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The Longest Day: Recognizing beginning stages of Dementia

A family member, visiting his dad in a nursing home, once said while leaving his father's room, "If dad would only try harder..."

What this family member was referring to was Dad was no longer aware of who his children were. The whole family thought if their father would just "try harder" he would remember his children and everything in the world would be right again.

Alzheimer's disease is not amnesia. The memories of holding his grandchildren on his knee are not going to come back. Alzheimer's is a progressive, fatal disease. The brain does not mend itself. There is no major cure and unfortunately, the memories will not come back.

All too often this is the thought process most families have. There seems to be quite a gap of continuity of care between diagnosis and death. Most families get a brief rundown of just a few sentences and that is all.

The beginning stages of dementia can be recognizable if you know what you are looking for. During the beginning stages, you may notice Mom not being able to remember words or maybe saying the wrong words. You may notice she is struggling a bit with everyday tasks like dressing appropriately for the weather. Alzheimer's is affecting the center of her brain.

She may repeat a story she just told you three times in the past hour. It's not because she thinks you really need to hear that story again. She doesn't know she already told you. Those files in her filing cabinet no longer exist. As the disease progresses she will lose more and more files. It's not that she is losing what is in them; she is losing the files themselves.

As care providers, we have seen Alzheimer's patients who couldn't have a mirror in their room because they think there is a strange "old person" there. They can't comprehend they are 90 years old because those files have been emptied all the way back to when they were in their 20s. People describe the progression of Alzheimer's as a regression in years. That is very accurate. Eventually an Alzheimer's patient will reach the equivalent of 2-3 years in age. That is normally the end of the disease; people don't regress much beyond that.

If your loved one doesn't know who you are or thinks you are someone else, please understand it's not their choice. They are not being lazy, selfish or mean. The files in their file cabinet just do not exist. You cannot expect yourself to remember something that didn't happen right? Well to them, it didn't happen. How can you hold them accountable? All we can do as caregivers is support them and provide them with dignity and self-respect. Alzheimer's is a brain disease. Please be patient and kind and let them know you support them no matter how hard it is.

The Longest Day is all about love—love for all of those affected by dementia. On the summer solstice, June 21, the longest day, join St. Croix Hospice in honoring those with dementia by participating in a continuing education event 12:30-3:30 p.m. at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. This event will help you understand how music therapy enhances the life of those suffering with dementia, understand early detection, find the support needed throughout the disease, and be educated on the indicators and eligibility requirements for hospice with those affected with dementia.

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SIDEBAR:

If you go

• The Longest day: Love for those affected by dementia

• 12:30-3:30 p.m.

• June 21 at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes, Baxter.

• This is a limited space event. RSVP by June 8 to Brianna Duflo, Bduflo@stcroixhospice.com or call 218-203-9890. Continuing education credits will be offered for those interested.

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