Spotlight: Nissa Fougner, Rehab Therapies

We all have days when we don’t feel motivated or just can’t get going on a project. We’ve all felt sluggish and tired, or maybe even <gasp> a little cranky. Some people are far less obvious about this than others. We know they must have bad days, too, but we can’t tell when it happens. Think about the people you know. There’s probably someone who never seems down and out, and who always has a smile and a little pep in her step. For HealthStar Corporate, this is Nissa Fougner. She is a ray of sunshine from morning till closing time. Quick to smile and always full of energy, she flits to and fro like a healing honey bee, spreading the sweetness of optimism, better health, and rehab plans all along her path.

A little history

Nissa grew up in International Falls, MN. She’s as midwestern as it gets – she has experience giving skating lessons and coaching figure skating. She found a passion for rehab therapy while she was in college at Gustavus. Home care won her heart with the promise of flexibility. Nissa also loves that she gets to see her clients in their own home environment, where she can start making a positive impact right from the first visit. Each client has unique needs as well as a unique situation, and Nissa is proud of the improved quality of life that she helps her clients achieve.

Nissa first worked with HealthStar as a contractor doing therapy case review. After she heard the legend of the HealthStar Potluck, she converted and became one of us! (at least, we think it was the potluck legend…) Nissa has been working in the Corporate office as Director of Rehab Services since February 2018. She is so quiet that a lot of our staff didn’t realize she had moved in until July. Nissa’s favorite thing about HealthStar is the people, because “everyone is so friendly and helpful.” That’s why we call it the HealthStar family! We’re pleased to have Nissa on our team, and we’d like tell you about a few of her amazing skills. Nissa, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

The skill to celebrate small victories

So often, we celebrate only after a task is completed, forgetting to celebrate the milestones that pass along the way. Nissa doesn’t let those milestones pass in silence! She has a talent for appreciating and recognizing progress, even small progress, toward big achievements. She breaks down big, challenging goals into smaller, more approachable pieces. There is an old proverb that says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” By looking at the little steps instead of the miles, Nissa gets people moving! Acknowledging progress along the path makes Nissa an encouraging coach and teacher, and helps her clients to stay motivated even when there is still a long way left to go.

The skill of humility

I haven’t known Nissa for a long time, but I have already learned that she is very modest. She is somewhat reserved, although she can crack a joke or two when she’s feeling feisty. Even when she is given a direct compliment, she half brushes it off and half explains it away. For example, the secret to always looking like you just stepped out of a chic boutique – it’s not “yeah, I know, I’m an amazing shopper,” but instead it’s a laundry tip. Wash your clothes on the cold/gentle cycle, and always line dry.

Nissa takes this same sense of place into the community when she meets with Clients. Meeting her for the first time, you might feel as relaxed as you would with an old friend. She keeps a low profile, and never casts a judgmental glance. Gentle, respectful, and mild-mannered, Nissa makes her mark by smiling us all into a calm and tranquil state of comfort and positivity. After being around Nissa, I challenge you not to feel better than you did before!

The skill to be absolutely adorable

Everything about Nissa says, “I’m safe and friendly.” She’s like the human equivalent of a daisy or a kitten. Corporate staff love to see what she’ll be wearing each day, and we all want to know her secrets to beautiful skin and hair! She always looks put together and approachable; she makes people around her smile just by being there. This combination is fabulous, considering that her goal is motivating the heck out of her Clients! Her easy smile and comfortably classy wardrobe set Nissa’s clients at ease, but all the while she sneakily (and very gently) pushes them to meet and surpass their goals.

But how strong is she?

Nissa has demonstrated her strength while also giving a short lesson on proper form for changing out the Culligan water jug in the Corporate office. By size and weight, the Culligan water jug outranks Nissa two to one. Nissa says, the proper technique for lifting something that’s larger and heavier than you are is to hold it close to the body, lift with your legs, brace your core, and hope that you don’t injure anything important. (ok, ok – she didn’t say the part about not injuring anything important, but I think it should be mentioned.)

She’s not just strong in body. Nissa has great experience in therapies, and she provides wisdom and encouragement to HealthStar’s therapy staff. HealthStar’s rehab therapy program is in great hands!

Put it all together – she’s perfect for Rehab Therapies!

Nissa is like a cool, sparkling stream – strong enough to turn a boulder into a pebble, but gentle and inviting enough for a refreshing soak of legs and feet on a hot day. Like the stream, she doesn’t seek credit or acclaim. She takes pride in helping others reach their goals, knowing that their success is her success as well. HealthStar is stronger (and more charming) with Nissa leading rehab therapies! We are so lucky to have her on our team!

 

Delaying the Progression of Alzheimer’s

In spite of the development of so many new types of drugs and products that drive change and innovation in the healthcare industry, researchers are yet to find an effective method to reverse the cognitive alterations and memory loss linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

4 Key Factors That Help Patients Slow down the Progress of Alzheimer’s

Even in this context, the good news is that there are several ways in which one could delay the progress of this health concern in the short term by following a series of basic steps. Here are the most important aspects that the best providers of home healthcare services focus on when it comes to improving the quality of life of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Sustained Mental Activity
A recent study published by the Rush Memory and Aging Project reveals that there is a solid connection between a sustained cognitive activity during one’s lifetime, and a delayed cognitive decline. In other words, those who go the extra mile to stimulate their brain on a regular basis will be more able to delay the evolution of Alzheimer’s, especially during the earliest stages of this type of dementia.

To encourage a constituent mental stimulation, home healthcare providers encourage patients to make the most of pleasurable activities designed to engage one’s mind, such as reading, playing cards or chess, writing or learning a new language.

Daily Lifestyle Changes
A healthcare provider can offer the tools that a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s required to maintain his or her independence for a longer while, in his or her own environment, preventing stress, frustration and further decline. For instance, by ensuring electronic bill paying, taking care of basic household chores, and minimizing or taking over any task that the patient could worry about, a reputable provider of homecare will help delay the evolution of Alzheimer’s without making any dramatic changes that could throw the elderly out of their comfort zone and cause more confusion and chaos.

A Beneficial Routine
While minor changes can contribute to an improved level of comfort and security, those who are affected by Alzheimer’s will inevitably cling to old habits that keep them connected to their memories. Professionals offering in-home care for Alzheimer’s patients keep this fact in mind and act accordingly, by establishing and maintaining a beneficial routine involving a regular rhythm with outings, sleep, bathing and meals, without disrupting the patient’s balance.

Medication and Diet
Researchers indicate that there is a solid link between a healthy diet based on certain key elements, and a successful attempt to delay the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, seniors suffering from dementia should consume a great variety of fresh, nutritious foods that are rich in antioxidants.

A diet rich in vitamin E can delay mental impairment by protecting brain cells against irreparable damages. Those who benefit from the best in-home healthcare services tailored to their needs and current health condition can experience the advantages of a personalized diet rich in vitamins B, E and C extracted from fresh vegetables and fruits.

Medication is another key factor that could slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s. Patients diagnosed with this disease may have to take cholinesterase inhibitors to prevent changes that may affect muscle control and mental capabilities.

Patients and their families should talk to a doctor and get a prescription before following a treatment plan. In some cases, medical supervision ensured by a provider of in-home healthcare services may be required, especially when the people affected by Alzheimer’s disease in Minnesota are unable to take their meds on their own, following their doctor’s recommendations. Such services can help Alzheimer’s patients live a more comfortable, safe and secure life and preserve their independence in their own environment.

At HealthStar Home Health, our home health professionals provide unparalleled public health care services through stewardship, honor-driven values, and a genuine desire to serve. Our Minnesota clients benefit from the range of healthcare services we provide, from Alzheimer’s and dementia care, to behavioral nursing, home health care nursing, respite care and more. HealthStar Home Health has a team of nurses dedicated to Alzheimer’s and Dementia care.

At HealthStar Home Health, we help make strong communities and families in the Twin Cities metro area by enabling individuals of all ages to live more independent and fulfilling lives. Contact us today at 651-633-7300 for more information or to schedule a consultation at no charge.

HealthStar Home Health at the MN State Fair

HealthStar Home Health is returning to the Minnesota State Fair in 2015 with a mission to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by providing FREE memory screenings to anyone who stops by our booth. We will once again have a booth at the MN State Fair in the Health Fair 11 building at the intersection of Dan Patch & Cooper. Our booth will be open from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm with FREE memory screenings taking place until 6:00 pm each day of the fair, which runs August 27th – September 7th, 2015.

Are you concerned about your memory, have a family history of Alzheimer’s, or notice a loved one that is becoming more and more forgetful? HealthStar Home Health understands the importance of proper detection and treatment of dementia or Alzheimer’s and is offering face-to-face memory screenings free of charge. The screening will only take a few minutes and consists of questions and tasks that will assess memory.

HealthStar Home Health and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America encourages memory screenings for adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, are experiencing memory concerns or for those who want to check their memory now to use as a base for future comparison. Common warning signs of dementia include often forgetting names, places & events, confusion over daily routines and asking repetitive questions.

As many as 70% of families are opting to care for their loved ones at home as long as possible, while managing the various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. HealthStar’s Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care program offers support both in and out of the home to the caregivers and families dealing with the challenging behaviors often associated with this disease. Memory loss screenings are the first step toward detection and treatment. Our nursing experts are able to provide in-home education, training and non-pharmacologic behavior assistance, which is fully covered by most insurance plans and traditional Medicare.

Also, HealthStar is honored to be an official sponsor of a new film about Alzheimer’s titled His Neighbor Phil, which was filmed in the small community of Zumbrota, Minnesota. This film tells the story of Harvey, a man whose wife Mary has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This touching film not only shows the effects of this disease on Mary, but also their entire family and the community they live in. Although the film deals with the honest realities of Alzheimer’s, it mainly focuses its attention on the tireless work of the caregivers and how their lives are also affected by this disease. Family and caregiver burnout dramatically rises when faced with this disease and the challenges of caring for a loved one. HealthStar is committed to providing the support and care for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as those caring for them. Take a moment to watch this trailer about the moving film His Neighbor Phil.

Knowing the importance of further research and ongoing education, HealthStar will be involved with several events at the fair to help support the film including radio interviews with Alzheimer’s Speaks on August 27th from 12:00 – 2:00. Lori La Bey, nationally-known radio host and founder of Alzheimer’s Speaks, will conduct spontaneous interviews with various actors, sponsors and fair-goers. Another event we’re really looking forward to is a HealthStar sponsored autograph signing with cast members including lead actor, Daniel Roebuck (The Fugitive, Lost, Glee), Ellen Dolan (As the World Turns) and local actor, Bob Bird, at our booth from 10 AM to 12 PM, Sunday, August 30, 2015. Be sure to check out the schedule of events on the days you plan to be at the state fair.

So, plan to stop for a visit at our booth in the Health Fair 11 building at the intersection of Dan Patch & Cooper at the MN State Fair and take advantage of a free, confidential memory screening. HealthStar Home Health will be promoting the film His Neighbor Phil and conducting memory screenings at our booth, which will be open from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm each day with FREE memory screenings taking place until 6:00 pm. Hope to see you at the fair!

Home Care Services Delay Nursing Home Admission for Loved One’s of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is devastating, but it also tends to progress slowly. This means that with the proper care, a loved one can remain at home and mostly independent for a surprisingly long period of time. In today’s world, this period of time is longer than it has ever been. That’s because more and more people want to avoid nursing homes, and this has driven up the demand for home care services.

Thanks to the increased demand, there are more service options and companies than there once were. In fact, it’s not hard to find one that specifically offers help for suffers of Alzheimer’s disease in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico and their caregiver relatives. These companies can provide everything from occasional check-up visits to daily care. They still don’t provide 24-hour care, but for many people, a daily visit is all that is needed to avoid full-time nursing for an extended period of time.

At first, people with Alzheimer’s will notice that it’s harder to remember things than it should be. This is what often leads them to see a doctor and get the diagnosis. During this very early phase, the effects are still mild. Check-up visits, reminder calls, and the provision of meals may be all that is needed to allow them to stay at home without other help.

As the disease progresses, more care will be needed. A daily visit by a nurse or other care practitioner will ensure that medicines are being taken properly and that basic hygiene, such as bathing and toothbrushing, is done. Relatives will usually step in to provide more care at this point.

Eventually, the patient will need full-time care. This, however, doesn’t mean that a nursing home is needed at this point. Help from relatives, combined with professional aid from a home care service, can allow the patient to avoid an institution despite their infirmity. In its final stages, Alzheimer’s may force the loved one into a hospital or similar environment, but thanks to all of the care options available, it is likely that this won’t happen for a very long time.

Of course, there are many ways people choose to deal with Alzheimer’s and the progressive infirmity it causes. However, the ability to avoid an immediate move to a nursing home is a point of light for many who contend with the condition.

First Nations Home Health

HealthStar Home Health is proud to announce the launch of a new website and an initiative with First Nations Home Health – Minnesota’s premier provider of home health services for Native American communities.

First Nations Home Health emerged as a response to community need to provide culturally relevant services to underserved populations. What began in 2003 in Minneapolis as a handful of caregivers has grown to a team including nursing & therapy staff and administrative employees serving communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

Our mission is to provide unparalleled public health care services while respecting the unique needs of our culturally diverse clientele through stewardship, honor-driven values, and a genuine desire to serve. One way we fulfill our mission is to serve communities by empowering people with mobility, cognitive and sensory disabilities live more independent lives at home. We also help the Native American communities we serve by identifying and focusing on common health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.

It is extremely difficult to care for a senior loved one at home and we understand how overwhelming it can be. First Nations Home Health serves the Native American population with an approach that is culturally sensitive to the unique and ethnic needs of the communities. Our services are specifically designed to enhance the health and well-being of those living on and off the reservations supported by First Nations Home Health. Here is just a sampling of what we offer:

Home Health Care Services

  • Skilled Services
  • Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care
  • Behavioral Nursing
  • Private Duty Nursing

Mental Health Services

  • Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS)
  • Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS)

Personal Care Services

  • Traditional

Home and Community Based Services

  • Homemaking
  • Respite
  • Chores
  • Companion Care

We are proud to say we hire from within the community whenever possible and complete a full background study on each in-home caregiver, as well as a face-to-face interview, reference checks and competency evaluation. Once on board, all employees are provided training and many are trained at the home health aid level. Our team of caregivers, nurses and case managers consistently provide services that allow your aging loved ones to stay at home in familiar cultural surrounding, develop good health habits and reduce hospitalizations. With skilled professionals who provide a broad range of quality programs and services, our goal is to improve the health status of Native Americans who experience an unusually high rate of preventable illnesses.

At First Nations Home Health, we seek to understand and address the key issues that affect the health of individuals and families in the Native American community, providing culturally competent health care services, and engaging in prevention and health education initiatives. We deliver care with integrity, compassion, respect, and dignity. We look forward to serving you.

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.

Caring for Mom & Dad

Americans are living longer than ever before, and soon older adults will outnumber the young. Who will care for them when they are no longer able to care for themselves? With this aging population how will we adapt as a nation?

Recently, HealthStar Home Health had the opportunity to work with PBS to identify a family who would be willing to be filmed for a documentary they were working on. The PBS documentary “Caring for Mom & Dad” explores the emotional, health and financial challenges that many family caregivers face each day. We chose a family who has been a part of the HealthStar family since 2010 and exemplifies integrity, servant leadership, empathy and altruism.

Alicia and her mother Estella are proud members of a St. Paul Latino community. When Estella suffered a massive stroke following heart surgery, Alicia was forced into the role of full-time caregiver for her mother, basically overnight. Although considered informal caregivers by the government, nearly 1/2 of family caregivers perform medical services traditionally reserved for a nurse. Insurance may cover some expenses, but not everything so families are left with the added expenses to care for their parents. Family caregivers spend an average of $5500 on out-of-pocket costs per month, leaving them to face heavy burdens financially and emotionally.

“The Latino community is very close knit and our family is our nucleus. It is considered an honor and a source of pride to be there for our families during good and challenging times. When a family member is in need, particularly the elderly, we take care of our own. La familia es primero.”, said Nilda Garcia with HealthStar Home Health. She goes on to say “as a Latina, I have worked for HealthStar for almost 7 years and I am so proud that we are able to provide healthcare services while respecting the unique needs of our culturally diverse clientele. Seeing them happy is our most precious reward.”

Ana Diaz is a medical advocate with Payne-Phalen Elders who visits Latino caregivers and their families in their homes, including Alicia and Estella. She is known as the eyes and ears of the aging St. Paul community she serves and is considered a ‘geriatric angel’ to many. Ana helps working caregivers by taking their family members to their doctor appointments, along with being an advocate for them with the county, HMO’s and the nursing homes. “No matter what the chronic disease is, Latino caregivers are facing several unique challenges. Latino caregivers are often less aware of the services that are available in the community, this sometimes is due to a language barrier and sometimes due to their lack of knowledge of the services. Another significant challenge is that the Latino community is less likely to look for nursing home placement for their loved ones. These factors together can add up to an overwhelming role for caregivers” said Ana. Ana strongly believes “faith also plays a very important role. They will pray and believe that everything is going to be ok. While faith sustains people, they often could still benefit from some respite from their caregiving role and benefit from community supports!”

Take some time to watch the PBS documentary and see what our nation is facing with this crisis in caregiving that is upon us.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/caringformomanddad/watch/

Today, family caregivers provide 90% of the assistance, even while they struggle to balance careers and their own family. Caregiving averages 4 years. For an Alzheimer’s patient caregiving is 4-8 years and can last as long as 20 years. The rate of Alzheimer’s is expected to triple by the year 2050. That is a heavy load to carry and many struggle financially.

Since 1950, we have added more than a decade to the lifespan of Americans. But as the golden years span out, seniors 65+ suffer from multiple illnesses. Data from the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau show there are 76.4 million baby boomers who are all going to get old at the same time. We are about to have the largest older population we’ve ever had in the history of this country and they are people who want to live at home or independently in their communities, but there is no support infrastructure in place. We are a society that hasn’t adequately accounted for family caregiving work and now we are at a point given all these changes where that is simply not sustainable.

Mental Health – How Can We Remove The Stigma?

The numbers are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in every 5 adults in America live with a mental health condition. Approximately 13.6 million adults in America live with a serious mental illness, and one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24. Recently, Yahoo News reported a study from 2014 by the American College Health Association finding there is an epidemic of depression and anxiety among college students. Almost 30% of college students reported feeling depressed at some point over the past year and 54% of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety.

For those who live with mental illnesses, their conditions have been kept secret and often go untreated for fear of embarrassment. There is a stigma associated with mental illness that is furthered when one takes medication to treat the illness. Whether it is depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another form of mental illness, it can be debilitating and should not go untreated. Help those suffering by learning what a mental illness is, the causes, and what you can do to ease the stigma surrounding this.

HealthStar posed this question on Facebook: “What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about mental illness?” Here are some of the top answers from our followers:

  • that it affects everyone differently and it comes in all forms and begins at any age
  • people don’t realize it can be treated
  • mentally ill people are potentially violent
  • society’s lack of information and education on mental illnesses cause the stigma to grow
  • talking about mental illness and being available to listen goes a long way – remove the awkward silence

“Make it OK” is a local campaign created to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Their mission is to get people to stop the silence, share stories, and dispel the myths surrounding mental illness. The people behind makeitok.org are changing the hearts and minds about the misconceptions of mental illness by encouraging open conversations and education on the topic, along with encouraging people to seek support when needed. Treatments for mental illnesses are available. The more everyone knows about mental illness, the more understanding and supportive we, as a society, can be.

The Make it OK website offers good, basic, information like what a mental illness is and is not, and what a mental illness can be caused by. They also offer great tips for talking to someone who struggles with mental illness. If a loved-one has told you they are suffering, ask questions, show concern, and most importantly, listen. Mental illnesses are treatable health conditions but people are still afraid to talk about it due to shame, misunderstanding and negativity, amongst other reasons. Help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment by learning, listening and keeping the conversation moving.

At HealthStar Home Health, we recognize the alarming numbers of adolescent and young adult depression and offer Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS) that focuses on cultural sensitivity and we provide these services with empathy to the underserved people in the communities and regions we serve. Some of the services we offer through this program are:

  • Individual, family and group psychotherapy
  • Specialized skills training
  • Crisis assistance
  • Behavioral aide services

For the adult years, we offer services through our Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) program. The clients we support are dealing with these and other issues and disorders:

  • Major depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Agoraphobia

HealthStar looks at how the individual’s mental illness affects their functioning in various aspects of their lives. They may have depressive symptoms that interfere with independent living, self-care, school, housing and even transportation. The services we provide are community based. This allows our caregivers to go out into the community and meet the individual where they are so they can be as independent and functional as possible within their communities. HealthStar strives to remove the stigma by teaching those living with mental illnesses and their family members a variety of skills that can help with independent living and social situations.

Getting educated and helping to raise awareness of mental health conditions can break down obstacles and improve the recovery for the millions of Americans who suffer from a mental illness. If we join together as a society, people living with mental illnesses will be treated with respect and acceptance.

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.