Working with Alzheimer’s
Local elder care specialists are employing creative methods.
Right now 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. A vast majority of those — 5.3 million — are age 65 and older. A degenerative brain disease, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of a syndrome called dementia, which is characterized by symptoms including difficulty with memory, language and problem-solving.
Far beyond just memory loss, with Alzheimer’s disease, neurons in some parts of the brain can be eventually destroyed or damaged, resulting in the loss of a person’s ability to retain certain movements and bodily functions.
For assisted living facilities, working with residents suffering from Alzheimer’s, or varying levels of memory loss, can be a challenge, one that some local facilities are meeting in creative ways.
For instance, something as simple as a song can make a difference. Music therapy is a daily activity at the communities of Peristyle Residences. The assisted living homes are located all throughout New Orleans, Metairie and the West Bank and provide 24-hour home care to seniors who are no longer able to safely live at home by themselves.
“Oftentimes group activities in senior living centers can make it difficult to keep everyone engaged,” says Sean Arrillaga, who co-owns Peristyle Residences along with business partner Jason Hemel. “The key is finding the right fit and the right level of activity that can keep everyone stimulated cognitively.”
Part of music therapy at their Peristyle communities involves the company’s therapist, Erica Wolf, asking questions of the residents’ past. Their answers are then integrated into the lyrics of songs.
“We will also incorporate movement with the instruments, engaging them cognitively,” says Arrillaga.
This method can have a visible impact on patients. Arrillaga describes how some residents who are almost aphasic — unable to communicate verbally — will suddenly start singing along to songs.
While Peristyle Residences are not designed exclusively for patients requiring memory care, Arrillaga says most residents do have some level of cognitive difficulties.
“We also try to incorporate space and environment so that [our residences are] conducive to somebody with memory loss,” he adds. “We use bright colors and lots of natural sunlight. At night we turn down the lights in the halls to help patients sleep.”
Another method Peristyle uses to work with memory loss is called reminiscence therapy, which involves talking to residents and asking them about their past.
“We will ask them to tell us about their house, the town they grew up in,” Arrillaga says. “These questions require more than just a yes or no answer. The work is also incorporated with some sort of physical activity.”
Those with Alzheimer’s can also have the option of remaining at home without sacrificing safety or their family’s peace of mind with in-home care like that provided by Home Care Solutions.
Locally owned and operated since 1991, Metairie-based Home Care Solutions offers 24-hour on-call supervision and care along with professional aging life-care management — helping with things like coordinating medical appointments, assisting with crisis management and even help evaluating residential options if needed. In 2001, the company expanded its services to provide companionship specifically tailored to those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
The center uses a variety of different therapies to help patients battling memory loss, including something called validation therapy.
“This means validating who that person is now in their minds rather than trying to convince them it is 2017,” explains Analiza Schneider, marketing director with Home Care Solutions.
Developed by Naomi Feil for patients with cognitive impairments and dementia, the idea behind the therapy is to show respect and acknowledgement toward what a person is saying, whether or not it is true or out of context. This helps the speaker feel that they are being treated with genuine respect rather than feeling marginalized or dismissed.
To assist with mental stimulation, the company uses brain games, crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles.
Just talking is a simple way for loved ones to help with the disease.
“It is most important to keep up discussions and interactions with others, even if it’s just talking about the past,” says Schneider.
While research is ongoing, there is currently no definitive cause of Alzheimer’s. However evidence shows that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting certain lifestyle habits to benefit the body and mind.
“While there may be no way to prevent Alzheimer’s,” says Schneider, “exercise, getting good sleep, eating right and keeping active with friends and family can allow a person to maintain good brain health.”
Did you know
6 Simple Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Engage in regular cardiovascular activity. Doing so elevates the heart rate and increases blood flow to the body and brain.
Take classes and read. Both reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Take charge of your mental health. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (AZA), some studies have linked people with a history of depression to an increased risk of cognitive decline. People suffering from depression and anxiety should also seek treatment to reduce stress.
Stay socially engaged. Pursue activities that are not only meaningful to you, but help you stay part of a community. Love animals? Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter. Enjoy art? Pursue classes or help at an afterschool program. Remaining close to friends and family also helps keep the mind stimulated.
Maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Rest helps keep both the body and mind healthy.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
Teambuilding for a Good Cause
Mark your calendar now
The AZA’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the largest event in the world to raise funds specifically for Alzheimer’s care, research and support. Held annually in more than 600 communities across the country, on various dates, the walk will take place in the following Southeast Louisiana communities:
Houma — September 16
Mandeville — October 7
Metairie — November 11
Baton Rouge — November 18
For more information and to register for a walk, visit alz.org.
Make a Difference
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month
Time for your company to get creative on “The Longest Day.”
On June 21, the longest day of the year, the Alzheimer’s Association is hosting an awareness and fundraising campaign called The Longest Day. Interested individuals can participate by planning activities to raise awareness and funds to honor friends and family members with Alzheimer’s.
In the past, participants have set up block parties, bowl-a-thons and dance parties to raise funds. The Longest Day of the year is approximately 16 hours, which means ample time to fundraise and commemorate loved ones. According to ALZ.org approximately 80 percent of funds raised during Longest Day events go toward research, care, support and advocacy.
To learn more or to register an event for June 21 visit thelongestday.alz.org.