Even though many people with dementia can no longer form new memories they can still feel pleasure in the moment. Since researchers have shown that music and color are two areas of life that continue to affect mood and cognitive activity long into dementia, they are key approaches used by many therapists. Music and color can also lighten the mood of a tired caregiver, so why not add some of each to this new year of caregiving?
One of the many things caregivers have in common guilt. Generally, it's unearned guilt. We haven't done enough. We could do something better. We are imperfect caregivers. So? We are human. There isn't a person on earth who can guess another person's needs and respond exactly right every time.
Dear Carol: I try to be understanding with my aging parents but sometimes the little things get to me. They are still in their condominium. They go to church, watch TV, and see friends occasionally. My sister and I stop in at least twice a week, on different days. When I’m there, my mother wants me to do the laundry, which I’m happy to do, but I have to do everything the way she always has. My sister does some light cleaning and my mother supervises every move. Dad has clocks everywhere and he and mom both wear watches. If a battery dies on his watch, Dad is upset until we replace it. Really upset. A new watch won’t work either, so we have to keep this one going. I know that these are little things, but can’t they loosen up a little? We’re trying to help, but they micromanage everything. Michelle
As a longtime family caregiver who provided, and continues to provide, differing levels of care for loved ones with illnesses, I can attest to the fact that caregiving can be unimaginably stressful. For dementia caregivers, the stress is even more extreme. Only lately have we seen the results of studies that have followed family caregivers. One of the most scientific, in that it uses hard physical evidence, was published last spring. The study, by Ohio State University in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging, showed that caregivers may have their life span shortened by four to eight years.
Alcohol abuse can occur at any age, but in the past most doctors looked for the signs in younger people. There’s also a bias in society at large, including some doctors, that people who abuse alcohol will be of a certain type. It can be hard for a doctor to look at a sweet, grandmotherly woman and think that perhaps the “occasional” glass of wine she admits to drinking may actually be a good portion of a bottle on nightly basis.
You’re 76 and are having memory problems beyond the occasional slip. Last month, you drove in circles for an hour because you forgot how to get home from the same grocery store where you’ve shopped for three decades. You’re finding the sequences of ordinary tasks difficult to understand. Finally, you give in to your husband’s nagging. You see a neurologist. The diagnosis is Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
You’re 57 and still rising in your career. At least you were rising up until the last six months when you were told that you are upsetting clients because you’ve become short tempered. You’re brushing off appointments because you don’t feel like going, yet you don’t bother to cancel. You are having problems keeping up with new technical changes. Finally, your long-time boss tells you that he thinks you need to see a doctor. Your personality is changing and your abilities are slipping. You see a neurologist. The diagnosis is younger onset Alzheimer’s disease (YOAD).
The decisions caregivers of elderly loved ones must make during the Christmas holidays are fraught with opportunities to make mistakes in judgment. Chief among them is how much to include a loved one who has dementia in the festivities. Will the Christmas tree bring Mom happy memories of past Christmas pleasures or will it remind her of the Christmas tree fire in her home when she was a five year old child?
Dear Carol: My parents have been married for over 50 years. Mom has moderate to advanced dementia and moved to a memory care unit three months ago. Dad was her primary caregiver until he couldn’t handle her needs anymore so this is very hard on him. We’ll have the family Christmas gathering at my home and Dad thinks he should bring Mom here for dinner. As a family, we’re divided about what is best for Mom. If she came here she could enjoy our family traditions but would it just set back her adjustment to her new surroundings? What’s the best approach? Nicole
The strongest evidence to date that poor dental hygiene is linked to brain degeneration has emerged from a recent study at the University of Florida Dental College. While cardiologists have long known that the bacteria that causes gingivitis (gum disease) may enter the blood stream adding to heart issues, there had been fewer studies to link Alzheimer’s or other dementia to oral health.