Michele's Blog

Accepting The Diagnosis- Alzheimer's & Dementia

By Michele Scott

Today seniors are learning new tasks, attending classes, and participating in social, religious and outdoor events. They are living longer, getting healthier and achieving things we, as humans, once thought impossible. This desire to do more and take on more in ones later years, makes it even more devasting when they are sidelined by a mental illness. Medical advances and tech breakthroughs have increased life expectancy and help seniors live longer physically, yet breakthroughs in mental health have been slower to come. “Today someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. An estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2018.  An estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older have onset Alzheimer’s, with only one in 10 people 65 and older diagnosed with a mental impairment, disorder or disease. These physically fit, regularly exercising, happy, active seniors make up over 50% of dementia cases which go undiagnosed. Researchers report by mid-century, someone in the United States will develop dementia every 33 seconds.”  Although women live longer and are reportedly healthier than men, almost two-thirds of Alzheimer’s dementia patients are women.

Everyday we walk among seniors who are a picture of good health.  They work-out in our gyms, walk and run in our parks, drive on our roads and care for our children. They live rich full lives checking items of a long bucket list of wishes, hopes and dreams. They tell family and a primary care provider how great they feel, as little by little dementia invades the brain; a slow destructive progress, robbing them of the ability to reason, remember, think and make decisions.  Because they feel great, they ignore diminished thinking: “I’m just getting old”, “Everybody forgets things”, “I’m just a bit tired”, “No one in my family has dementia”.   Every undiagnosed case of dementia causes just as many life changes as every diagnosed case. Every family member, immediate and extended is equally affected by the diagnosed and the undiagnosed.  

The invisibility of mental illness makes it difficult to diagnosis Alzheimer’s dementia. Displayed signs in someone you live with or see often can be overlooked or ignored (the misconceptions and stigma around mental illness still exists). Mental health check-ups, also stigmatized can help, however there is no single test that proves a person has Alzheimer’s dementia. Diagnosis is made through a complete assessment – physical exam, review of lifestyle, diet and medications, a neurological exam, lab tests and for some genetic testing.

Once the diagnose is made – and accepted by family members, decisions must be made. Understanding the disease, its progression, side-effects, and coping techniques is crucial. Families often find it harder to accept the diagnosis than the much-loved patient. They fail to anticipate the needs of the patient or provide round-the-clock high-quality care. Because Mom and/or dad look the same, enjoy physical activities, continue self-care and daily activities, they fail to acknowledge or accept loss of speech, memory and mobility until mom or dad fails to recognize a family member, can’t feed themselves, or suffers injuries and falls. “People living with dementia keep their essence and spirit, although many will experience major personality changes.”

Caring for a loved one’s psychological and emotional health cannot be done alone.  Home Helpers can assess the needs of your loved parent or grand-parent, provide assistance, guidance, and support through your decision-making process. Keeping a loved one in your home offers as many challenges as choosing the right care facility.  We are here to help. Call me to learn more.