January 18, 2012 - Seniors at Independence Village of Waterstone got an education on Alzheimer's Disease and what it takes to be a caregiver for people suffering from it during a Senior Health Seminar Jan. 12.
Independence Village residents (L-R) Clara Voll-Linton, Flo Carson and Mary Richards get a free education on Alzheimer’s Disease. Photo by A. Moser. (click for larger version)
Carol Waarala, a social worker with Odyssey Hospice, located in Southfield, MI, shared with the seniors a presentation entitled A Caregiver's Travel Guide: The Alzheimer's Journey, which detailed an individuals journey through the multiple stages of Alzheimer's and how it can affect a caregiver.
"Caring for a loved one with Dementia is a journey that is very long - sometimes as long as 20 years. The journey which begins with the loss of a few words, becomes a path with many twists and turns that challenge everyone involved as it heads towards an unknown destination," Waarala wrote in a letter to Alzheimer patients and caregivers she handed out to audience members.
Waarala said Dementia comes from the Latin words meaning "away" and "mind."
"Dementia is not a disease, it is a symptom," she explained. "You can have these symptoms for a lot of reasons. So when doctors decide through the process of elimination that you have Probable Alzheimer's, that is a type of Demintia. The doctor will say to you, you have Demintia of the Probable."
Audience members learned there were three stages of Alzheimer's: an early to middle stage where family members begin to notice a change in the person's memory and ability to perform basic daily activities, a middle to late stage where an individual loses the ability to perform more complex activities and has their orientation and concentration impaired, and a late stage which requires 24 hour care.
According to Waarala, one in every eight adults over the age of 65 has Alzheimer's Disease. Some 30, 40 and 50-year-old's can also get Early-Onset or Familial Alzheimer's Disease.
When an adult reaches 75, their chances of getting Alzheimer's increases to one in four, while at the age of 85 it increases to one in two, she explained.
"So it is a critical issue...our aging population, 85 and older, is the fastest growing population," she said.
Waarala noted approximately 5.3 million people in the United States currently have Alzheimer's Disease, and 70 percent of those affected with the disease still live at home, with 75 percent being taken care of by a friend or family member.
"We are on the edge of a pandemic worldwide," Waarala said. "We anticipate 16-17 million (affected by Alzheimer's) in the United States by 2050, and 100 million or more worldwide."
"If they can't find some way to push this disease back where they are getting it at an older age where it is not impacting so many things and they are not living with if for 20 years, the fear is that it will bankrupt every health system that is out there," she added.
Waarala noted during her presentation Alzheimer's was about the journey, not the destination.
"For you and your loved one, if you are prepared for what's ahead, it can be about more than just memories lost, it can be about memories found," she said.
Waarala said that when a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's begins to get overwhelmed, there are options and resources out there that are willing to help.
She encouraged members of the audience to utilize support groups, respite care, adult day care and hired home caregivers. She also gave them the number to the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 hotline, which provides counselors and information on education classes and support groups.
"The sad truth is that many people who have someone with dementia in their family get very little guidance and sort of have to recreate the wheel themselves," she added.
Waarala said local hospices were also available to help.
According to Waarala, everyone at Odyssey Hospice has been certified in Alzheimer's care and are available to help with caregiving.
"Hospice doesn't necessarily mean your loved one is in the dying process, but they will benefit greatly from the added hospice care," she said.
"It makes such a difference when you have contact with someone with demintia," she said. "So if we can raise our awareness as caregivers, then we can help in the community to raise awareness. "
The group was also provided with a few resources, including a "Caregivers Bill of Rights," and 20 of the best tips and ideas on how to care for a caregiver.
Those tips include laughing everyday, eating a well-balanced diet, giving family and friends the chance to help, adequate rest, getting professional help if feeling overwhelmed, regularly attending a support group and knowing your limitations.
Waarala saw firsthand what Dementia and Alzheimer's disease can do to a family - her father had it. She also studied aging at the University of Michigan, where she obtained her Master's Degree, and has been a social worker for Odyssey Hospice for the past 14 years.
She began speaking at assisted living homes, adult foster care homes and at conferences approximately five years ago.
"The need was so great for somebody to be doing inservices about Dementia," she said. "Odyssey (Hospice) was committed to having a higher quality of care for people who have dementia and raising understanding of improving that care, so I became a speaker with them, and I did it full time."
She even put together an informational booklet on products available to consumers who are living with someone with Dementia.
For more information on Odyssey Hospice, visit www.odsyhealth.com.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.