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Beacon presents dementia program

January 13, 2015
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

About a dozen people turned out last week at Pine Island United Methodist Church to hear Emily Reese, program specialist at the Alz-heimer's Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, speak about living with the middle stage of dementia for caregivers.

In the first of three seminars, attendees learned the symptoms of the disease, communication challenges and effective ways to provide personal care.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.4 million individuals in the United States are living with Alzheimer's disease. Just over 450,000 individuals (nearly 10 percent) are in Florida. It is estimated that in the next 6 years (2020) there will be an additional 510,000 individuals living with AD.

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There are three main stages of Alzheimer's disease: mild, moderate and severe. In mild stage Alzheimer's, people have some memory loss and small changes in their personality. In the middle stage of A.D., memory loss and confusion become more obvious. In severe AD, people need a great deal of help with their daily tasks such as walking.

"The first mission of Gulf Coast Chapter is to provide support for families," Reese said. "Our second mission is to support research to end this disease.

"Over the next three weeks we're going to talk about the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease," she continued. "I want you to have an understanding of the symptoms of middle stage disease. What is characteristic of middle stage is where the disease starts to progress to the point where the caregiver is providing more oversight, verbal cueing, more hands-on intervention."

The middle stage is when the symptoms of memory loss and confusion become more obvious. People have more trouble organizing, planning and following instructions. They may need more help getting dressed and may even have problems with incontinence. They may have problems recognizing family members and friends. They may be confused about what year it is. They may also begin to wander. These symptoms cause a change in the responsibility of caregivers.

"Each person with Alzheimer's disease is very individualized in their symptoms," Reese said. "There is a general framework but it differs from person to person. We do know that as the disease progresses parts of the brain are injured and then destroyed. And as the disease progresses there is more and more effect on the persons daily function and in time they will have trouble understanding."

At this stage it becomes more difficult to maintain the person's self esteem.

"Sometimes when someone is having difficulty getting something done, like putting on a shirt, it just easier to step in and do it for them." Reese said. "But allowing someone to do things themselves, perhaps breaking it down into small parts, it takes more time and more patience but it's better for them. So at this stage the person needs more help with daily care, help with activities, help with communication, eating and even bathing."

Communication is also affected. A person suffering from AD will have trouble finding the right word, understanding the meaning of words, problems paying attention, loss of train of thought, trouble remembering steps (cooking, paying bills, etc.), problems blocking out background noise and becoming frustrated when communicating is no longer working for them.

"It is important for the caregiver to 'connect' with the person with AD by making eye contact, control the loudness of your voice, body language, by encouraging a two-way conversation, use gentle touching to guide the person, and even distracting them with a fun activity," Reese said. "You want to maintain the self esteem of the person with AD."

Structure and routine are important along with modifying activities to meet the person's changing abilities. They may still be able to garden, play games or cook, only as a simpler modified, supervised activity.

When you learn someone you love has AD you may wonder when and how to tell your friends and family.

"In many cases those friends and family are already aware that 'something' is wrong," Reese said. "They may have noticed lapses in memory or difficulty putting phrases together."

Part two of the series will be held at the Methodist Church Monday, Jan. 12. Caregivers will learn about challenging behaviors, wandering, driving and other safety concerns.

In part three, Monday, Jan. 26, caregivers will learn strategies for planning and asking for help, finding in-home services and preparing for out-of-home placement. Coping with feelings of grief will also be addressed.

All three seminars take place at the United Methodist Church, 5701 Pine Island Road, Bokeelia. Lunch is served at 11 a.m. The meeting begins at noon. Please call the Beacon of H.O.P.E. at 283-5123 for additional information. The Methodist Church also provides an Alzheimer's support group.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a booklet "Caring for a person with Alzheimer's Disease your easy-to-use guide from the National Institute on aging." Its website is:

The Alzheimer's Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, serving Lee and Collier counties, is at 9220 Bonita Beach Road, Suite 223, Bonita Springs, FL 34135

The helpline is 1-800-272-3900. You can also visit



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