A workshop for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease caregivers and family members Thursday evening, March 5, provided a savvy foundation for understanding the progression and treatment of this devastating ailment.
Presented by Alzheimer’s Association volunteer and Wallowa County resident MacKenzie Rodgers, the event may also spark a Wallowa County dementia-Alzheimer’s caregiver support group.
Alzheimer’s besets 5.7 million Americans, including 32% of those 85 years and older.
“People are living longer, and so there are more in the high-risk categories,” said Rodgers, who headed the Idaho Alzheimer’s Foundation for a decade before moving back home to Wallowa County. “Today we’re seeing the baby boomers generation entering the ‘Alzheimer’s bracket’ — a higher-risk age group above age 65.”
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s include not only age, but also family history and genetics, Rodgers said. About two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients are women.
“That’s because we tend to live longer than men,” she said.
Other risk factors beyond aging include having Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or strokes. Those who suffer strokes are more likely to develop vascular dementia, a disease similar to Alzheimer’s in symptoms, but caused by repeated small strokes and blockages in the brain, rather than the plaques of Alzheimer’s.
Rodgers also offered some practical suggestions for caregivers, based upon her experiences as a caregiver for two of her grandparents.
“This disease is really hard,” she said. “For most people, the most frustrating thing on a day-to-day basis is the repetitive nature of what our loved ones do or the questions they ask. Sometimes we can’t keep responding one more time for them. What you did as a parent of a 3-year-old, distracting them from what they are repeating is a good strategy. It really works well with this disease. Figure out an activity that they like to do and are still capable of. Distract them for the repetitive behavior by gently directing them into that activity.”
Rodgers explained that these repetitive behaviors are caused by the patient’s brain trying to access information.
“They are stuck in that loop of trying to access it,” she said. “But the pathway for the brain to retrieve it is gone or blocked. They simply can’t find the information they want.”
There are things like folding clothes or emptying the dishwasher, Rodgers said, that can keep Alzheimer’s patients busy and out of that loop of desperation. A task that they are capable of doing can work wonders for both patient and caregiver.
Rodgers recommended that caregivers call the free Alzheimer’s 24/7 help line, 800-272-3900.
“It’s a great resource to reach out to. Free counseling is available there, and they will talk with you any time day or night. If you’ve had a terrible day, you can call them. If you want advice, call them. They know what they are talking about. They’ll stay on the phone with you as long as you want. The Alzheimer’s Association website, alz.org is another great resource,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers offered to start a support group for caregivers here in Wallowa County. Anyone interested in participating is such a group can call her at 541-426-3564.
“Caregivers are starting to pass away before their patients at an alarming rate,” she said “You need to be cared for, too. So tell people what they can do to help when they ask. It’s hard to ask for help, but people who want to help often don’t know what you need. You just have to tell them. And things will be better for you and for your loved one.”