CareNotes: The Home Care Newsletter Vol 6. Issue 5
Letter From the Editor:
September often means busier schedules with the return to school and the start of football season, but it is also a time to recognize World Alzheimer’s Month. Across the globe, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect 35.6 million people, a number that is projected to triple by 2050. Sadly, less than 1 in 4 of those affected receive a formal diagnosis often resulting in inadequate care, treatment and support. As partners of the Alzheimer’s Early Detection Alliance (AEDA), Home Care Assistance is committed to raising awareness around the disease through community education initiatives. To this end, we invite you to visit the Alzheimer’s Awareness section of our website where you can learn more about warning signs and tips for caring for a loved one with dementia.
In observance of World Alzheimer’s Month, this issue of our CareNotes Newsletter will include an article on the potential link between high blood sugar levels and an increased risk of dementia as well as tips for family caregivers in managing and reducing problem behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Next, I will discuss strategies for reducing remote caregiver guilt, a feeling that can be particularly intense for those who have loved ones affected by some form of dementia. Lastly, I would like to congratulate our Caregiver of the Month, Sierra Downing, from Home Care Assistance of Washington. Sierra’s spirit and passion for caregiving are evident in the superior care she provides to each and every one of her clients. We are lucky to have her as a member of the Home Care Assistance family!
Earlier this month we hosted another public webinar, presented by Dr. Leslie Martin, professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health. The webinar covered healthy aging and the lifestyle factors and character traits that are linked to living longer, healthier lives. For those of you who were unable to attend, you can view the webinar here.
High Blood Sugar May Increase Risk for Developing Dementia
Since the discovery that insulin is produced in the brain as well as the pancreas, a great deal of research has been dedicated to studying the link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s and how this may impact potential interventions. A few weeks ago, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that it’s not just the high blood-sugar levels characteristic of diabetes that increase an individual’s risk of developing dementia.
Dr. Paul Crane of the University of Washington in Seattle and his team tracked blood-sugar levels of 2,067 people aged 65 and older in the Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-area health care system. Cognitive abilities were also assessed. Over the course of almost seven years, about one quarter of the participants had developed some form of dementia, mainly Alzheimer’s disease. Controlling for other risk factors, those participants who began the study with higher glucose levels (though outside the realm of diabetes) had about an 18 percent greater risk of developing dementia than those with lower levels. A similar pattern emerged among those with diabetes.
Because the study simply tracked people, we cannot be sure whether lowering blood sugar levels would help treat or prevent dementia. Still, given the relationship, reducing the risk of diabetes through lifestyle adjustments is warranted. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are important ways to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and control blood pressure. We encourage all of our clients and community members to adopt healthy behaviors that support long, happy and healthy lives.
Tips for Managing the Behavioral Changes of Alzheimer’s
Although providing care for an elderly parent or loved one with Alzheimer’s can be rewarding, some days can be more challenging than others. It can be difficult and heartbreaking to watch a loved one become increasingly dependent on others as the disease progresses. Behavioral problems are a common symptom of dementia, particularly in the later stages. The behavior is typically not deliberate but an expression of an unmet need or mistaken perception. We would like to share some tips to help caregivers better manage the behavioral changes that many seniors with Alzheimer’s experience.
- Keep routines simple and consistent. Seniors with Alzheimer’s are not able to adapt to changing environments or routines well. Try to keep things simple, consistent and familiar to reduce confusion. Being able to provide care to your loved one in his or her home where he or she is most comfortable and safe can greatly increase quality of life.
- Use the ABC Method. Record what happens before, after and during problem behaviors and then review your notes after a week to identify common triggers and responses that help lessen the behavior. Once you identify the circumstances that lead to a particular problem behavior, you will want to try to modify them to lessen or stop the behavior.
- Reduce or remove potential stressors. Make tasks more manageable by breaking them down into a series of steps. Loud or unidentifiable noises, large groups of unfamiliar people, shadowy lighting, garish or highly contrasting colors, and patterned wallpaper can create agitation and disorientation so try to avoid them.
- Communicate clearly. Speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone. Ask simple, yes or no questions rather than open-ended questions. If your loved one doesn’t understand you the first time, try being more specific, avoiding idiomatic expressions and vague pronouns. Try your best to avoid using words and gestures that have previously made your elderly loved one lash out.
- Distract or redirect the behavior. If your loved one becomes particularly agitated or aggressive, distract by engaging him or her in a different task such as folding the laundry or reminiscing—remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. If the behavior would be acceptable in a different context, try to channel the focus to a place or object that won’t be a problem.
- Be patient, kind and loving. Getting anxious or upset in response to problem behaviors can increase stress or agitation in your loved one. Respond to the emotion or need being communicated by the behavior, not the behavior itself. Remember that your loved one cannot reflect on his or her unacceptable behavior so don’t confront or try to discuss it.
For more tips on how to care for a senior with Alzheimer’s or for help with care, contact Home Care Assistance today. We can match your loved one with one of our caregivers who is professionally trained in best practices in dementia care.
Coping with Remote Caregiver Guilt
Guilt is an emotion many family caregivers feel as they try to balance multiple roles including full-time employee, parent, friend, child and caregiver. For those who live far away from their aging loved ones, guilt can be particularly intense. As an advocate for family caregivers, we would like to share some tips to alleviate this potentially destructive emotion:
- Acknowledge and accept. It is important to note that it’s okay and actually quite normal to have these feelings.
- Set reasonable limits. Be realistic about what you can do and fill in the gaps by reaching out to other family members, friends or a professional in-home care agency. If another family member is functioning as the primary caregiver, offer support in any way you can, whether it be financially or emotionally.
- Foster your relationship. While you may not be able to visit your loved one in-person as much as you would like, technology can help you reduce that geographical gap. Set up regular phone calls, exchange emails, write letters or video chat sessions to share family news and maintain your relationship as a son or daughter, not just a caregiver.
- Utilize available support groups. Contact your loved one’s local Area Agency on Aging or religious organization for resources on community outreach and senior centers that can provide outside companionship, social stimulation and support. This will give you peace of mind and can supplement the care the primary caregiver is providing.
Don’t let guilt get in the way of precious, meaningful time with your loved one. For more information about our services and how our online Family Status portal can keep you up to date on the care your loved one is receiving from anywhere in the world, contact us today.
Caregiver of the Month Spotlight: Sierra Downing
September’s Caregiver of the Month is Sierra Downing from Home Care Assistance of Washington! One of the very first caregivers to be hired in Seattle, Sierra is truly passionate about changing the way the world ages. “Sierra is incredibly talented and hardworking,” says Anna Davis, Regional Director of Home Care Assistance Washington. “She has a huge heart and all her clients rave about her.”
Born in Germany, Sierra spent the majority of her childhood living around the world (Spain and Hawaii are two of her favorites), as her father was in the army. She currently lives in Federal Way, Washington.
Sierra became a caregiver after she graduated from high school, and she hasn’t looked back since. Before coming to Home Care Assistance, Sierra worked as an aide for mentally disabled adults. Although it was a tough job, she found it to be very rewarding, which speaks to her compassionate nature. She joined Home Care Assistance in order to continue to advance her skills as a caregiver. She is a certified CNA and is currently working on her B.A. in psychology with plans to obtain an advanced degree in social work.
Sierra loves being a caregiver because it gives her the opportunity to meet people from all different walks of life. The best part of her job, she says, is that moment when she earns a client’s trust. She explains, “It is such an honor and a reward in itself when your clients allow you into their homes, and their lives…especially during such a vulnerable time for them.”
As a caregiver and a student, Sierra doesn’t have much free time. But when she does get a chance to relax, she likes spending quality time with her friends and family, hiking, traveling, and going to church.
We so appreciate Sierra and all the great work she does for Home Care Assistance. She truly is an inspiration. Thank you Sierra!