Getting Out of the House — good for individuals with dementia and caregivers alike

Caregivers of the elderly recently gathered for a new conference called ‘GPS for Parenting Your Parents & Caring for Aging Family Members‘ by Riverbend Church here in Austin. One challenge, which has always vexed caregivers and experts alike, grows more and more prominent in their discussions each year: what’s the best way to care for a relative or spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease? When someone you’ve known for years or even decades begins a rapid decline in ability that fundamentally alters who they are, how do you give them the best life you can and help them hold onto their happiness? Dementia creates many situations most people do not have the experience to deal with: rapidly changing family roles, confusion, and frustration for patients and caregivers.

Austin neurologist Dr. Ronald Devere gave one clear piece of advice at this year’s conference: “Patients have got to get out.” Although no vaccine, definitive prevention, or cure for Alzheimer’s has emerged, research is progressing at a remarkable pace. Scientists now have a better idea how to slow the destructive path of the disease, as well as how to manage treatment on a day-to-day basis.

Leaving the house can relieve stress for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. And for those suffering from dementia, increasing the variety of stimuli—whether by visiting an art museum or simply walking around the block—can help the brain hold onto its abilities. “They can’t just be staring at a TV and the four walls 24 hours a day,” Dr. Devere emphasized.

Recent scientific research has also focused on the health of caregivers. Caregiving, especially for someone with Alzheimer’s, is itself a hazardous situation, often leading to loneliness, unsustainable levels of stress, and depression. Dr. Devere recommended respite and eldercare programs that get Alzheimer’s patients out of their living rooms, and also reduce the toll that 24-hour supervision takes on caregivers.

Dr. Devere refers many of his own patients to AGE of Central Texas’ Early Memory Loss Support and Adult Day Health Care programs—two programs that provide care and purposeful activities to Alzheimer’s patients, as well as respite to their caregivers. Adult Day Health Care offers an affordable option where those with dementia can engage socially with their peers, and participate in activities that keep their bodies and minds healthy in an environment supervised by caring medical professionals and dementia experts. AGE’s Adult Day Centers are open from 7:00AM-5:30PM, five days per week.

However, an individual suffering from the early symptoms of dementia may not need all-day care. Yet when the disease strikes, they often lack resources and support during a vulnerable time. AGE’s Early Memory Loss Support group meets weekly in two locations for a program that includes brain-booster exercises, book club, current-events discussion, lunch, and perhaps most importantly, a support group led by a licensed social worker. There, individuals with memory loss have the opportunity to share their experiences and concerns with others in the same situation, as well as learn practical advice and coping strategies. The caregivers and care partners of these participants also meet once a month for a support group geared toward their own experiences and concerns.

These programs not only give caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients a way to get out of the house, but also a way to constructively engage with the challenges they face every day. Visit AGE’s website or call 512-451-4611 if you’re interested in finding out more.

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