world, only needing a list of phone numbers or email addresses to find their next victim.

A new study has found that those who are more prone to becoming scam victims may be at greater risk of dementia. In today’s world, it’s not just phone scams that one has to worry about, but online scams as well.

My father was not a phone person, but he did send money to a variety of religious organizations. They were supposed to be representing Catholic churches or charities, and he would get a small token or prayer request in exchange for whatever he sent. It may have been totally legitimate, but after he was gone, I found hundreds of pieces of correspondence from these groups. I wonder if he gave more as his dementia progressed.

My mother was the phone person in our family. She didn’t have dementia but she did have a quality that made her potentially susceptible to scammers: loneliness. She loved to talk on the phone to people, whether she knew them or not! They would be her friend by the end of the conversation. I remember getting upset with my mother when she told a telemarketer that she had won the lottery. Why would you share personal financial information with a stranger? My mom’s response was that the telemarketer had said she was a “nice lady.” Sigh. Fortunately, nothing came of the incident, and to be fair to my mother, she was aware of the scams that were going around targeting seniors.

Credit.com has a nice resource which breaks down the  most common online scams and offers tips to help seniors avoid becoming a victim. Monitoring your elder loved one’s financial statements is key. If your older relatives enjoy going online, there are a set of simple steps you can take to provide them a secure experience. Staying vigilant is the best way to combat such criminal activity.

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Latest Alzheimer’s report demands action

The Alzheimer’s Association released its 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, and the statistics are sobering. Almost 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

On the caregiving front, more than 16 million Americans are providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The value of their work is approximately $234 billion.

While the numbers are grim, the 2019 report makes crystal clear that we need bipartisan support at the federal level in addressing what is a health care crisis. Alzheimer’s disease is so costly, yet lags in research funds. Alzheimer’s caregivers need far greater support, both financially and in respite care.

Read the full report on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

alz assoc 2019 report

(Infographic courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association)

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Tips on how to communicate with those who have dementia

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One of the things I struggled with the most when spending time with my dad who had Alzheimer’s was communication. I didn’t know how to act, or what to say. Should I talk slower, use simpler words or should I speak normally? And when Dad spoke what sounded like gibberish to me, how was I to respond?

It’s a common struggle for dementia caregivers. You see the person in front of you, who looks just like the person you’ve known all your life, and then they open their mouth and say something inappropriate or bizarre. You freeze, your gut twists and you find yourself in a new world, one in which you’ve had no training or preparation.

This Communicating with Alzheimer’s guide offers helpful tips on how to connect with your loved ones with dementia. Here are some of the tips that I found particularly helpful:

  • Maintain eye contact: This can offer reassurance and be a sign of sincerity and thoughtfulness. Focusing fully on a person struggling to communicate can help with understanding as well. The person may use body language to compensate for fading verbal skills.
  • Don’t argue or correct: Those with dementia will often say things that aren’t true or ask for loved ones who are long dead. Some dementia caregivers struggle with the concept of white lies, but it truly is the right thing to do. My mother often tried to correct my father when he said something that wasn’t true, and it didn’t do any good. It only frustrated my father and my mother. If a person with dementia think it’s Wednesday and it’s Monday, so be it. If they want to know where their mother who has been dead for 20 years is, you can simply say they are well and on a vacation.
  • Maintain a quiet, calm environment: I remember the time my parents came to see me at the hotel I was staying at, which was connected to a casino. The minute my father entered the noisy, chaotic lobby, I realized how stupid it was to bring him into that kind of environment. I chronicle that moment in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver. Those with dementia can become overstimulated quite easily and this can negatively effect their ability to communicate.
  • Use humor whenever possible: I used to cringe at some of the silly things my father would say, but in retrospect, it would have been better to just laugh and engage him in whatever train of thought he was having at the moment. Humor is a stress reliever and can lift the mood, which are important for both the person with dementia and their caregiver.

What communication tips do you find work best?

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Patients in Dementialand by Welcome to Dementialand

I totally agree with this! It serves as a good reminder to all of us, and especially those of us who work in the media world, to use person-centered language and not associate someone solely with their disease. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia take enough from a person without us contributing to the problem.

Let’s talk about patients. You probably think that’s a typo. I know that it’s not rare to see a typo in my blog. You probably think I meant patience–but I didn’t. I want to talk about dementia “patients.” First, an analogy… My husband, Bill, has had terrible acid reflux since adolescence. He takes medication everyday. […]

Read the full post via Patients in Dementialand — Welcome to Dementialand

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February 28, 2019 · 5:06 pm

Dementia is a thief, but should caregivers be stripped of all joy?

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The complex emotional toll of Alzheimer’s has been in the news the past week. The Washington Post wrote an article about B. Smith, the model, restaurateur and lifestyle guru who has early-onset Alzheimer’s and how her husband has formed a relationship with another woman. B. Smith’s loyal fans were not happy about this development.

Dan Gasby tried to defend himself amidst withering criticism, saying in interviews that B. Smith told him to “go on” after her diagnosis in 2014. He says he’s a better caregiver to his wife now that he’s happier.

Gasby has at least one high-profile supporter: Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan. In her essay, titled, Alzheimer’s is a cruel thief. Don’t blame caregivers for still finding joy, she reflects upon the emotional devastation an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can bring and what that can do to a couple. She encourages the public to be more sympathetic to those in Gasby’s position.

The issue is at its heart an emotional gut-punch so the fact that it inspires heated opinions is not surprising. What I’ve learned over the years as a  family caregiver for someone with dementia is that I wouldn’t want someone to judge my choices and so I try to refrain from judging others, as long as no harm is being done. While I may not make the same choice as Gasby has made, I cannot rule it out completely either. Those who are outraged on social media would better use their energy volunteering at a memory care center or arranging respite care for a caregiver in their life.

As Patti Davis says, Alzheimer’s is a cruel thief. How much should we allow the disease to steal from caregivers?

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4 Disturbing Dementia Behaviors and How You Can Go From Frustration to Connection — The Imperfect Caregiver

This blog post by Bobbi Carducci is a good reminder on how dementia caregivers must learn a new way to connect and communicate with their loved one, as verbal skills begin to decline. She offers good tips on how you can manage some of the most difficult dementia behaviors.

Often the behavior of someone with dementia is so changeable and unpredictable it’s almost impossible to figure out what is going on, leaving the caregiver confused and frustrated. Why is your spouse confused with you and so alert when someone comes to visit? Why does your mother, who is usually calm and agreeable, suddenly become […]

via 4 Disturbing Dementia Behaviors and How You Can Go From Frustration to Connection — The Imperfect Caregiver

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January 31, 2019 · 9:19 pm