Understanding memory loss

Alex is an ex-travelling salesman who for years called his wife every night from the road to express his love for her. In his old age Alex developed dementia and would act out nightly, making repetitive requests for “a line”. Health care professionals at Alex’s convalescent home didn’t understand his outbursts until they conducted a role-playing exercise and realized his demand for “a line” was his way of requesting a phone to call his wife, like he did so many years ago. Once this was understood, nurses in his facility started bringing him a phone every night after dinner, which quickly ended his emotional outbursts and eventually led to him being taken off all medication.

What was at one point considered to be a normal phase of the aging process, dementia is now understood as a very serious disease that requires acute medical attention to deal with the physical and emotional trauma it causes. Jessica Wapner’s article, People, not patients, published in the July/ August issue of The Intelligent Optimist tells Alex’s story and examines the subject of dementia and the recent scientific findings that show the cognitive abilities of dementia patients might be higher than previously thought.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the medical approach to patients suffering from dementia was basic, to keep patients clean and fed while managing their behavior through the use of medication. Often ignoring behavioral patterns and outbursts from patients with dementia because they weren’t understandable, and thought to be meaningless. New research into dementia has shown that the behavioral patterns and cognitive abilities of patients who suffer from dementia are vastly different than previously understood. Medical professionals have realized that emotional outbursts and spatial awareness of patients with dementia have just as much meaning as when seen in patients without dementia.

Dementia can be harder for patient’s families to go through than it can be for the patient itself because it is so emotionally taxing to watch a loved one lose their cognitive abilities. Olivia Hoblitzelle, author of Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows, learned first hand what it was like to see a family member fall into the depths of dementia when her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 78. Hoblitzelle’s book follows her husband through his progression of Alzheimer’s and offers 10 tips for family members who are coping with a loved one suffering from dementia. Below is a summary of 5 of Hoblitzelle’s 10 tips:

1)   Accepting the disease, though scary, will help you tolerate the sadness it brings.

2)   Seek help from any outlet available- friends, family, dementia organizations, etc.

3)   Continually converse with the person suffering from dementia. Understand that it is you who must initiate the conversation.

4)   People suffering from dementia forget things. Constantly reassure and validate the things they do right.

5)   Keep telling positive stories of past experiences shared between yourself and the person suffering from dementia.

It is hard to watch anyone fall into the depths of dementia and though there is no cure, one of the best ways to prevent dementia, and slow the progression of the disease is to stimulate a patient’s mind. Using mental exercise can be therapeutic for people with dementia, a way for you to prevent the disease, and a bonding mechanism for you and your friend or family member. Slowly progressing diseases like dementia can cause the most heartache, but being with a loved one and remembering the memories you both shared can do wonders for your heart and mind. 

Did you get your free issue of the Intelligent Optimist?  Click here for a free download.

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Understanding memory loss

Alex is an ex-travelling salesman who for years called his wife every night from the road to express his love for her. In his old age Alex developed dementia and would act out nightly, making repetitive requests for “a line”. Health care professionals at Alex’s convalescent home didn’t understand his outbursts until they conducted a role-playing exercise and realized his demand for “a line” was his way of requesting a phone to call his wife, like he did so many years ago. Once this was understood, nurses in his facility started bringing him a phone every night after dinner, which quickly ended his emotional outbursts and eventually led to him being taken off all medication.

What was at one point considered to be a normal phase of the aging process, dementia is now understood as a very serious disease that requires acute medical attention to deal with the physical and emotional trauma it causes. Jessica Wapner’s article, People, not patients, published in the July/ August issue of The Intelligent Optimist tells Alex’s story and examines the subject of dementia and the recent scientific findings that show the cognitive abilities of dementia patients might be higher than previously thought.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the medical approach to patients suffering from dementia was basic, to keep patients clean and fed while managing their behavior through the use of medication. Often ignoring behavioral patterns and outbursts from patients with dementia because they weren’t understandable, and thought to be meaningless. New research into dementia has shown that the behavioral patterns and cognitive abilities of patients who suffer from dementia are vastly different than previously understood. Medical professionals have realized that emotional outbursts and spatial awareness of patients with dementia have just as much meaning as when seen in patients without dementia.

Dementia can be harder for patient’s families to go through than it can be for the patient itself because it is so emotionally taxing to watch a loved one lose their cognitive abilities. Olivia Hoblitzelle, author of Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows, learned first hand what it was like to see a family member fall into the depths of dementia when her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 78. Hoblitzelle’s book follows her husband through his progression of Alzheimer’s and offers 10 tips for family members who are coping with a loved one suffering from dementia. Below is a summary of 5 of Hoblitzelle’s 10 tips:

1)   Accepting the disease, though scary, will help you tolerate the sadness it brings.

2)   Seek help from any outlet available- friends, family, dementia organizations, etc.

3)   Continually converse with the person suffering from dementia. Understand that it is you who must initiate the conversation.

4)   People suffering from dementia forget things. Constantly reassure and validate the things they do right.

5)   Keep telling positive stories of past experiences shared between yourself and the person suffering from dementia.

It is hard to watch anyone fall into the depths of dementia and though there is no cure, one of the best ways to prevent dementia, and slow the progression of the disease is to stimulate a patient’s mind. Using mental exercise can be therapeutic for people with dementia, a way for you to prevent the disease, and a bonding mechanism for you and your friend or family member. Slowly progressing diseases like dementia can cause the most heartache, but being with a loved one and remembering the memories you both shared can do wonders for your heart and mind. 

Did you get your free issue of the Intelligent Optimist?  Click here for a free download.

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