Seventy-five people attended the recent Alzheimer’s Awareness Day held at Clinton Community College.

Those present heard Jerry Schroeder, from the Alzheimer’s Association, provide an informative program detailing the many aspects of the disease’s effects. He explained Alzheimer’s is basically a brain failure.  The disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

It is irreversible, progressive and is neither curable nor treatable. The actual onset can be as much as 15 to 20 years before symptoms appear.  That is the bad news.

The good news is that research is advancing. Genetic markers are being discovered everyday. Once a picture of its nature is complete, it is hoped research looking for drugs to stop the disease’s progression can follow. What is known at this time is that everyone with Alzheimer’s has the genetic markers. But not everyone with the markers has Alzheimer’s.

Schroeder explained we do not expect or get frustrated when someone with severe lung disease runs out of breath climbing steps. Likewise, we should not expect a person whose brain has deteriorated from Alzheimer’s to maintain normal memory or cognitive skills. It is not unusual for a patient to have difficulty performing even routine daily tasks.  

Although it is difficult to speak logically with the person, we can still speak to them emotionally. What he means is that we can create an emotionally safe place for the person and treat them with dignity.

Some of the techniques suggested include:

• Go where they are.  Do not argue or stress the lack of logic in what they are saying. Living their truth will make them feel secure.  

• Try distraction if a situation needs changing.

• Reduce the number of choices to two so as to not confuse the person. An example might be to place only two items on a plate for dinner.

• Vision loss occurs with Alzheimer’s. Peripheral vision and contrast deteriorate. For example, do not put mash potatoes on a white plate.

• People with Alzheimer’s will mirror your behavior. If you remain calm, they will stay calm.

• Use simple sentences and give them time to process what has been said.

These are only a few of the tried and true tips that have been discovered that work to reduce the frustrations of both the caregiver and the Alzheimer sufferer.

Schroeder further emphasized the importance of a medical evaluation if someone is demonstrating Alzheimer’s symptoms.  There are other forms of dementia that are treatable.

A brain tumor, poor nutrition and infection can cause symptoms that can easily be mistaken for Alzheimer’s and respond to treatment.

If you have any questions concerning how to cope with the disease or for general information contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 563-324-1022.

Alan Green is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.

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