How do you feel about Alzheimer’s and dementia? Do you believe that all people with dementia are the same? Are you embarrassed by a family member or friend who has dementia? Do you make jokes about people who have dementia or treat them as if they have no feelings or intelligence? Our society is facing an “Alzheimer’s tsunami” as our population ages and lives longer. This is the elephant in the room that we need to acknowledge because it is not going away.
Although much medical progress has been made in the understanding and treatment of various forms of dementia over the last few decades, many people remain uninformed or misinformed about these diseases. Dementia, the broad term covering many brain diseases, is still portrayed in a derogatory manner in films and on TV, often to get a laugh. Those who are more informed and enlightened realize that people who suffer from these brain diseases are people who deserve to be treated with dignity. They have feelings and opinions, and are often highly intelligent, People with dementia include former professors, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and even a U.S. President.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any condition that results in memory loss does not mean the end of a meaningful life and happiness. There are programs and services that focus on people’s strengths instead of their losses and creating healthy, happy moments and safe environments where our loved ones can flourish. In these environments/communities, people are active participants in life. Instead of sitting on the sidelines they bake cookies, discuss current events and engage in creative projects, worship services, singing and more. In short, these are not the unhappy and scary people sometimes portrayed in movies and on television. They are people like you and me except they are experiencing changes or gaps in their abilities and need some assistance in closing those gaps. We need to start seeing them differently. We need to learn how to approach them on their terms, not ours. We need to learn to be in the moment with them. We need to understand that people with dementia have feelings and should be treated with dignity and respect. They are not objects. They are people. They belong.
We can no longer afford to hold onto false and outdated notions about dementia. As a society we need to talk about Alzheimer’s and related conditions to effectively face this growing challenge. We need to advocate for our loved ones when they cannot stand up for themselves. Although it can be difficult and painful for families and friends to “lose” a loved one to dementia, we need to understand that there is a new person that we need to get acquainted with. That person isn’t the same as the old one, but they still have feelings, opinions, and memories, and in the right environment they are engaged in activities that reflect their passions and personalities. In the right environment they are respected and celebrated and their lives can be happy, filled with love, laughter, joy and meaning.
There are many resources for learning more about dementia such as The Alzheimer’s Foundation (www.alzfdn.org) which provides information on the disease, care giving, support groups and more. Lovely, Still, a film produced by Nicholas Fackler that stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, is an inspiring story of a husband and wife’s journey through dementia that will touch your heart.
Additional ideas and resources for family caregivers can be found at www.caregiverstress.com. For a list of community resources for those experiencing or caring for someone with memory loss, visit the Eden Prairie Professionals in Aging (EPPIA) website: www.edenprairieaging.org.
Submitted by EPPIA Members:
Theresa Klein, Cognitive Clinical Specialist at www.emeraldcrest.com
Holly Hansen, Senior Partner at www.BrilliantMovesMN.com
Rhonda Kalal, CAREGiver Director at www.homeinstead.com
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA meets five times a year to exchange information and problem solve in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org.