Monica Jaye of Reno’s KKOH Radio recently did an in-depth interview with Gina Stutchman, owner of Arbors Memory Care Community. During the interview, Gina covered many of the questions she is often asked about Alzheimer’s disease. You can also listen to the full 20 minute interview here)
HOW DID GINA GET STARTED IN THIS BUSINESS?
Gina started in the Senior Housing industry at a very young age when her father purchased a skilled nursing facility in Fallon, Nevada. After that, her family built both active living and assisted living communities in Sparks. After seeing the need, the family chose to focus specifically on memory care and the Arbors was built in the late 1990s.
Memory care is indeed a very specialized business. The entire dementia journey is an extremely difficult process, one that Gina can fully understand. Besides having a lifetime of practice in senior care, dementia has been part of Gina’s own family. Both of her maternal grandparents suffered from dementia. She is truly aware of the stress it causes within a family, both physically and emotionally. Gina can honestly say she’s dealt with hundreds, if not thousands of families who are dealing with the affects of Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Gina finds pleasure in helping these families and wants all families to know that she is a resource and will happily answer anyone’s questions about dementia.
WHY GET AN EARLY DIAGNOSIS
As humans, we tend to look for the best in every situation, which can often lead to denial. This means that if we fear a major life-altering disease like Alzheimer’s, we often put off a visit to the doctor because we may receive bad news.
However, getting into the doctor if you have concerns of dementia in yourself or a loved one is extremely important. On the positive side, it could turn out the memory loss or confusion could be caused by something other than a permanent form of dementia. Vitamin deficiency, urinary tract infections, drug interactions and a variety of other reversible causes can create dementia like symptoms.
On the flip side, should it be Alzheimer’s, a diagnosis can actually bring some peace of mind. There is no more wondering what the cause is. It allows the person with the disease to have a guiding hand in how their life will be moving forward and they can be involved in the decision making process. An early diagnosis also provides time for education. We are fortunate in Northern Nevada to have a local office of the Alzheimer’s Association that offers numerous educational events throughout the year. These classes can walk you through the stages of the disease and what a family can do to prepare for each step. The Association is also a great resource for questions that may come up once a diagnosis is received, or even before.
This is a good time to take a step back for a minute and explain the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is the umbrella term for symptoms of memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the largest sub category, or form of dementia. Just like cancer is the general term for the disease, but when someone says they have cancer, the next question often is “What type of cancer?” Similarly, if you find out someone has dementia, you might wonder what type of dementia? In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia include Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Parkinson’s, Frontotemporal and many more.
HOW CAN I SUPPORT SOMEONE LIVING WITH DEMENTIA?
Besides getting as much education as possible, the number one thing Gina recommends is reducing the amount of frustration for the person with the disease. Phrases like “Don’t you remember” and “You should know that” need to be erased from your vocabulary. Pointing out what the individual doesn’t remember will do nothing but cause distress. Same with trying to ask questions to somehow trigger their memory. Asking about a previous event or trivia-type questions such as “What’s my name,” “What is this called,” are very upsetting to someone whose memory is fading. It can cause embarrassment, anxiety and anger, as well as a withdrawal from social settings.
Gina has seen caregivers who thought they were being helpful by trying to engage their loved one’s memory and keeping their brain active. But there is a fine line between being helpful or hurtful. Unfortunately Alzheimer’s is not reversible and you can’t really fight this disease, you will lose.
Instead, focus on maintaining positive relationships. Stay active, go out and create positive memories for both of you while you can. Take pictures! Eat healthy. Research suggests that a heart healthy diet is also a brain healthy diet. When you’re out in public, introduce people, using their name and how you know them, to your loved one so that they are not struggling to recall a name. An example would be, “this is Betty from church” or “this is Brian – your sister Sue’s son.” If appropriate, give a heads up to people you will be visiting to let them know about your loved one’s disease, how it is affecting them and how they can be of assistance during your visit. Do what you can to take pressure off the person with the disease. Get them out and keep doing his or her favorite things, until those things aren’t a favorite activity any more.
As the disease progresses and every day activities become more difficult, reach out for help. Ask questions and seek support. The Alzheimer’s Association offers incredible support groups throughout all of Northern Nevada, including groups for spouses, adult children, men, women and even for the individual living with the disease.
WHERE ARE WE WITH ADVANCEMENTS IN ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s the only cause in the top 10 that has no cure or treatment. While Alzheimer’s has recently received more funding from Congress, more needs to be done. Alzheimer’s costs our nation billions of dollars for medical care, loss of work by the caregiver and unpaid care by family caregivers.
Right now, there are more studies than ever taking place. And, while there has been some groundbreaking research taking place, there is still no cure. Oftentimes the drugs that are developed to help slow the disease may end up causing harsh side effects. So, while we’re moving in the right direction, we’re not getting there fast enough.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS OF DEMENTIA?
Admittedly, we all suffer from memory loss time to time. Keys are misplaced, but quickly found. The car is lost in the parking lot, but walk a few extra steps and there it is. An appointment is missed, but with an apologizing y it’s simply rescheduled. These scenarios are not signs of dementia.
However, if the keys are lost and months later they are found in a place they had no business being, like the freezer or in the coffee bin, that could be a cause for concern. Or, while looking for you car in the lot, you can’t remember what type of car you drive, or even remember driving it to where you are. You didn’t simply forget when the appointment was scheduled for, but you forgot ever making the appointment.
If you notice someone who is struggling with tasks they’ve always been good at, that could also be a sign. Gina mentioned that her grandmother used to make bread every day, but one day she simply forgot how to make it and she never made bread again.
Unexplained mood swings, problems with coordination, depth perception and even a large number of falls could all be signs. If you notice any of these things in someone you love, or even in yourself, make that call to your doctor and let them know your concerns.
HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?
Gina is always willing and able to help families dealing with dementia. Give her, or anyone at the Arbors, a call and ask your questions. Come back to ArborsMemoryCare.com and read more of our blogs. We also link to great articles that we have found that address common care concerns.
Utilize the Alzheimer’s Association as a resource. Call them, visit their website for upcoming events or to educate yourself on the disease. Their phone number is 775-786-8061.
Life isn’t over with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Life will change, but prepare yourself and enjoy the special moments.