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The Alzheimer’s Whisperer

All week I had been reading the daily emails from my sister who is caring for our elderly mother in her declining physical and emotional state. She has become the “Club Sandwich generation” caretaker since the rest of us siblings live either out-of-state, or a couple of hundred miles away from them. My sister keeps a daily log, which she emails to us of the events, incidents, and problems surrounding my mother’s health and behavior. In addition to the details, I had started noticing her frustration with the responsibility and her growing concern that our mother was purposely playing games with her by lying and not cooperating with her efforts to assist her.

source: alzheimer by ~slauz on deviantART

Since my job description is writing articles on senior-related issues, I was given a copy of a magazine that included a wonderful article on a new approach in dealing with just such negative behaviors. Dr. Verna Benner Carson, an expert on mental health in nursing, is also the creator of the”Alzheimer’s Whisperer” program. Most of us either have heard of or watched the popular show “The Dog Whisperer” on the National Geographic Channel.  Cesar Millan, the show’s host is known for his amazing rehabilitation of difficult, aggressive, scared, lazy, compulsive, and jealous dogs by using “out of the box” techniques and calm-assertive guidance.

Although my mother has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she is definitely displaying signs of dementia. Dr. Carson’s program provided insight into positive and more constructive ways of dealing. Most importantly, the program stresses that understanding the physical changes in the brain that take place is critical. According to the program, one might think, “they should know better than that.” And they did, before they were cognitively impaired. The first area of the brain that is changed is the hippocampus, the part that processes experiences and stores short-term memory, while the last area is the frontal lobe, which stores long-term memory. The point is that in the early stages of the disease, patients “hold onto their old stories, but don’t remember what they had for breakfast.” Once the patient gets to the middle stage of the disease, they will have only about five minutes of short-term memory, so they are not going to be able to hold a small talk conversation.  By realizing and accepting the fact that it’s not going to happen, will alleviate frustration.

People dealing with patients suffering dementia will have more success and less frustration by shedding the belief that arguing and reasoning are going to produce positive results. Sometimes patient’s are not always telling the truth, but it doesn’t mean they’re lying either. A good example Dr. Carson provided was that while visiting a patient, the woman asked her what she had for breakfast, and after she told her, the woman said, “Isn’t that funny, we had the exact same thing.” Knowing that wasn’t true because the patient didn’t remember what she had for breakfast, but she didn’t have to because Dr. Carson had provided her with that information. With knowledge and perspective, it becomes easier to deal with patients in a more loving and understanding way.

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About The Author: Gloria Ha’o Schneider is an expert in senior citizen and baby boomer issues. Her topics revolve around Senior Living and Healthcare to provide the latest information to this demographic as well as their families and loved ones.

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