Cheri L. Elson and Allen G. Drescher, Retired
21 S. 2nd St. ● Ashland ● Oregon ● 97520

Taking a Dementia Patient to the Doctor

People suffering from dementia are losing many aspects of brain function that once came easily to them. They suffer from memory issues; they lose ability to process and convey their thoughts and feelings; they struggle with normal, everyday tasks. However, with all this loss, dementia patients can be very good at masking their symptoms from others, including their doctors. Even when cognitive abilities are affected by disease, dementia does not lower a person’s IQ, leaving them quite effective in convincing a doctor that nothing is wrong.

There are a few things that can be done to help ensure the doctor is getting the proper information. First, try to make an appointment with a geriatrician, a doctor specializing in aging. Because of their field, a geriatrician is less likely to be misled by masking. Writing a letter to the physician prior to the appointment is also not a bad idea. Be sure to list specific incidences that are of concern to you, including the frequency of the event and even the actual dates, if you have them. The more specific information the doctor has, the better he or she will be in asking the right questions and not being side-tracked by the patient’s avoidance techniques.

During the appointment, don’t be afraid to chime in and answer the physician’s questions when you feel your loved one is not answering accurately. For instance, if the doctor asks “Can you use the phone?” and your loved one responds, “Yes!”, make sure the doctor knows that this means they can only speak to whomever is calling, but becomes completely confused if they need to pick up the phone and dial a number.

While this may seem trivial, the information is extremely important to a physician whose goal is to understand where your loved one truly is on a cognitive level. If doctors are not provided with accurate information, they can wrongly conclude that their patient does not need services or assistance from the various agencies. They may also miss an opportunity to order further testing which could result in diagnosis. The few Alzheimer’s drugs that exist work best earliest in the progression of the disease and the earlier they are started the more successful they are.

Your loved one may be unhappy with you for qualifying their answers. If the dementia is more severe, they will forget soon. If not, remember that, even if they do not understand, you are acting in their best interests to get them the best assistance available. If you need someone to talk to about resources, or more specific help, please feel free to contact me to set up a complimentary consultation so that we can discuss how I may be of service.

Cheri Elson
Gray Matters Consulting
(541) 708-1147

Other useful sites:
Elders Hiding Dementia Symptoms from Their Doctor
Dementia Patients Need an Advocate

Funding for Alzheimer’s!

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s. Over 15 million Americans are acting as their unpaid caregivers, representing over 17 billion hours of care per year. It is projected that by 2050, over 13 million Americans will live with Alzheimer’s. That’s a lot of people touched by Alzheimer’s!

Medicare spends nearly $1 in $5 on Alzheimer’s. The average Medicare payments to someone without Alzheimer’s is $8,000 per year; the average Medicare payments to someone with Alzheimer’s is $21,500 per year. A recent report projects that Medicare spending on people with Alzheimer’s disease will more than quadruple over the next generation, costing the government $589 billion (yes, billion with a “b”!) annually by 2050.

Medicaid payments are even more skewed: $570 per year to someone without Alzheimer’s, contrasted with $11,000 per year to someone with Alzheimer’s – over 19 times more!

Of the top 10 causes of death in this country, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed down. The data shows that if onset of Alzheimer’s could be delayed by just five years, Medicare would save $345 billion in the first 10 years alone. That’s a significant savings, and brings home the importance of finding a cure!

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) was passed unanimously by Congress in 2010 and sets out five goals:

  1. Prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025
  2. Enhance Alzheimer’s care quality and efficiency
  3. Expand the support available to both patients and caregivers
  4. Enhance public awareness and engagement about Alzheimer’s
  5. Improve data to better track research progress

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law an historic $350 million increase in federal funds for Alzheimer’s research in the 2016 fiscal year budget. This represents a nearly 60% increase over the 2015 fiscal year budget and marks the largest increase ever for federal Alzheimer’s research funding, and should help see all five NAPA goals met. I applaud the bipartisan effort that made this happen!

If you are caring for someone touched by Alzheimer’s, or any other dementia, know that you are not alone. As someone who was the sole caregiver for a close family member for over 2 years, I understand the sense of overwhelm and helplessness that can accompany providing care for someone so ill. I can help you navigate this journey, providing assistance and resources to ease everyone’s stress. Please feel free to contact me to set up a complimentary consultation so that we can discuss how I may be of service.

Cheri Elson
Gray Matters Consulting
(541) 708-1147

To read the full article:
Historic Alzheimer’s Funding Increase

The Brain-Music Connection

Music is profoundly connected to personal memories – it can catapult you back in time as though it were happening for the first time.  Not surprising when you understand that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory.

Because of how dementia attacks the brain, the most recent memories are often lost first, with memories of teenage years being well preserved.  Favorite music associated with important personal events can trigger not only the memory of the lyrics, but also the experience connected to the music.  It can calm chaotic brain activity and enable the listener to focus on the present moment and regain connection to others.

Music also activates all parts of the brain, unlike any other activity that will be focused in one area only.  In a 2011, Finnish researchers found that listening to music recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also the emotional, motor, and creative areas of the brain.  When someone listens to music, the entire brain lights up!

Music & Memory is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing personalized music to the elderly or infirm using digital music technology, like the iPod Shuffle.  When dementia patients are able to listen to the music of their youth, specifically to music that had deep meaning to them personally, incredible things happened.  Nursing home residents who had been non-responsive for years were reawakened when presented with digital music players, headphones, and the music that was meaningful to them.

In 2012, a documentary about the work of Music & Memory, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was previewed at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, showing in theaters around the country, including our own Varsity Theater in Ashland!  Through Music & Memory, over 1,000 locations across the United States and Canada, as well as a dozen caregiving facilities in eight other countries, have programs set up for their residents to provide them with music.

Caring for a family member with dementia can seem an overwhelming responsibility.  Creating a personal music playlist for the home can make a huge difference for everyone involved.  It can renew connections, ease transitions, and even provide respite time for the caregiver.  Music & Memory has programs to help set these up, both in private homes and in assisted living facilities.  Of course, you may also contact me – I would be honored to help you in any way I can through your journey.

Cheri Elson
Gray Matters Consulting
(541) 708-1147

If you would like to learn more about research done or Music and Memory, here is are some interesting links:
Listening to Music Lights up the Whole Brain

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