November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month and National Family Caregivers month.  In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers.  Many of these caregivers are family members who not only sacrifice time spent with their children and on their careers to care for their parents or grandparents, but they also must see their loved one go through a devastating progression that often leaves them completely forgetting who their children are.

If you have an aging loved one, especially one who you are providing care for, you should be on the lookout for signs of memory loss issues.  According to Hillcrest Health Services, there are 10 signs of memory issues that you should watch for:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. 

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

4. Confusion with time or place.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

8. Decreased or poor judgment.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.

10. Changes in mood and personality.

Dr. Anna Fisher, Hillcrest’s Director of Education, states, “When you start to notice your loved one is challenged in performing ADLs (activities of daily living) and safety starts to become a major issue, you should consider getting some help.  I also tell them to look for an increase in occurrence of behaviors (abnormal reaction to the environment).  I often explain to caregivers that misplaced car keys is not necessarily a sign of dementia, but finding them in the refrigerator might be.”

If you see these signs in your loved one, it may be time to look into some help from the professionals.  A good place to start would be to attend a caregiver’s support group.  Dr. Anna Fisher, one of the area’s leading experts on Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, hosts the region’s largest caregiver support group each month, beginning at 6 p.m. at Hillcrest Mable

Rose Assisted Living in Bellevue. More than 60 people attend the monthly meetings, which often feature expert guest speakers.
For those living in the community or with loved ones, Hillcrest Home Care provides help with bathing, dressing, personal care, companionship, housekeeping and transportation. Another option to keep a loved one active during the day is The Club at Mable Rose, the only adult day services program in Sarpy County. Members enjoy meals, activities, trips, helpful support and friendship on weekdays. Transportation can be provided, if needed.

If memory problems continue and worsen, you may reach the point where it is no longer feasible (or safe) for your loved one to remain in their home.  In this case, you should look into a community that offers specialized support for those with memory issues.
Hillcrest Health Services provides many supportive services for those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, including memory support assisted living at Hillcrest Mable Rose and Hillcrest Victoria Gardens. Both communities feature secure settings for those who are at risk of wandering and can benefit from attentive programs and social activities. Both communities are overseen by Helen Crunk, who was named Assisted Living Administrator of the Year.

Hillcrest Country Estates, located in Papillion, offers the state’s only “household model” skilled nursing cottages. Each of the 8 cottages is home to 13 elders – many with cognitive impairments – and they enjoy all of the comforts of home in a unique, non-institutional environment.

Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, whether it is in your home, in their home or in a retirement community, can take a large toll.  It’s important that you get the support you need, not just in the physical acts of caring for them, but also in emotional support for you and your family.  Attending a caregiver’s support group is a great idea and you might also consider working with a counselor who can help walk you through your experience, give you advice and guidance when needed, and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the process as well.

Mindy Crouch with Pando Geriatric Counseling is an amazing resource as her practice focuses on the elderly and their caregivers and the unique emotional situations they may go through.  She gives the following advice on caring for loved ones with memory issues:
“It is best to educate yourself on the warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s and things you can do to help protect your loved ones.  Education is a great tool and helps you know what to expect on the disease so you better know what services you might need.  You should learn how to make the house and surrounding areas safer.  There are a lot of services to help keep your loved one in the home.  Ask your doctor to see if they have a social worker or know of an agency that they like to work with.

It is best to keep your love ones in familiar areas for as long as possible.  Moving them frequently can increase confusion and behaviors.  There is home health care and in-home services that can provide 24 hour care, bath and medication aid, cooking, cleaning and therapies.  When they are no longer able to stay at home, then it is recommended to tour facilities first.  Monitor the smell and cleanliness of the facility when you enter.  See how well the residents are dressed and how clean they are.  Look at their activities and to see if there is any place for the residents to be outside.  Look at the state ratings and see if there are any major deficiencies.”

Remember to keep in mind that you may need some support, too.  If you aren’t taking care of yourself, it’s very difficult for you to take care of anyone else.  Remember that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging and if you see warning signs in your loved one, it’s imperative that you take action quickly and be proactive in seeking help.