When Henryetta Yexley goes shopping with her daughter, she gets dressed for town – a brightly colored shirt, combed hair and some light make-up. But getting ready is the highlight of a trip she likely won’t remember the next day.
A resident in the Reminiscence Neighborhood at Sunrise of Lincoln Park in Chicago, Yexley, 85, has Alzheimer’s disease. "My mom still knows that she’s dressed up and looking nice," says her daughter, Cynthia Aldridge. "I know she knows it… She always had nice clothes and kept herself well groomed. That part of her is still there."
Alzheimer’s eventually alters the characteristics that defined the person, including their wit, intelligence and personality. Still, as Cynthia has found out, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not have to mark an ending point in a relationship. Understanding what makes someone with Alzheimer’s tick makes all the difference to how a caregiver continues to connect with a loved one. Validating their feelings and listening to them is also important. This shows you empathize with their sense of loss.
A quality visit might include bringing in a photo album to look at together, or taking your mom or dad back to the house to watch home movies. If they still like to go out, go for a drive. Music, too, is a great way to ease discomfort. Many people with Alzheimer’s still remember old tunes and can sing along, which may stir pleasurable feelings. Also, know that a loving touch can have more impact than any words.
"The goal at Sunrise Senior Living is to create pleasant days to make residents feel comfortable," says Jim Thomson at Sunrise of Lincoln Park. Sunrise Reminiscence Neighborhoods include items such as colorful paintings and perhaps an outdoor garden to help to stimulate the senses and keep each resident engaged. Tapping into a person’s former passions and interests may help meet these goals. For example, one resident would not sit down to eat meals. Discovering that this woman had once been a renowned hostess prompted the caregivers to let her help in the dining room. In another instance a resident wouldn’t go to bed at night. When the team learned that she used to work night shifts, they gave her a clipboard to satisfy her desire to be active at night.
Picture boxes near residents’ doors with photographs or mementos of the past not only help residents identify their rooms, but also serve as a starting point for conversations. Similarly, life stations, such as a nursery with baby dolls, a work table with tools, or an indoor golfing mat, may trigger memories of past experiences. These activities nurture the spirit and helps residents have pleasant days.
While scientists are discovering more about Alzheimer’s, much is still unknown. The disease initially affects the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls short-term memory. It is characterized by plaques and tangles in the brain that interfere with cellular communication. There is still no cure, and while medication can slow the disease’s progression, there is no pill for prevention.
A fear among children of parent’s with Alzheimer’s is that they, too, will develop the disease. No specific gene has been identified for Alzheimer’s that develops after age 65. But research shows that changes to diet and lifestyle can minimize the onset or symptoms of these diseases. "There’s a strong relationship between the causes of heart disease and increased risk of Alzheimer’s. With a healthy lifestyle however, there’s a greater chance a person won’t get it." says Bill Thies, Ph.D., Vice President of Medical and Scientific Relations for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.
Resources for more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia:
Manage contributing factors of Alzheimer’s and related dementias:
- Keep blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar under control. Ask your doctor for these important tests and monitor your numbers.
- Exercise daily, even walking 30 minutes is beneficial. Also strength training exercises.
- Protect your head from injury, e.g. wear a helmet for biking.
- Keep active socially.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Reduce saturated/trans fat foods. Consider an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Eat plenty of fish, especially wild salmon, for the Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids that can improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation.
- Choose foods high in antioxidants & flavonoids such as berries, dark chocolate (high % of cocoa), broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
- Take short mid-afternoon naps.
- Find ways to reduce stress. It can affect the development of dementia.
- Drink only modest amounts of alcohol. Alcohol-related dementia is common.
- Stay positive. Research suggests that pessimists run a higher risk of dementia. If depression is suspected, get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Challenge yourself mentally by learning new information, e.g. learn a foreign language, read literature, history, sciences, or regularly do word games/crossword or cryptic puzzles.
Since 2001, Sunrise of Victoria - a licensed private residential care community - has provided individualized care with a personalized program of assistance in activities of daily living for its residents. Learn more about Sunrise Senior Living CLICK HERE.