Help available locally for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, caregivers

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Lorie Neddow-Fukey, co-owner of Sunny Shores Adult Foster Care (AFC) home, assists residents Barb Phalen and Dixie Neddow with puzzles at the shared dining table. The AFC home is able to accommodate six tenants while providing a home-like environment. AFC is one consideration for the elderly when they are unable to live on their own.

ESCANABA — The definition of Alzheimer’s disease in the dictionary is “a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain” — but it is so much more.

Alzheimer’s eventually steals away independence, recognition and memories. Persons affected by Alzheimer’s may not recognize family and friends. Their personality can change from a demure person to one of hostility. The spouse of someone with Alzheimer’s may see the changes long before anyone else.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is hard to hear. There is no cure at this time and the steps along the path from first being diagnosed to the end are difficult. The sooner the diagnosis is accepted by all, the better for the diagnosed person and family and friends.

After someone is diagnosed with the disease it is common to wonder what is the next step.

Jake Bilodeau, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter – Upper Peninsula, instructs people to get informed about the disease and enter a support group. The Alzheimer’s Association runs a 24/7 help-line, 1-800-272-3900.

“It’s important for Yoopers to know we’re here,” said Bilodeau. “We’re here for the caregivers also. Alzheimer’s takes a toll on the ones caring for the diagnosed person.”

Bilodeau is often asked by the children of a parent diagnosed if they will inherit the disease.

“What does that do for me? I hear quite often,” said Bilodeau. “I have to tell them there is no slam dunk test.”

Rachelle Connon works with the U.P. Health System Rehab Services clinic in Marquette as an occupational therapist and driving rehab specialist. Connon works with a team to diagnose patients having cognition problems. Once the memory rehab clinic receives a reference from the physician, an appointment is made for the patient to visit the clinic for evaluation.

“We test cognitive and physical skills during the clinical assessment and I provide the recommendations to the doctor,” Connon said.

“We evaluate the function and balance of the body, and how they manage money and use those skills,” said Connon. “There is a kitchen set up in the clinic to assess the patient’s actions in the kitchen environment. The recommendations sometime boil down to safety issues.”

Connon admits asking a parent for their car keys is a tricky task. After a driving evaluation is performed and it shows the patient should not drive any longer, Connon will bring the results of the assessment to the physician. The patient will be asked to retest at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Connon does not take anyone’s license away.

Jenny Koivisto works with Connon as a speech language pathologist and a certified brain injury specialist. Koivisto helps communication between the family and the patient, increases success at mealtime and uses memory techniques to assist the patient with cognitive issues.

“Jenny works with speech, language, swallowing and the patient’s ability to articulate,” said Connon. “She will ask the patient to read and show they understand what they are reading, plus express on paper, not only verbally.”

A social worker may get involved to help the family sort through the onslaught of information. They may need information on an adult day care establishment, or equipment needed to keep the loved one at home longer. The social worker can help by providing information on financial resources.

A family caregiver sees the best and worst in their loved one when caring for them at home. If a family member cannot be a caregiver, there are other options — assisted living, adult day care, adult foster care, nursing homes.

An adult foster care home (AFC) is a type of system that houses a small number of adults that can no longer live on their own in a group home. A caregiver is in the home 24 hours each day to assist the adults when needed. Care is typically non-medical. The Sunny Shores Adult Foster Care home in Gladstone is an example of a home-like environment. Owned by Lorie Neddow-Fukey and John Fukey, the AFC provides an atmosphere of togetherness with shared living and dining areas.

“We provide a clean, safe and secure environment,” said Neddow-Fukey. “It’s home for the elders living here. They are comfortable here and consider this to be their residence.”

Neddow-Fukey said families of the elderly tell her how the residents think of the AFC home as their own home.

“The majority of the residents here have some type of dementia” Neddow-Fukey said. “We have one resident who had her 99 birthday the other day, and she’s sharp as a whip.”

There is a slight difference between an AFC home and an assisted living building. Assisted living establishments care for more residents than an AFC home. The care providers normally live in the AFC home with the residents.

Jaime Roshak, supervisor at the Gary Abrahamson Jr. Memory Care Center in Escanaba, takes in guests that have dementia, diagnosed by a physician. The adult day services (ADS) center helps caregivers get a well deserved break from their duties.

“We provide a safe place for people with dementia,” said Roshak. “Our schedule is Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays. We run many activities each day to encourage independence. We do not administer medications.”

The ADS is supported by the Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Community Action Agency Senior Services Program.

“Once a month there is a support group here from 2 to 3 p.m. on the second Tuesday,” Roshak said.

“I started in a nursing home and became an assistant activities director in the activities department. I became attached to the people in the nursing home and was sad when they passed on. I thought I couldn’t do it anymore,” said Roshak. “Then I saw the families, and they told me how I helped their loved ones and then I realized, this was the job for me.”

There are different stages of caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s, early, middle and late. The stage someone is in could determine the best option for the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The early stage of caregiving, or being a care partner, is to support the loved one and help plan for the future.

The middle stage of caregiving requires a greater level of care for the loved one. When the loved one with Alzheimer’s is in the late stage of the disease they usually require intensive care, and the caregiver should focus on preserving their quality of life and dignity.

There is a possibility to get paid as a caregiver.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. Other types of dementia are,

– Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a type of dementia that is rare and gets worse unusually fast.

– Lewy Body dementia (third most common), a progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function.

– Frontotemporal dementia, disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes.

– Huntington’s Disease, a progressive brain disorder that changes the central area of the brain which affect movement, mood and thinking skills.

– Mixed dementia or Dementia-multifactorial, when more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously.

– Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, is excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulated in the brain’s ventricle, causing thinking and reasoning problems, difficulty walking and loss of bladder control.

– Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a gradual and progressive degeneration of the outer layer of the cortex in the back of the head.

– Parkinson’s Disease dementia, an impairment in thinking and reasoning that affects people with Parkinson’s Disease.

– Vascular dementia, a decline in thinking skills caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.

-Korsakoff Syndrome, a chronic memory disorder caused by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1).

Key lifestyle habits never too late to love your brain –

– Get the body moving to increase blood flow through the brain and body.

– Learn new things, a formal education, like a college class.

– Smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline – quit.

– Doing things to take care of you heart also takes care of the brain.

– Brain injuries raise the risk, use a helmet, seat belt and take steps to reduce falls.

– Eat right.

– Get enough sleep.

– Manage stress and go to the doctor with any mental health concerns.

– Stay social and involved in your community.

– Activate your mind with games, puzzles, putting a piece of furniture together, are all activities that provides short and long term benefits.

Last but not least.

“Water your brain,” said Connon.


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