True or False? Dispelling the Myths of Alzheimer’s Disease

By Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator

Facts about Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease.
  • As of today, an estimated 5.4 million people have the disease.
  • 1 in 8 people over the age of 65 have the disease.

With more Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to understand the truth about the disease. Here are some of the top myths according to the Alzheimer’s Association1.

Myth 1: Memory loss is a normal part of aging.

As we age, it is normal to have some forgetfulness, but Alzheimer’s is more than occasional memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells, causing irreversible damage. This affects the person’s ability to think, their memory, judgment and eventually personality and behavior. If memory problems are an issue, you should consult your physician. They can tell you if it is Alzheimer’s, or another issue that can be treated.

Myth 2: Alzheimer’s only affects the elderly.

Early onset Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. However, the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are over age 65, including half of all people over age 85. For each 5 year span beyond age 65, the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s doubles.

Myth 3: Using aluminum cans or pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s.

Years ago, aluminum was a suspected cause of Alzheimer’s due to the high exposure of aluminum everyday. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum causing Alzheimer’s.

Myth 4: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Several studies have shot down that myth. These studies found flu shots can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, the Canadian Medical Journal2 reported this finding on November 27, 2001. The authors found that older adults who got the flu shot seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who didn’t receive the flu shot.

Myth 5: There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Right now, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. FDA approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6-12 months, on average. But, this has only worked for about 50% of those who take them.

Myth 6: If your parent has Alzheimer’s, you will likely have it as well.

Having a parent with Alzheimer’s does increase your risk for developing it compared to someone with no family link. But, family history only increases your risk slightly. Researchers have identified a risk gene called APOE-e4. It is one of three common forms of the APOE-e gene and everyone inherits some form of that gene. Inheriting APOE-e4 from one or both parents is known to raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. However, Familial Alzheimer’s disease, an early onset type, accounts for fewer than 10% of people with Alzheimer’s.

Myth 7: Alzheimer’s makes people agitated and aggressive.

Aggression is not a guaranteed part of Alzheimer’s disease and is less common that you might think. It is likely someone with Alzheimer’s will feel frustrated or angry at times, but it is not always expressed as violent outbursts. Over stimulation, an unfamiliar environment or being unable to express a need may lead to agitation. Identifying the triggers causing agitation can prevent the acceleration to aggressive behavior.

References:

1 http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp

2 René Verreault, Danielle Laurin, Joan Lindsay, Gaston De Serres. “Past exposure to vaccines and subsequent risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Canadian Medical Journal Volume 165. Issue 11 (2001): Online article http://www.cmaj.ca/content/165/11/1495.full?eaf.

 

November is National Hospice Month

By Elizabeth M. Lee, RN

Once again we celebrate a wonderful and caring option of care for patients who are facing end of life illness. Many people think hospice means a place to die. It is not. It is a specialized program and philosophy of health care to provide comfort for individuals approaching the end of life.

Seven out of 10 Americans say they would prefer to die at home, according to a CNN poll, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25 percent actually do.

Dying is difficult to talk about, even difficult to think about. Death is neither a concept nor a medical rarity, yet dying is not to be viewed as a simple event. If the attempt to reverse the course of a terminal disease is medically futile and only leads to prolonged pain and suffering for the patient and family, then the logical decision is to change the pattern and goal of care to provide more satisfying results.

Embracing the hospice philosophy of palliation (comfort measures) for both the patient and family enables the patient to receive excellent pain management and undesirable symptom control. Patient goals of care are foremost and must be included in daily care.

Providing patient and family comfort through hospice requires, by definition, a holistic approach that encompasses medical, nursing, psychosocial, spiritual, and ultimately bereavement care. The patient and the family are the unit of care. This approach makes hospice unique in the health care field. Hospice care requires more attention to detail to be effective than acute care, in that it deals with the whole person, not just a disease.

An interdisciplinary team is utilized in the care of the patient. This includes:

  • Physician
  • Nurse
  • Social worker
  • Chaplain
  • Aide
  • Grief services

Hospice care emphasizes supporting a patient to live fully during a time of decline. It offers new hope and goals, not for survival, but for physical and emotional comfort and dignity. This care is mainly offered in the patient’s home, or wherever “home” is located.

In the United States we are fortunate. We have the Hospice Medicare Benefit that covers the care, medications, supplies, equipment that is necessary for the patient’s end of life illness. Many private insurance plans also provide a hospice benefit as well as some state Medicaid plans. This is a huge cost savings for the patient and family.

For more information on our Hospice and Palliative Care programs, contact one of our Care Coordinators today who will be glad to assist you.

Advice from a Caregiver – Embrace Humor

by Linda Downing, LPN – Oxford Night/Weekend Manager

In honor of National Caregiver Month, I want to encourage all caregivers to not forget one crucial thing—humor. You’ve heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine” and I believe that saying to be true! I came to learn this important lesson while I was caring for my father.

My dad had been very healthy, and able to live on his own until he turned 92. After suffering a mild heart attack, he needed to have a heart catheter. He was prepped, given the “calming medication” and the doctors had successfully placed the catheter in the artery to make its way to the heart. But then, problems arose. The procedure didn’t go as well as it could have.

My three siblings and I were anxiously waiting in the waiting room when all of the sudden we heard over the loud speaker “Will the Barnhart family come to the consultation room.” I knew it was too soon for the procedure to be over! So, what happened, was our dad okay?

We met the doctor, with blood stained scrubs, in the consultation room. He told us as they were threading the catheter to our dad’s heart, our dad decided he was done with that procedure and did everything he could to get out of that room, as fast as he could! The doctor then said, “We are unable to continue this procedure because your Dad is out of control. He is fighting us and I need one of you to come in and help us”. My siblings looked at me, the oldest of the four, a nurse and “mom of the group” since our own mother had passed away some 30 years before, and decided I was the logical one to go. I donned some scrubs and followed the doctor.

Now, I had been in operating rooms before, but nothing prepared me for the task at hand with my own family member. My dad was yelling, flailing his arms and legs and fighting with every ounce of strength he had. My job was to hold his arms down and calmly talk to him. I soon learned that the mission was no longer to get the catheter up to his heart, but instead, to get it safely out of his artery. Thankfully, the doctors got the catheter out safely and gave dad more sedatives to calm him down. Let me tell you, after that experience, I felt like I needed a sedative!

When it was time for dad to leave the hospital, I brought clothes for him to change into. As he was getting dressed, he turned to me and jokingly said, “You mean to tell me you brought me brown shoes to wear with a black belt!” Then as we were leaving the hospital, he started having trouble walking down the hall. But then, all of a sudden, he started dancing down the hall! I laughed and was so relieved that he remembered nothing of the ordeal with his heart procedure.

Dad continued to keep his sense of humor and sharp wit. He joked with the home health care nurse we hired to help take care of him She asked what he thought about the Telehealth monitor, a monitor that checked his vital signs, and he said, “I really like it but I like you better! I hope that you will keep coming to see me!”

As a caregiver, it’s important that we remember to laugh, as well as cry. Dad gave us reasons to do both. He passed away a couple of years later, but we know he lived a wonderful, full life. Our memories of faith, love and humor sustain us as we wait for the day we will all be together again!

November is National Caregiver Month

By: Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator

There are only four kinds of people in the world
Those who have been caregivers
Those who are currently caregivers
Those who will be caregivers
And those who will need caregivers

—Rosalyn Carter

Recently I visited a caregiver whose wife had Alzheimer’s disease. When I asked him how he was coping with taking care of her, he responded with a loving smile “I don’t have to take care of her, I GET to.”

During National Caregiver Month Oxford HealthCare would like to acknowledge and thank all of the caregivers who give selflessly of themselves to care for someone. Whether it’s caring for someone 24/7 or caring for someone occasionally, being a caregiver can be a very rewarding experience, along with being a daunting and exhaustive experience.

As a caregiver, there are signs of stress that you do need to pay attention to. If you experience of any of these signs, it is wise to seek help from a professional home care agency and consult your physician.

  • Denial about the disease and its effect on the individual
  • Anger at the person you are caring for, others who may not understand or at the disease process itself
  • Anxiety about the tasks at hand or about the future
  • Depression that impedes your ability to cope and begins to break your spirit
  • Exhaustion making it difficult to initiate or complete care
  • Irritability causing moodiness and may trigger negative thinking or actions
  • Sleeplessness due to worry or due to the sleep disturbances of the individual you are caring for
  • Lack of concentration making it difficult to perform familiar tasks
  • Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

It is vital that caregivers take care of themselves. If you find yourself without the time to take care of your own needs, you may be putting your health at risk.

  • Educate yourself about the disease so you are better equipped to provide care and cope with the changes that may occur
  • Utilize community resources that offer assistance and support
  • Get help from family, friends and community resources. Support groups are a good source of comfort and reassurance.
  • Take care of yourself by watching your diet, exercising and getting rest. Staying healthy will help you better manage stress.
  • Embrace humor! Finding and holding onto humorous stories can help you keep an upbeat perspective in spite of the challenges of being a caregiver
  • Give yourself credit, not guilt. Know that the care you give does make a difference and you are doing the best you can
  • Make legal and financial plans. Plan ahead. Consult a lawyer to discuss wills, estate planning and advance directives.
  • Visit your doctor regularly and pay attention to your stress, physical, emotional and mental changes. Ignoring symptoms can result in a decline in mental and physical health.

If you are a caregiver or know someone who is a caregiver, Oxford HealthCare offers numerous home care programs that can provide you the help, support and relief you need, so you can enjoy time with your loved one. Call one of our Care Coordinators today and we would be happy to assist you.