Chances are someone in your circle of family/friends has Alzheimer’s. While seniors enjoy extended life expectancy, Alzheimer’s numbers rise alongside. For those who live past 65, one in five women and one in ten men will develop it. Every five years thereafter the likelihood of contracting it doubles. It ranks sixth in cause of death. Staggering statistics.
While Alzheimer’s can occur earlier in life, it’s seniors who are most vulnerable and have the greatest risk of getting it. If you forget where you left your car keys, you don’t have Alzheimer’s. If you forget you own a car, you probably do have it or some form of dementia caused by vascular issues (stroke, heart attack, blocked blood vessels).
Dr. Mike Parmer, who’s practiced more than three decades, the last 17 of which were exclusively in hospice, is palliative medical board certified in both hospice and family practice. He says, “Alzheimer’s is a disease that eats away at the brain. Think of Swiss cheese. Tiny holes develop in the present memory. Over time there are more holes than cheese. Memories are forever lost. This deterioration typically builds over 3-11 years depending upon the degree and progression.”
Is there a cure?
Dr. Parmer says not yet. There is medication, which is effective for about two years. Thereafter, there is no sign of improvement. Are there preventative measures? While we don’t have definitive guidelines, the usual practices can’t hurt and might help: eat well; exercise often; use your brain daily by reading, playing games and activities that involve problem solving.
If you have a loved one presenting with Alzheimer’s symptoms (severe loss of memory, wandering at night, confusion with medications, a gradual and progressive delirium, etc.), it’s time (maybe past time) to get him/her to the doctor for a series of tests that can help diagnose the cause.
If the diagnosis is dementia and the patient’s health and safety are at risk, it’s time to consider a healthcare facility.
One of the finest in the region is Eckerd Living Center. Administrator, Ava Emory, advises, “If the caregiver can’t lift a fallen patient or carry him/her to the shower, if there’s danger of a stove being left on, if the patient wanders and gets lost, for example, the caregiver suffers tremendously. He/she is under constant physical and emotional stress, which can affect not only his/her quality time with the loved one, but the his/her own health.”
Eckerd has a licensed staff in geriatric and dementia care that studies each patient’s history to provide activities that relate to their life, work, hobbies and spiritual needs, for example. Detailed care plans are constantly reviewed and updated. Emory says, “When a patient comes to Eckerd, they generally thrive. Everything we do contributes to extending life.”
Mike Parmer, DO, FAAHPM, is the Medical Director of Post Acute and Palliative Care at CarePartners. Ava Emory is an administrator at Eckerd Living Center.
For more information about Alzheimer’s Awareness and Mission’s role in helping you make timely and challenging choices, contact the Eckerd Living Center at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital at (828) 526-1200.