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Helping Hands:

By Staff | Nov 19, 2011

Alzheimer’s affects millions of individuals, along with their loved ones, every day.

Many feel overwhelmed.

According to Alzheimer’s Association there are 5.4 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, fifth for those older than 65.

Dr. Tanja Mani, neuropsychologist with Older Adult Services for Lee Memorial Care, said dementia can be identified as having a decline in an individual’s thought processes, along with having difficulty in doing daily activities.

She said dementia can affect thinking, memory, attention, language, personality, behavior and reasoning abilities.

The signs, she said, are not always easy to determine, but a good indicator is when an individual begins struggling with something that they have never struggled with before.

Quite often, an individual and family member will disagree with the symptoms and signs they are experiencing or seeing.

“Age is the biggest risk factor of dementia,” Mani said.

She said there are a number of sources for dementia, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.

A free screening is offered to individuals who think they may be experiencing any of the symptoms.

Mani said an individual will meet with an evaluator, so information can be sought about that person to understand some of their background and any medical conditions that affect their thinking.

“It helps us to know ahead of time,” she said.

The questionnaire consists of 30 items, which touches very briefly on different areas of thinking. An appointment needs to be made with the Memory Clinic, 239-343-2634, to have a screening done, which takes between 20-30 minutes to complete.

There is a cut off score from the questionnaire that determines if a follow-up needs to be done.

“Do we need to have the person come back in and talk about difficulties they might be having,” she said if they are below the cut off score.

If they are above that score then a follow-up is not needed.

Mani said she meets with the individual to go over the test and talk about what their options are to determine if a more detailed evaluation is needed.

She said even if the screening comes back negative, the value of knowing is important.

The screening helps in determining if there is a dementia so a treatment plan can be advised for an individual. Mani said there are medications that help in slowing down the progression of the disease that also can be prescribed as part of the treatment plan.

Alzheimer’s can be difficult to diagnose due to other stages of cognitive impairment that may occur.

Another stage is called mild cognitive impairment, which consists of some changes in thinking or cognitive difficulties that are more significant than what you would expect to see from normal aging.

Mani said this impairment still allows an individual to do their daily activities quite adequately.

In other words, some decline in cognition can occur from normal aging.

“As you get older there are a number of things that affect thinking,” she said. “You can expect to see some decline in cognition because of normal aging.”

Studies have shown that physical exercise can slow down dementia, Mani said.

“The big push and the most promising in terms of slowing down the onset of dementia is physical exercise,” she said. “From an individual standpoint, by far, the most important thing is regular, physical exercise.”

Thirty minutes of physical exercise, five times a week is recommended. Mani said before starting a physical exercise plan, individuals should check with their physician to see if that is a safe amount of exercise for them.

When an individual is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it also affects their loved ones because they often times become the caregiver.

According to Alzheimer’s Association, in 2010, 14.9 million family and friends provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care for their loved ones.

Danielle Musteffe, Lee Memorial Health System CARE Program Coordinator for Older Adult Services said it is really important for caregivers to reach out and get support, along with finding out what resources are available in their community.

“It is important to use resources and attend support groups,” she said. “Many of our caregiver groups will help them find a sense of balance in their life.”

Pine Island resident Julie Talmage, 70, said being a caregiver can be hard at times because you tend to focus all of your attention on your loved one.

“We need to have people to help us and need to talk about our feelings,” she said. “You have to give yourself permission that I need some help.”

Although her husband Dave, 71, has not been diagnosed with any form of dementia, he has had three strokes in less than a year, which left him in the intensive care unit for 20 days.

It has been a difficult time for Julie because things changed with her partner. All of a sudden the care she had to provide for her husband changed and she became pretty down and pretty low.

“I need something to help me figure out how to do this without feeling lots of anger, frustration and sadness,” Julie said. “You will never escape guilt, you have to work with yourself, pace yourself and take care of yourself.”

She was introduced to a six-week course, Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

“They listened without an agenda,” Julie said. “They are there for you.”

Communication skills, along with learning how to take care of yourself are the main things she took away from the class. She said she learned that it is important to talk to others about how you feel.

On Nov. 29, a free Caregiver Community Resource and Education Day will be held at Peace Lutheran Church, 15840 McGregor Blvd., from 12:30-5 p.m. with lunch being provided by Right at Home.

For information and registration call 239-343-2751.

Musteffe said such topics as having a plan in place for a loved one if something should happen to you, fall prevention, medicare questions and an attorney will be at the resource day.

Recent research shows that a caregiver places a higher health risk on themselves.