September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, an annual event that recognizes the struggle that people who have been diagnosed with and their loved ones face this insidious disease. According to the Right at Home aged care home service, 5.7 million people currently live with some form of dementia in the United States. About 60-70% of these cases fall under the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Patti Carpenter of Hicksville is the Director of Patient Services Right at Home North Shore Long Island and has more than three decades of experience as a home nurse and estimates that approximately 35% of patients have dementia. In his role of teaching families how to cope and interact with their loved ones, Carpenter said recognizing early signs is a key to learning how to manage dementia for both the affected person and loved ones.
“In the beginning, the more you work with someone who has early-onset dementia, the better they can do because they have to start focusing on their abilities and what they can do and not what they can’t do,” Carpenter explained. “Some of the warning signs of dementia include people starting to forget their words. They will start using their words incorrectly. They might go and collect the keys and say they have milk in their hands. You start using words in the wrong context or you just forget them. You start losing your short-term memory. Whatever happened yesterday or even a few moments ago is gone – you don’t have it anymore. You can’t remember. You keep asking the same question over and over. This is another initial sign, repetition, when someone asks you a question and five minutes later they ask you the same question. It is very common. “
Carpenter’s training has enabled her to obtain a special certification to better understand clients with cognitive decline or dementia, to evaluate her abilities and to adapt their interaction in the most beneficial way. For patients with dementia, simple tasks such as showering become significantly more difficult to the point of exacerbating the patient’s physical fatigue.
“People with dementia become exhausted because activities become so difficult and their mind is constantly trying to remember what to do next,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes they can just sit in a chair and do nothing because they no longer have an interest in doing anything because everything is more challenging for them. They begin to close because everything has become so monumental to do “.
When someone is first diagnosed with dementia, Carpenter advises loved ones to allow the person to cry for the diagnosis. From there, it’s important to establish routines and find easy-to-do tasks that they enjoy. Simplicity of activities is key, as is awareness of how quickly dementia patients fatigue. Caregivers should also be aware of sunset, a phenomenon in which their charges experience confusion and agitation around sunset.
“It’s important to them that it’s the relaxing part of the day and they’re not alone where they can be afraid,” Carpenter said.
Patience is key despite how poor it is and how Alzheimer’s is a situation in which all parties learn to expect the unexpected.
“What you want them to do is make them feel good about themselves, allowing them to do something they will be successful at,” Carpenter said. “After all, they are still human and still have feelings. They just don’t have their own memory. “