Recognizing Signs of Alzheimer’s

If caught in the early stages, there are more treatment possibilities available to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Being able to recognize the early warning signs, makes it possible to get a loved one the proper care needed before symptoms progress. Signs of Alzheimer’s can often be confused with normal signs of aging. Which is why we suggest knowing how to recognize the warning signs before jumping to conclusions.

Warning signs

When trying to determine if a loved one is starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s it is important to keep track of what is observed from day-to-day. Observations can include actions, conversations and activities the individual participates in regularly. Here are some early warning signs of Alzheimer’s:

  • Daily routines are disrupted by memory loss
  • Experiencing challenges with planning
  • Decline in cognitive thinking and abilities
  • Having difficulty with familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time and/or place
  • Difficulty with spatial relationships and visual images (known as agnosia)
  • Problems with speaking and understanding language (known as aphasia)
  • Misplacing things more than normal
  • Inability to retrace steps
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Continual changes in mood and/or personality, including signs of hostility and depression
  • Behavior issues
  • Experiencing sundowning, meaning behavioral issues get worse in the late afternoon and evening hours of the day
  • Difficulty with basic motor skills (known as aprazia)
  • Experiencing strong emotional responses to minor problems
  • Psychosis – recurring hallucinations and/or delusions

What to do

If there are any concerns a loved one is experiencing any of the above listed warning signs, it might be necessary to see his or her physician. The doctor will be able to offer a proper diagnosis after a full day of evaluations. In most cases, this is done on an outpatient basis, making it possible to keep the loved one in the comfort of his or her own home.

Make sure to ask the doctor what diagnostic procedures will be used to determine if the patient is suffering from Alzheimer’s. If the evaluation process does not sound comprehensive enough, it might be necessary to seek assistance from a different physician.

If a family member is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the Duluth, Minneapolis, or Bemidji areas, let us here are HealthStar Home Health help. We can help loved ones continue living lives as independently as possible. Learn more about our comprehensive Alzheimer’s program, Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer.

Memory Concerns? Take a Proactive Approach

Our health care model transitioned to an innovative, proactive approach over the past several years. A focus on the areas of diet, exercise, preventative clinical services, and a high emphasis on monitoring areas of concern is shifting the way care is delivered. While strides have been made in these areas, it is rare that changes to one’s memory are met with such a proactive approach. So often today outreach for support is not initiated until a critical event such as financial loss, exploitation, wandering, or failure to thrive has occurred. As a comprehensive provider of home health care, HealthStar Home Health knows firsthand that early detection of memory issues leads to early intervention, and the ability for family to plan together.

The reasons for ignoring memory changes could include embarrassment, denial, and fear, so it is understandable why many may fall into this critical misstep. A typical response from an individual who notices changes to his or her memory is to hide the problem, concerned that a diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in inevitable. Those close to that individual may harbor similar fears as well. This perpetual cycle makes it difficult to enter into tough dialogue, often resulting in the memory issue developing quietly but profoundly.

What is not well known is that there are many causes for memory loss, many being curable and treatable if recognized early. By regularly integrating memory screenings Health Care professionals can become a catalyst for change and construct critical conversations with their patients around memory concerns. While a memory screening will not diagnose a memory issue, it is the first step in identifying a problem and it will subsequently trigger further diagnostic testing. We need to encourage and empower all those who have concerns that they or their loved ones are experiencing memory changes to discuss those concerns with their health care providers and request memory screening.

If further diagnostic testing reveals a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other Dementias, remember, the benefits of earlier diagnosis include improved management of the disease, ability to treat and mange co-existing conditions, and the opportunity to help patients and their families plan ahead. Caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or Dementia has a huge impact on their care partner’s ability to achieve work-life balance. According to the coalition for Preparing Minnesota for Alzheimer’s, working caregivers report their caregiving responsibilities affect their work. 57% report arriving to work late. 17% have taken a leave of absence. 10% switch from full-time to part-time hours. 9% left the work place completely as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. The average cost to U.S employers of full-time employees who are caregivers totals $33.6 BILLION per year in lost productivity. (Preparing Minnesota for Alzheimer’s , 2011). These staggering numbers identify a critical need for supporting caregivers to manage their stress through education, training, and supportive services.

In 2013, HealthStar Home Health, in collaboration with C&V Senior Care Solutions, integrated a comprehensive home care program called Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer. Paid completely through the Medicare home care benefit, Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer supports the person, the caregiver and, the family to manage the diagnosis and the challenges that surround it. Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer teaches families to understand how the disease affects the brain and enable the caregiver to enter the world of the person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Caregivers are trained to handle behaviors which include uncooperative behavior, agitation, aggression, wandering, sun-downing, sexually acting-out, dressing and bathing difficulties, eating difficulties, repetitive behaviors, and more. The program incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach and utilizes Skilled Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Social Workers, and Speech Pathologists. It uses standardized evidence-based teaching and assessment tools, and is based on the theory of Retrogenesis, developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg. Retrogenesis means “back to birth”, which concludes that Alzheimer’s unravels the brain almost exactly in reverse order as the brain developed from birth. This foundational understanding provides a method of creating approaches, environments, and techniques based on the developmental stage that correlates with the stage of dementia. The patient and the Caregiver will demonstrate competent self-care skill management of Alzheimer’s disease including a full range of behavioral, physical, social, and spiritual implications of this disease in order to remain safe at home.

By initiating supportive services upon diagnosis or at the initial onset of problematic behaviors, families receive help before it reaches crisis level. This proactive approach can successfully increase the quality of life for patients and their families affected by this dynamic disease.

-Shannon MacKenzie
Area Manager
HealthStar Home Health

Alzheimer’s Disease and Sundowning

Do you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia that is complaining of sleep issues or nighttime restlessness? Have you noticed behavioral changes beginning at dusk that seem to last into the night? This person may be experiencing a condition known as sundowning. The term “sundowning” refers to a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning has been known to cause a variety of behaviors, including confusion, aggression or a tendency to ignore direction. Wandering and pacing are also common symptoms that may occur.

Although scientists don’t fully understand why, studies show that up to 20% of persons with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia experience sleep changes and a mixed-up internal body clock. This seems to happen, along with changes in memory and behavior, as a result of the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain. Sundowning is not a disease, but rather a variety of symptoms that tend to occur later in the day.

Factors that may aggravate sundowning symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (both mental and physical)
  • Low, or reduced, lighting
  • Increased shadows
  • Disrupted routine

Through their experience in caring for persons with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the caregivers at HealthStar Home Health have found some tips to help reduce the evening agitation:

  • Plan more active days – take a walk or engage in other physical activity.
  • Restrict caffeine consumption to the morning hours.
  • Reduce the background noise and stimulating activity, including TV viewing, in the evening.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Limit activities during the late afternoon and early evening to those that are simple and relaxing.
  • If pacing or wandering occurs don’t use physical restraint. Instead, allow the pacing to continue with your supervision. Interfering with this may cause an outburst or aggression.

If you have a family member or are caring for someone experiencing sundowning, it is helpful to document routines and look for patterns. Is it happening only at certain times of the day or when certain people are around? Do certain events trigger the symptoms? If you are able to recognize the ‘trigger’ you may be able to reduce the frequency of occurrences. Also, maintaining a regular schedule of meals, waking and bedtime routines is one of the most common coping strategies for sleep issues and sundowning and will allow for a more restful sleep at night.

Dr. Verna Benner Carson, President of C&V Senior Care Specialists, Inc. and a board certified clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric mental health nursing, recognizes the importance of knowing the person’s story or history. “This greatly assists the caregivers to provide meaningful activities that draw on old memories”, she said. Dr. Carson also believes that patience and flexibility are two of the most important qualities that a caregiver can possess, allowing the caregiver to work with the patient to provide calming situations and reduce any frustration or agitation. “Repetition which can drive caregivers to respond with irritation and anger can be easily redirected into repetitive activities such as folding laundry for women or sorting nuts, bolts, and screws for men”, she suggests.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can be very difficult. One great resource available is the Alzheimer’s Speaks website. Founder Lori La Bey‘s goal is to shift the dementia care culture from crisis to comfort around the world by changing how we give and receive care.  Lori views the globe as one large cradle which is here to nurture those in need, as life ebbs and flows through the stages of aging. Lori, and Alzheimer’s Speaks, hosts a variety of memory & Alzheimer’s cafes, dementia chat webinars, and even a radio show to help those with dementia struggles and those who care for them.

HealthStar Home Health understands how overwhelming and difficult it can be to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia and offers a comprehensive and effective Alzheimer’s and dementia home care program in our Alzheimer’s Whisperer program. This care program is a unique and effective approach to support those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their family. For additional information on dementias and caregiving, visit our website at www.healthstarhomehealth.net.

Meeting of the Minds to Connect the Hearts

The Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference was at the Riverside Convention Center in downtown St. Paul on March 12, 2015 … and HealthStar Home Health was there!

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Xaulanda Simmonds-Emmanuel, Branch Manger

Hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter and Mayo Clinic, the conference draws over 1,300 participants and over 70 sponsors and exhibits. Imagine a convergence of persons with dementia, family caregivers and professionals all learning, sharing and networking. The passion to provide the best care, identify resources and support for those in need of Alzheimer and dementia care was palpable.

The most memorable moment of the day for the HealthStar team was when Lucinda Hochsprung visited our exhibit. She shared that she attended the conference last year and learned about HealthStar’s Alzheimer’s Whisperer program. With much appreciation for the HealthStar team and what she learned, Lucinda shared, “I found HealthStar’s Alzheimer’s Whisperer information very helpful with my Dad.” It was a touching moment that affirmed the importance of the services that are provided and the lives that are positively touched by HealthStar.

HealthStar Home Health's NIlda

HealthStar understands how overwhelming and difficult it can be to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other Dementias. Our multidisciplinary team provides a comprehensive and effective Alzheimer’s and Dementia Home Care Program, so you can care for your loved one at home or an Assisted Living setting. In addition to the “Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer ” program, HealthStar also offers the Memory Café for individuals with early memory loss. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together to share stories and laughter with supportive resources in an environment that is understanding. After all, our loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia deserve as much love, understanding, compassion and support that we can provide.

To learn more about the Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference, click here. To learn more about HealthStar Home Health’s Alzheimer’s Whisperer Program, please visit our Alzheimer’s and Dementia page.

Managing Alzheimer’s Behaviors

Whether you have cared for someone with Alzheimer’s in their Minnesota home for many years or have just learned that a loved one has been diagnosed with the disease, managing their behavior and personality changes can be very challenging. You may have already figured out that, as a caregiver, you cannot change the person with Alzheimer’s, or any type of dementia, but you can develop strategies to help you better manage any problem behaviors. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

It’s important to know that the patient is not trying to be difficult. Instead their behavior is often a reaction to stress or frustration in an attempt to communicate. Creating a calming routine and environment for the patient at home along with the way you communicate with them will make a huge difference. The Alzheimer’s Association offers their top five tips that can help you manage your loved one’s behaviors.

  1. Try not to take behaviors personally.
  2. Remain patient and calm.
  3. Explore pain as a trigger.
  4. Don’t argue or try to convince.
  5. Accept behaviors as a reality of the disease and try to work through it.

Keeping these tips in mind when caring for a loved one or patient with Alzheimer’s is important. At HealthStar Home Health, we offer many services and programs to assist with the care of those struggling with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. One service we offer is psychiatric home care. This specialty is holistic in its approach, assessing for and addressing the total needs of the patient – physical and emotional. Not only does the patient benefit, the family also benefits by learning new skills to help their loved one remain stable. The health care system benefits from psychiatric home care by maintaining the patient who struggles with persistent psychiatric issues in the least restrictive (and least expensive) setting, which is the home.

HealthStar also offers support for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia through our Alzheimer’s Whisperer program. We understand how overwhelming and difficult it can be to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Confusion, exhaustion and frustration are all common when trying to manage challenging behaviors associated with these illnesses. HealthStar Home Health developed a comprehensive and effective Alzheimer’s and dementia home care program, and is proud to offer this program to assist the caregivers and patients alike. Becoming an Alzheimer’s Whisperer is a unique approach to help support those affected by dementia that live in a home or assisted living setting. The Alzheimer’s Whisperer program is based on the understanding of how the disease affects the brain allowing caregivers to modify interventions so they are appropriate for the person’s cognitive ability. Services are provided by a multidisciplinary team consisting of registered nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, medical social workers, speech pathologists and home health aides, who work together to improve the quality of life for the caregiver and their loved one.

Other care services we at HealthStar Home Health offer are:

  • Individualized assessment, evaluating cognitive and functional levels
  • Treatment planning
  • Care for patients in a compassionate, empathetic and gentle manner
  • Teach families and caregivers strategies for managing the care needs of their loved one
  • Effectively respond to challenging behaviors such as aggression, agitation, and repetition
  • Address physical health needs
  • Medication management and education
  • Reduce utilization of psychotropic medication
  • Strength development and fall risk reduction
  • Promote independence in dressing, bathing and toileting
  • Assistance with memory, communication and swallowing difficulties

Although your loved one’s sense of what is real may be different than yours, it is still very real to them. By learning to manage the behavior changes you will find yourself reaching some pretty significant goals in the care of your patient. You may notice decreased hospitalizations or use of emergency services, improved functional ability and patient knowledge about their medications, treatment compliance and staying well. All of which can increase your loved one’s quality of life and overall health management.

As a caregiver, even being able to maintain your sense of humor will go a long way in managing the changing behavior of a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s. When that isn’t doing the trick, we at HealthStar Home Health are here for you with expert services and programs available to help you through the stages of progressing Alzheimer’s.

For more information contact HealthStar Home Health directly by calling 651-633-7300.

The Importance of Memory Screenings

Memory screenings are a significant first step toward finding out if you may have a memory problem. Memory problems could be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other medical conditions.

Memory screenings make sense for anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia; whose family and friends have noticed changes in them; or who believe they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or a related illness. Screenings also are appropriate for anyone who does not have a concern right now, but who wants to see how their memory is now and for future comparisons.

These questions might help you decide if you should be screened. If you answer “yes” to any of them, you might benefit from a memory screening.

  • Am I becoming more forgetful?
  • Do I have trouble concentrating?
  • Do I have difficulty performing familiar tasks?
  • Do I have trouble recalling words or names in conversation?
  • Do I sometimes forget where I am or where I am going?
  • Have family or friends told me that I am repeating questions or saying the same thing over and over again?
  • Am I misplacing things more often?
  • Have I become lost when walking or driving?
  • Have my family or friends noticed changes in my mood, behavior, personality, or desire to do things?

November 18 is the Alzheimer’s Foundation National Memory Screening Day. Join us on that day as we partner with ACR Homes and J. Arthur’s Coffee Shop to provide free memory screenings to the public.

Note: A memory screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness and does not replace consultation with a qualified physician or other healthcare professional.

Memory screening information taken from Alzheimer’s Foundation

MPR Asked, HealthStar Answered.

MPR asked the question: who is making your community better?

This year at the State Fair, we provided 2,200 free memory screenings this year at the Minnesota State Fair. People have mixed feelings about taking a memory screen. Fifty percent of the public told us they didn’t want to know even if they do have memory loss related to dementia. The other half, people who have been affected in some way by Alzheimer’s or dementia, said they wished they would have known to get checked sooner, and thanked us for being at the fair.

One family in particular that had a memory screening during the fair decided to take our advice and have follow up with their physician after their mother scored poorly on the memory screen. Two days later, the daughter returned to our booth to thank us for being at the fair. She said, had we not been there, she never would have known her mother was having difficulties as it was not something that was discussed openly nor something she had detected on her own. This is very common among children with aging parents. During the two days after the screening, the daughter took her mother to the doctor and the doctor agreed that further testing and screening was recommended. Both the daughter and the doctor were very glad they had taken the time to take the screening as the mother would now receive the appropriate care she needed.

We had another gentleman stop by, who stated he had been having memory concerns for several months, and every time he spoke to his family and coworkers about it, they would pass it off as normal aging. After meeting with us, he realized the symptoms he described were in fact something he should talk with his doctor about. Before leaving, he thanked us for being at the fair. He said he felt better now that he had someone that seemed to understand and validate what he had been experiencing, and planned to schedule a doctor’s visit.

Face-to-face memory screenings average three minutes and consist of questions and tasks to assess memory. HealthStar and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America encourage screenings for adults with memory concerns, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and those who want to check their memory now and have the baseline results for future comparison. Unfortunately, there’s a large gap in education. There are many reasons for memory loss that are treatable such as vitamin deficiency, thyroid issues, changes in medication, stress, and many others. Once the public was made aware during our time at the fair that there might be a treatable cause, they were more at ease, and we saw a big jump in the number of people deciding to take the memory screen. We want to raise public awareness and take the fear out of being screened. Early diagnosis and treatment can substantially help during early onset, whereas treatment in later stages of the disease aren’t as beneficial.

For many with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they will spend several years at home under the care of a family member or other caregiver before a move to a higher level nursing facility is required. The behaviors that accompany this disease can be very overwhelming and many families do not have the financial means to cover some of the costs of care, so they suffer through the journey alone, and often alienated from friends and family who eventually pull away. Changes in healthcare, due to high prevalence of the disease, allow our nursing experts to provide training, education and non-pharmacologic behavior assistance in the home to families and caregivers, which is 100 percent covered by traditional Medicare and most insurance plans. The public as well as many healthcare professionals are not aware of this available resource. It is even available to those under the age of 65, if they’ve been diagnosed by a doctor.

HealthStar uses the free memory screenings as a way to educate the public and provide families with lots of additional resources after a diagnosis. HealthStar also provides a free memory café, which is a social group for families and the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Families share their successes and challenges, and gain much needed support. Our biggest concern is that the public isn’t aware that this type of care is available for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and that it is covered by insurance.

Memory Screenings – Proof the Public Wants to Know!

People have mixed feelings about taking a memory screen. Fifty percent of the public told us they didn’t want to know even if they do have memory loss related to dementia and the other half that have been affected in some way by Alzheimer’s or dementia said they wished they would have known to get checked sooner and thanked us for being at the fair. One family in particular that had a memory screening during the fair decided to take our advice and have follow up with their physician after their mother scored poorly on the memory screen. Two days later, the daughter returned to our booth to thank us for being at the fair. She said, had we not been there, she never would have known her mother was having difficulties as it was not something that was discussed openly nor something she had detected on her own. This is very common among children with aging parents. During the two days after the screening, the daughter took her mother to the doctor and the doctor agreed further testing and screening was recommended. Both the daughter as well as the doctor were very glad they had taken the time to take the screening as the mother would now receive the appropriate care she needed. We had another gentleman stop by, who stated he had been having memory concerns for several months and every time he spoke to his family and co-workers about it they would pass it off as normal aging. After meeting with us, he realized the symptoms he described were in fact something he should talk with his doctor about. Before leaving, he thanked us for being at the fair and said he felt better now that he had someone that seemed to understand and validate what he had been experiencing and planned to schedule a doctor’s visit.

Face-to-face memory screenings average three minutes and consist of questions and tasks to assess memory. HealthStar and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America encourages screenings for adults with memory concerns, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or those who want to check their memory now and have the baseline results for future comparison. Unfortunately, there’s a large gap in education. There are many reasons for memory loss that are treatable such as vitamin deficiency, thyroid issues, changes in medication, stress and many others to name a few. Once the public was made aware during our time at the fair that there might be a treatable cause, they were more at ease and we saw a big jump in the number of people deciding to take the memory screen. We want to raise public awareness and take the fear out of being screened. Early diagnosis and treatment can substantially help during early onset whereas treatment in later stages of the disease aren’t as beneficial.

70% of families diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia keep their loved one at home until it’s time to move them into a nursing facility. For many with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they will spend several years at home under the care of a family member or other caregiver before the need to move to a higher level nursing facility is required. The behaviors that accompany this disease can be very overwhelming and many families do not have the financial means to cover some of the costs of care so they suffer through the journey alone and often alienated from friends and family that eventually pull away. Changes in healthcare, due to high prevalence of the disease, allow our nursing experts to provide training, education and non-pharmacologic behavior assistance in the home to families and caregivers, which is 100% covered by traditional Medicare and most insurance plans. The public as well as many healthcare professionals are not aware of this available resource.

It is even available to those under the age of 65, if they’ve been diagnosed by a doctor. Family and caregiver burnout rises dramatically when faced with this disease. We had a family member call a few weeks ago, who was completely at their wits end from trying to care for their loved one. When the family member called to ask for help the caregiver’s comment was, “I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but it would be so much easier if he wasn’t here anymore.” Some of the behaviors exhibited by a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia are: agitation, aggression, sundowning, sexual inappropriateness, wandering, hallucinations, repetitiveness, screaming, paranoia, and accusations of infidelity or family members stealing from them. These are very traumatizing behaviors for families who don’t know how to deal with them. The main reason for this is due to the fact that they haven’t been taught how to manage these behaviors at home or how to work with the disease instead of working against the disease. This is a very real problem that we often encounter and families don’t know where to turn to receive more help and available resources. After being in the home and working with the emotionally and physically drained family caregiver, she informed us that she had been dealing with this on her own for four years and had tried several resources but none were able to help in a way that supported her needs. She was extremely grateful and felt better equipped to continue caring for her loved one.

HealthStar uses the free memory screenings as a way to educate the public and provide families with lots of additional resources after a diagnosis. HealthStar also provides a free Memory Café which is a social group for families and the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Families share their successes and challenges and gain much needed support. Our biggest concern is that the public isn’t aware this type of care is available for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients or that it is covered by insurance.

For additional information on dementia and caregiving check out Alzheimer’s Speaks

The Alzheimer’s Whisperer Program: How & Why It Works

Today we will learn how & why The Alzheimer’s Whisperer program works. Host Lori La Bey talks with HealthStar Home Health representative Holly Eide, along with Dr. Verna Carlson, President and Katherine Vanderhorst, Vice-President of C&V Senior Care Specialists who developed and license the Alzheimer’s Whisperer program.

http://player.cinchcast.com/?platformId=1&assetType=single&assetId=6907539

Check Out Caregiving Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Alzheimers Speaks Radio on BlogTalkRadio

For information on our Alzheimer’s Whisperer program click here

For additional information on dementia and caregiving check out Alzheimer’s Speaks

 

Knowing the Person’s Story

When we are working with those with Alzheimer’s it is important to know their stories! What is their history? Where did they live? Who comprised their family? What are some of their most powerful memories? What did they do for a living? And what were their hobbies? If you’re not getting the picture, you might wonder why all of this matters.

It does because the person with Alzheimer’s increasingly lives in the past so that the “old memories” are new again. This applies to so many things in their reality. For instance, a gentleman I remember would become very agitated when it snowed and fret that the animals would freeze if they weren’t protected. At first the family thought that Dad was having a psychotic episode since he had never talked about animals before. Then one day his children discovered a very old picture of their dad when he was a little boy. It was probably taken in the 1920s and showed their dad standing in a field surrounded by cattle. This was right before the Great Depression, when his family lost their farm and the gentlemen lost his dad. He would have been a great grandfather to the current children,who knew nothing about these losses. Their dad had never talked about what he’d been through, but now he was reliving it. Once the family realized what was happening, they would reassure their father whenever there was bad weather that every animal was locked safely in the barn. He continued to ask about the animals when it snowed, but he was able to relax after hearing they were safe.

Another Another gentleman had been a wood carver all his life and now lived in North Carolina with his son and daughter-in-law. They were concerned about his failing memory and had him evaluated by a geriatric neurologist, who diagnosed the man with Alzheimer’s at Stage 4-5 on the FAST scale. The family worried that it was no longer safe for Dad to carve word, but the doctor assured them that wood carving was second nature to their father. They just needed to watch him and they would know when this hobby was no longer safe for him. They did over the course of several years as his Alzheimer’s continued to grow worse. Finally, they decided assisted living was the safest place for him.

When he was admitted to the facility, the daughter-in-law told the staff how important carving was to Dad and supplied him with bars of Ivory soap and plastic picnic knives every week. The old man would sit in a chair with a trash can between his knees, lean forward, and carve the Ivory soap. Did he carve the beautiful woodland figurines that he had once carved? No, but he continued to carve. His family knew how important this was to their father’s well-being, so they made it happen in a very safe way.

The stories of our patients are like valuable, buried treasures. When caregivers can unlock the past and dig up these stories, it is a transforming experience for the story teller and the listener, too.

About the Author: Verna Benner Carson
P.D., PMHCNS-BC, is president of C&V Senior Care Specialists and Associate Professor of Nursing at Towson University in Baltimore, MD. Dr Carson can be reached at vcars10@verizon.net