Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that affects millions of people every year. It is the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Organization, an estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s in 2019. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and by 2050, it is projected that 14 million individuals will be living with the disease.1
In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the Medical Assistant students at Ross Medical Education Center in Owensboro, KY attended the “Leaning in to Alzheimer’s Education and Care” seminar. The conference took place on October 10th at Western Kentucky University.
Campus Director, LaTasha Shemwell, stated, “The information at the seminar was very informative and valuable. We learned vital information about how to listen and take care of loved ones who develop dementia and Alzheimer’s. I wish I had been more educated on this topic when my mother was diagnosed with dementia. Prior to this conference, I had no idea how to take care of someone with dementia.”
LaTasha started noticing symptoms of dementia even before her mom got diagnosed. At the time, her mom was living with her sister and the first time they noticed something was off was when her sister went into their mom’s room and saw a collection of canned goods on the floor, near her bed. She would buy canned goods when she went to the grocery store and store them in her room, in preparation for “parties and guests”.
Several other episodes occurred which made LaTasha realize her mom needed professional help. She noticed that her mom was refusing to take her high blood pressure and diabetes medication. She would throw it away because she thought it was poisonous. LaTasha and her sisters tried to get her help, but she refused. “Someone with dementia will tell you they don’t need help,” said LaTasha. Severe tantrums started and nobody in the family really knew how to handle it. One night, her mom woke up in the middle of the night and said she was waiting for her husband to take her to the hospital to have a baby. That was the point where LaTasha and her sisters knew for sure that their mom needed help. They all needed clarity on what was happening because they didn’t understand the whole spectrum.
Soon after, the sisters took their mom to the hospital where she officially got diagnosed with dementia. They got her special treatment at an adult care hospital in Cincinnati, where she stayed for a couple of years. Their mom would call and beg for LaTasha to come get her out of the hospital. LaTasha would always tell her mom that she needs to stay there because she needs help, but if she had known more about the disease, she would have approached it in a different way. “I wish I would’ve said, ‘You know, mom, you are at your happy place right now. You are doing great and I’m going to come see you,’” said LaTasha. For many, it can be very easy to get agitated with individuals who have dementia, which is why it’s so important to remember that their dementia does not define them and patience is key.
For LaTasha, one of the main takeaways from the conference is that adaptability is crucial when caring for someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. “If a loved one was diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, really take the time to educate yourself about the disease and learn how to take care of them in a positive manner. Don’t become frustrated, but rather learn how to adapt. It’s also super important to not make them think they’re out of reality, but to become part of their reality,” she advises. Focusing on the solution rather than the problem can yield better results. To become part of their reality, the caretaker needs to put themselves in the shoes of the person with Alzheimer’s and see the disease from their perspective.
LaTasha feels grateful that she and her students had the opportunity to attend this seminar. “Educating students about various diseases can make a huge difference in the long run. If they are ever in a situation where they need to care for someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia, they will have some background information on the disease, which could help them handle it better and take off some pressure.” LaTasha is looking forward to hopefully attending the seminar again next year and continuing to educate her students on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, you can visit https://www.alz.org/alzheimer_s_dementia.