Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate

This is a great article from the New York Times coverage on Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on American life. What we love about this article is how it explains the emotional needs of Alzhiemer’s patients and their caregivers, and the connection to improving care and quality of life for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Read the article and let us know what you think or what you’ve experienced.-SP

By PAM BELLUCK, NYT

PHOENIX — Margaret Nance was, to put it mildly, a difficult case. Agitated, combative, often reluctant to eat, she would hit staff members and fellow residents at nursing homes, several of which kicked her out. But when Beatitudes nursing home agreed to an urgent plea to accept her, all that changed.

Disregarding typical nursing-home rules, Beatitudes allowed Ms. Nance, 96 and afflicted with Alzheimer’s, to sleep, be bathed and dine whenever she wanted, even at 2 a.m. She could eat anything, too, no matter how unhealthy, including unlimited chocolate.

And she was given a baby doll, a move that seemed so jarring that a supervisor initially objected until she saw how calm Ms. Nance became when she rocked, caressed and fed her “baby,” often agreeing to eat herself after the doll “ate” several spoonfuls.

Dementia patients at Beatitudes are allowed practically anything that brings comfort, even an alcoholic “nip at night,” said Tena Alonzo, director of research. “Whatever your vice is, we’re your folks,” she said.

Once, Ms. Alonzo said: “The state tried to cite us for having chocolate on the nursing chart. They were like, ‘It’s not a medication.’ Yes, it is. It’s better than Xanax.”

It is an unusual posture for a nursing home, but Beatitudes is actually following some of the latest science. Research suggests that creating positive emotional experiences for Alzheimer’s patients diminishes distress and behavior problems.

In fact, science is weighing in on many aspects of taking care of dementia patients, applying evidence-based research to what used to be considered subjective and ad hoc.

With virtually no effective medical treatment for Alzheimer’s yet, most dementia therapy is the caregiving performed by families and nursing homes. Some 11 million people care for Alzheimer’s-afflicted relatives at home. In nursing homes, two-thirds of residents have some dementia.

Caregiving is considered so crucial that several federal and state agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, are adopting research-tested programs to support and train caregivers. This month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a forum about Alzheimer’s caregiving.

“There’s actually better evidence and more significant results in caregiver interventions than there is in anything to treat this disease so far,” said Lisa P. Gwyther, education director for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Duke University.

Click here to go to the New York Times website for the full article.

NYT: The Age of Alzheimer’s, by Sandra Day O’Connor

Former Supreme Court Justice and Family Caregiver Sandra Day O’Connor teamed up with Nobel Prize in Medicine winner Stanley Prusiner and gerontologist Ken Dychtwald to write this editorial in The New York Times last week. Part policy advice, part wake up call, this is an interesting article for anyone to read-SP.

By SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR, STANLEY PRUSINER and KEN DYCHTWALD
Published: October 27, 2010

Sandra Day O-Conner, Bush 43 & John O'Conner
Sandra Day & John J. O'Connor with President Bush in 2004. John O'Connor died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. Justice O’Connor cited the need to care for her ailing husband as one reason she decided to retire in 2005.
OUR government is ignoring what is likely to become the single greatest threat to the health of Americans: Alzheimer’s disease, an illness that is 100 percent incurable and 100 percent fatal. It attacks rich and poor, white-collar and blue, and women and men, without regard to party. A degenerative disease, it steadily robs its victims of memory, judgment and dignity, leaves them unable to care for themselves and destroys their brain and their identity — often depleting their caregivers and families both emotionally and financially.

Starting on Jan. 1, our 79-million-strong baby boom generation will be turning 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds. That means more than 10,000 people per day, or more than four million per year, for the next 19 years facing an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Although the symptoms of this disease and other forms of dementia seldom appear before middle age, the likelihood of their appearance doubles every five years after age 65. Among people over 85 (the fastest-growing segment of the American population), dementia afflicts one in two. It is estimated that 13.5 million Americans will be stricken with Alzheimer’s by 2050 — up from five

Read the whole Op-Ed piece at The New York Times online.

NYT: Preparing More Care of Elderly

The New York Times does a great story on preparing for the coming wave of seniors and older adults needing advanced care. Check out the article below.

By MILT FREUDENHEIM
Published: June 28, 2010
With a nudge from the new health care law and pressure from Medicare, hospitals, doctors and nurses are struggling to prepare for explosive growth in the numbers of high-risk elderly patients.

More than 40 percent of adult patients in acute care hospital beds are 65 or older. Seventy million Americans will have turned 65 by 2030. They include the 85-and-older cohort, the nation’s fastest-growing age group.

Elderly people often have multiple chronic illnesses, expensive to treat, and they are apt to require costly hospital readmissions, sometimes as often as 10 times in a single year.

The Obama administration is spending $500 million from last year’s stimulus package to support the training of doctors and nurses and other health care providers at all levels, “from college teachers through work force professionals on the front lines of patient care,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.

But the administration and Congress seem to be paying less attention to geriatric health issues. For example, only 11 percent of research funding at the National Institutes of Health went to aging research last year.

Read more at the New York Times here.

NEWS: Adult Day Programs: A Reprieve for Families and the Elderly

From the New Old Age blog at the New York Times

By PAULA SPAN

In one room, a self-defense instructor was showing participants how to throw a would-be mugger off balance. “I want you to put the cane around my leg and pull,” he urged — and one by one, with a few self-conscious giggles, his elderly students did. “Pull hard. Just like that! One more time.”

A few doors down, a dozen people were drawing with pastels in the crafts room. The walkers in the Mile Around Club were beginning their third circuit along the building’s hallways. In the dining room, meanwhile, workers were setting up a hot meat loaf lunch.

Though almost 4,000 such programs around the country serve older adults who are frail, isolated, chronically ill or demented, I still think these adult day centers constitute one of the better-kept secrets in elder care.

People who might otherwise sit home alone with the remote, or who might move into a facility because they can’t stay home alone, instead spend several days a week being active, social, stimulated, well nourished and — at health-oriented adult day programs like this one — monitored by nurses. At the end of the day, though, the participants go home to familiar surroundings, and the centers often provide the vans that take them there.

Read more here!

Learn more about Adult Day Cares here, including some in your area!