- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) - Alzheimer’s disease is a problem expected to grow in the years ahead.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the number of people with dementia worldwide is expected to grow to a staggering 75.6 million by 2030 and 135.5 million in 2050.

“Alzheimer’s is a dementia, which means memory loss. There are different types, and Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. It is a progressive neurological disorder and we don’t know why it happens,” said Dr. Joseph Clark, a neurologist with Blair Medical Associates.

“I would describe it as a progressive disease that starts with short-term memory loss and advances to losing the ability to care for themself,” said Erin Weaver, social worker in the Alzheimer’s and related dementia unit at Homewood at Martinsburg who also runs Homewood’s dementia support group.

Alzheimer’s can’t be diagnosed.

“You can make a presumptive diagnosis, but to be 100 percent accurate you can’t be sure unless you have brain tissue. People don’t consent to a brain biopsy,” Clark said. “There is no cure but there are controls. Cure means fix it, control means to control the symptoms.You don’t stop the progression but you slow it down.”

Alzheimer’s and dementia are a big problem in the area.

“In Blair County we have more than 5,000 people with dementia. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia and the number grows between 400 and 500 every year,” said Endy Reindl, Home Instead Senior Care community service representative and coordinator of Home Instead’s Alzheimer’s Friendly Business Program, which was unveiled this month in conjunction with the fourth global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma. “One out of three of our clients we pick up have Alzheimer’s or some type of dementia.”

The Home Instead program is designed to help area businesses become more Alzheimer’s friendly.

“For many caregivers, the unpredictable nature of the disease can make going out in public with their loved one intimidating,” said Theresa Zurilla, owner of the local Home Instead Senior Care office. “Given the statistics, most businesses that deal with the public will be serving people with Alzheimer’s and their families. It’s critical that local businesses start working now to build Alzheimer’s-friendly communities to better serve their customers with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

“It is all about making businesses aware of challenges consumers may be facing. They learn more about what the family members are going through,” Reindl said.

To complete the training, employees are asked to work through an interactive, online module available at AlzheimersFriendly

Business.com. Once the training is successfully completed, businesses will receive a window cling with the Alzheimer’s Friendly Business designation.

“We talk about what is Alzheimer’s, what are the signs and make suggestions so employees can identify it. We talk about how to be respectful and give dignity to the people, that they are doing the best they can,” Reindl said. “We answer any questions, and if I don’t have the answer, I tell them I will get them the right answer.”

Garvey Manor and Homewood at Martinsburg are two area long-term care facilities which have special Alzheimer’s/dementia units.

Garvey Manor created two special units as part of its expansion project in 2003. There are 36 residents in the two dementia units - 18 in each.

“The most prevalent diagnosis we see in long-term care involves services for dementia. People who have dementia require special services and an environment to enhance their living. We provide an environment for people who have dementia. It is a very caring environment with stimulating elements and is accommodating so they can enjoy life in a non-threatening environment. Programs are geared to their level of cognitive functioning,” said Administrator Sister Joachim Anne Ferenchak.

Garvey Manor addresses the needs of the people where they are at in the dementia process.

“This makes a big difference in that person’s quality of life. From the very beginning, we try to improve the quality of life of the people who have special needs,” Ferenchak said.

Homewood at Martinsburg built an Alzheimer’s and related dementia unit about 20 years ago. Today, the unit houses 60 residents.

“This was at a time in the industry when we were hearing a lot about dementia and seeing a lot of dementia cases. There weren’t many units in the area to meet the needs of the folks,” Weaver said.

Weaver and Ferenchak agree with Reindl that Alzheimer’s and dementia are a big problem in the area.

“We get referrals every day for people who need it. We have en extensive waiting list for the unit,” Weaver said.

“As we have an aging population in this area, dementia is a very big issue in the elderly. There is a lot of dementia not only in long-term care facilities but people in their own homes have some degree of dementia. That makes it difficult for them to live in their own homes,” Ferenchak said.

Alzheimer’s and dementia create a big challenge for family members as well as caregivers.

“I see families going through all stages of grieving … denial, anger. They are losing the ability to communicate, and that is a struggle. They have to learn how to care for their loved one. The person they once were is kind of fading away. They are losing that person little by little. They are grieving like they have lost them before the person is gone. It is very tragic,” Weaver said.

“For caregivers, it is very difficult and stressful. With different stages of dementia, people have less degrees of memory. The person can get to a point where they see family members and not recognize them. They may not remember their spouse or children,” Ferenchak said. “Safety is a big issue. They don’t remember they are elderly. They may get up and get dressed without someone noticing. They could be out walking and in a risky situation. They think they are going to work or taking their kids to school. They may wake up and walk out in the middle of the night.”

Marlene Mock, an education specialist, is the facilitator of the Alzheimer’s Support Group at UPMC Altoona.

“The role of the support group is to have a safe place where people can talk freely about their fears and concerns, and share information with each other that may be helpful,” Mock said.

Co-facilitator Mardell Bonasso has first-hand experience as she served as primary caregiver for her mother, Esther Porter, when she was diagnosed with dementia in 2000.

“There is never a definitive diagnosis. The only way to determine is if you look inside the brain. She had dementia, she may have had Alzheimer’s. She had the signs. She was totally confused and didn’t know where she was at. They told me she was in the middle stages when diagnosed, that she had had it for a while,” Bonasso said.

Bonasso said it was a challenge taking care of her mother.

“No two days are alike. Some days are good as far as their memory and their cognitive ability to function, but the next day they may be out in left field,” Bonasso said. “There were a lot of behaviors I saw. She was afraid to get in the shower, she was afraid of the water. Sometimes she would forget to eat or forget she had eaten. After eating, she would say ‘I didn’t have my dinner.’”

Bonasso took care of her mother until 2004 when she placed her in a nursing home. She died in 2005.

Bonasso came from a nursing background, serving as an LPN at the former Mercy Hospital for 13 years.

“Coming from a nursing background, I said I got this, I can handle this, but it is extremely different taking care of a loved one if they look at you and don’t know who you are,” Bonasso said. “Caring for someone for eight hours is a lot different from 24 hours a day, seven days week. I had to have someone come in so I could go to the grocery store or even go out for a cup of coffee.”

Bonasso and Ferenchak believe the Home Instead education program is a good idea.

“It would be good for people in the community. The more they are educated, the better. I think it is a great program. You don’t understand it (dementia) unless you live through it,” Bonasso said.

“I think any education that can be done in the community is a good thing. With more people with dementia, the more people educated in businesses, the better the people are going to be treated. They can provide more products and services for the people with dementia. Business people may have family members with these same needs,” Ferenchak said.





Information from: Altoona Mirror, https://www.altoonamirror.com

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