Tips for coping with a family member with Alzheimer’s disease
Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday, December 22, with leaders from the long-term care and assisted living industry in Minnesota, to discuss tips for families where a member suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. illness or dementia.
As the Christmas holidays approach, many families will be spending time with a member who lives in a long-term care facility. Some families take these members home for a period of time in what is supposed to be a pleasant reunion, but this can sometimes become difficult as people may not fully understand how the disease has progressed in that family member.
âIt can be very difficult, it’s especially exacerbated by COVID because people haven’t seen their loved one as much,â Klobuchar said.
The panel of speakers offered several ideas on how people can reintegrate a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia for a short period of time.
Jennifer Cole, of Northwoods Caregivers in Bemidji, said families need to talk about the progression of the disease first. Not all family members may have been able to visit someone living in a long-term care facility, leaving some people shocked at how they have changed from a previous meeting. This knowledge can help family members prepare for a situation they have never experienced before.
Cole also said that familiar music can be an important way to stir memories. She also cautioned people to be aware of noise and light levels that can make a person feel overwhelmed. Most importantly, she urged people not to ignore the fact that a family member has an illness.
âDon’t pretend it’s not there,â Cole said.
According to Maicie Bentley of Hawley Senior Living, questions like “Why don’t you remember me? Only serve to stress family members and patients. Just because someone simply forgot something doesn’t mean they may not be able to bring someone’s name to the surface.
Bentley said discussing familiar memories, from a wedding day, from a job or from their childhood is a way to engage with someone, who may be more able to talk about those memories.
Julie Praska-Moser, a caregiver with the Lutheran social service and respite service, said volunteers at her facility create memory booklets with someone with memory loss. It’s a way for them to connect and be able to discuss topics from the past. Photo books are another way to stir a person’s memories.
Praska-Moser, like Bentley, said phraseology is important when interacting with someone with dementia. Questions such as “Do you remember that today is our wedding day?” Can be best expressed as “We got married 60 years ago” and then continue with the story from that day. The person will then be able to respond as these memories surface.
Panelists also told darker stories of the start of the pandemic, when the facilities were closed. Some told stories of people dying in isolation, unable to understand why a family member could not visit them. Others told heartwarming stories, including visiting someone outside their window, using a scissor lift.
All of the panelists were concerned about burnout in their industry and the steady decline of workers over the past decade. Salary figures strongly in this drop.
“We’ve seen issues with staff retention because, quite frankly, (they) can go to McDonald’s and do the exact same thing if not more than dedicate their hearts and souls to caring for these residents every day,” said said Bentley.
Klobuchar has extensive experience in the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on a family. In May, her father passed away after a long battle with the disease. Throughout Wednesday’s discussion, she mentioned several anecdotes about how the disease changed her father and talked about her efforts at the federal level to address the issue.
Along with Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, Klobuchar reintroduced the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act, which would expand education and support services to families and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
She also said she was one of the main architects of what’s known as the Conrad 30 legislation, named after the now-retired North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad. This legislation would allow international physicians to stay in the United States, provided they practice in areas that experience a physician shortage, such as some rural areas.
Pending legislation, she said, can help lower the costs of an illness that requires the expense of a long-term care facility, helping people stay in their homes longer.
“There is significant funding to deal with aging parents and our aging population in a dignified manner, by allowing people to stay in their homes as much as possible and giving caregivers the help they need to do so,” said she declared.
Klobuchar said there are six million people in the country who have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number doubles every five years for people over 65.