Federal Government Confronts ‘Alzheimer’s’ With New ‘Senior Gems’ Program

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“New Program Helps Seniors and Families Cope While Waiting For a Cure

The federal government recently launched the new National Alzheimer’s Plan to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Part of that plan is to find ways for struggling families to better cope with the disease, today. Senior Helpers and a dementia care expert are helping make the government’s goal a reality with a program they created to help caregivers and families better communicate with those with dementia.

The new program is called “Senior Gems.” It’s a step-by-step guide that teaches hands-on care providers and families how to care for loved ones through each stage of dementia and Alzheimer’s. There are several traditional scales used to describe the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Teepa Snow, a nationally renowned dementia care expert, has taken the Allen Cognitive Disability Model, which focuses on what those with the disease are able to do, and replaced the numbered levels with gems. By using gems, Teepa not only reminds us of how precious our clients are, but also makes it easier to understand the progression of this disease.

“I’m thrilled with our government’s new commitment to confront Alzheimers because it is taking a devastating toll on families across America,” says Teepa Snow. “I certainly hope the researchers, with the new governmental support, will find a cure by 2025. But until and unless that happens, we can’t just wait. Millions of people are living with various forms of dementia, not just Alzheimers. We are taking action by training Senior Helpers caregivers and family members in communities across the nation, how to better care for and communicate with our loved ones who are doing the best they can while living with a progressive condition that is robbing them of themselves.”

Take a local spin on a timely national story: Show how local Senior Helpers caregivers are using the Senior Gems program to help improve the lives of seniors and families touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s.*

Quick Do’s and Don’ts of Working With People Who Have Dementia:

– Offer Supportive NOT Confrontational Communication

– Emphasize what you want to have happen, NOT who’s the boss or who’s right

– Recognize the value of mistakes or ‘UH OHs’

– and turn them into new strategies and ‘AH HAs!’

– Provide short, simple information rather than asking questions you do NOT want to hear the answer to

– Offer concrete and clear options or choices rather than wide open requests that require both word-finding and decision-making to answer

Learn Do’s and Don’ts of Working With Alzheimer’s Patients: Most seniors with Alzheimer’s can perform a task once they get started, but they may have trouble initiating or switching tasks. Their abilities fluctuate from day to day, day to night, person to person, and minute to minute. This makes it hard to exactly predict what they will or will not be able to do. *It means we, as caregivers, need to be flexible and supportive rather than pointing out the errors and getting frustrated with the changing abilities.

MEMORY FAILURE

– If an Alzheimer’s patient forgets about a doctor’s appointment:

Don’t say “How could you forget? I told you three times!” This is frustrating for the senior to hear and puts them on the defensive. Remember, caregiving is not about being right.

Do say “I am sorry we didn’t get things worked out ahead of time for that appointment… (pause).. I thought I had said something about it, but I may not have. I will have to try to do a better job of making sure that happens, next time.” * This helps break the communication barrier and helps the senior feel that you are on his/her side.

– Alzheimer’s patients can’t remember new information* but old memories are still intact. This is brain failure.

Don’t tell your mother with Alzheimer’s to meet you at Macy’s at the mall if it has moved to a new location. She will go to where Macy’s used to be – to what is now JC Penny’s – because she can’t remember the new information that Macy’s has moved. She may even drive around for hours trying to find Macy’s in the old location.

Do take your mother to the mall or hire a caregiver to take her. If you bring her there, she can’t get lost.

SHOW AND TELL

– When you’re caring for a senior with dementia, it’s important to show them how to perform everyday tasks instead of telling them how to do something. It’s called show-and-tell.

Don’t pull your dad with Alzheimer’s out of his seat and start leading him to the restroom. To him, that’s forceful.

Do, instead, show him with your hands and verbally tell him to stand up. Then, place his hand in yours and walk along side of him (not in front of him). This shows him that you’re guiding him with acceptance, and not forcing him to do something.

Don’t put a glass of juice in front of your dad’s mouth because he’ll become defensive, thinking you’re trying to force juice down his mouth.

Do take that glass of juice, while at his side (not in front of him), and with your hand in his, bring it to his mouth. He will more likely welcome that gesture and not think you’re “coming at him.”

For further details of these examples, see Closer Look below.

“In any situation, it’s best to use empathy and validation rather than a reality check or lies. And it’s vital that we act now because our families are suffering,” says Snow. “They don’t understand the disease – and there’s no one to teach them. That’s why we started this program; to give families answers and show them, in practical terms, how to improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients and themselves, through better communication.”

Did you know?

– More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and there is no cure. And the number is expected to grow to 13 million in the next 15 years.

– Alzheimer’s is the most feared condition for elders. It replaced cancer in the last survey.

– The annual cost of caring for one individual with Alzheimer’s disease ranges from nearly $18,500 to more than $65,000, depending on the stage of the disease and the setting.

– It’s a progressive brain disorder that’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

– The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years, beginning at age 65.

About Senior Gems: Senior Gems is a revolutionary program to help family members and professional caregivers properly care for their aging loved ones through each stage of dementia. Teepa Snow began developing her Gem Levels in 2006. In 2011, the Senior Gem program was created with her guidance and assistance. This program puts Senior Helpers at the forefront of individual and in-home dementia-specialized caregiving as they offer all of their in-home companions and caregivers the opportunity to become dementia care certified through the training program.

About Senior Helpers: Senior Helpers connects professional caregivers with seniors who wish to live at home as opposed to a nursing or assisted living facility. The company has 300 franchises in 39 states and one in Canada offering a wide range of personal and companion care services to assist seniors living independently with a strong focus on quality of life for the client and peace of mind for their families. Senior Helpers strives to be the leading companion and personal care provider that offers dependable, consistent and affordable home care. For more information, please visit www.seniorhelpers.com.

“Closer Look” from Teepa: When someone you love experiences memory failure, it’s important to recognize that YOU will need to provide more support next time and consider saying for this time, “I am sorry we didn’t get things worked out ahead of time for that appointment… (pause).. I thought I had said something about it, but I may not have. I will have to try to do a better job of making sure that happens, next time.” The primary goal is to not ASSIGN BLAME and to recognize the person is having difficulty holding onto details and information SO we are going to have to change how we go about setting things up and expecting follow through. Try to see it as a ‘learning moment’ not a frustrating problem. The trick is that person may very well remember the next appointment without a problem – the memory loss comes and goes in the early phases so you can’t depend on it either way. Learn how to PLAN for the worst and celebrate the best when it happens! Arguing with someone who is having trouble holding onto new information although they are fine with old information is not helpful. Keeping communication open and friendly is critical as you are trying to figure out how to help in ways that are acceptable and effective.

But realize that it’s not just about missing an appointment. The person with early dementia can also have problems with place and landmark recognition because of the old/new issues and difficulty with reasoning and time awareness. So if you plan to meet up at the mall at a specific store, and the store name has changed in the past 1-10 years, the person may drive right by the new store sign, still looking for the one that is more solidly set. They actually think they are looking for the old store. They can drive miles and hours looking for that location and not seem to be aware of how long or far they have gone and then have moments of distress or panic when it hits them. If that’s the case, here’s what you should do: -Plan to pick them up for the trip to the mall – eliminating the risk. -Hire someone to be their driver – this is important because the changes in cognitive processing and visual processing also make driving more dangerous and challenging – lots of decisions to be made in a split second and lots to pay attention to at one time. -Consider having them use a cell phone that has a GPS feature, just in case – that way they can be tracked in an emergency situation.

When someone loses their place in a sequence of activities it is frustrating and embarrassing to have someone who you raised or have known ‘forever’ have to ‘tell you what to do.’ It feels like a lack of respect and it makes you feel less of a person. Some individuals will get angry, others will be sad and anxious, while others will want to just get away from you. None of these options is the one we were looking for when we offered the ‘help.’ INSTEAD: Use visual prompts and cues with friendly information – point to the toothbrush and say, “Here’s your toothbrush.” OR, if the person is a little further along or in addition to their dementia has visual problems like macular degeneration or cataracts – offer the prepared toothbrush and say, “Looking good. Here’s your toothbrush.”

When someone forgets pieces of their life, it is hard for us to imagine they can’t remember something that important. But the reality is that they may not be access or get to that information due to the chemical or structural changes in the brain. If the change is just chemical, then it will clear again. This means it comes sand goes which is actually harder for us than if it disappears permanently, because now we have to be where they are ‘in time’ to provide the better responses. We have to try and figure out what they know and don’t know in that moment, and what they can process and understand and what they cannot.

The new program is called “Senior Gems.” It’s a step-by-step guide that teaches hands-on care providers and families how to care for loved ones through each stage of dementia and Alzheimer’s. There are several traditional scales used to describe the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Teepa Snow, a nationally renowned dementia care expert, has taken the Allen Cognitive Disability Model, which focuses on what those with the disease are able to do, and replaced the numbered levels with gems. By using gems, Teepa not only reminds us of how precious our clients are, but also makes it easier to understand the progression of this disease.