Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

As the adult children of aging parents most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Often when a person over 45 or so has difficulty remembering something, he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, a few years later, it happens at least once a day. I make the comment, too, though I am trying to stop saying it.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a February 9, 2010 Washington Post article, Memory Lapses Are Common and Increase with Age; When Do They Signal Alzheimer’s? As we get older, our brains become less efficient and we store information less effectively.

My husband's mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

My husband’s mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

However, now that I have watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia I feel my forgetfulness more intensely. As my mother-in-law’s continued experience  more severe dementia symptoms, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Just about every person occasionally worried about the potential for dementia in the future. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke that the senior moment comment implies.           Continue reading

Should Physicians Ask Fragile Elders About Guns in Their Homes?

Some time ago I read a newspaper article written by an elderly man who was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was doing much of her care at home, and his article spoke of their history, how they had met, his family, and much more about their life together. He was sad but upbeat. A few months later, in the same paper I read an obituary for that man who had shot his wife and committed suicide.

The two articles, juxtaposed, made me feel great sadness. It drove home to me just how helpless and depressed people become — especially those who had great control over their lives — when confronted by a family member who has one of the dementia brain diseases.

The July 9, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a journal commentary, Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians, recommending that physicians evaluate an elder’s firearms risk just like they evaluate other risks such as driving and living alone. The author, Marshall B. Kapp, JD, MPH, points out that the “use of firearms, has become the most common suicide method for both geriatric men and women.”

The Recommendations in the Article?                Continue reading

New Yorker Article on New Models of Long-term Elder Care

This is the issue where the article appeared.

This is the issue where the article appeared.

If you can locate a copy of The New Yorker May 20, 2013 article The Sense of An Ending by Rebecca Mead, it’s well worth reading because of its focus on new models of providing care to fragile elders with dementia illnesses in nursing homes. The article extensively describes the Beatitudes Campus in Arizona, but it also mentions The Green House Project and the Pioneer Network. The Beatitudes model and The Green House Project  share many approaches.

So I was excited during dinner with friends last month when one of the people at the table, a neurologist, mentioned The New Yorker article, saying how excited he was to learn about new models that completely change the way we deliver care  to fragile elders, especially those with memory impairments. After he spoke at length about the article — which I had not read yet — I shared information and my blog posts about the new Woodland Park Green Houses in Harrisonburg, VA. Our physician friend seemed really eager to learn a lot more.

I”ve spent the past several years learning as much as I can about The Green House Project, primarily because my parents live at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), where the Woodland Park community recently welcomed new residents. However, I’ve been so focused on this small Virginia project (but huge in spirit and dedication) that I’ve not thought much about how people can share information on the amazing changes that are taking place in long-term nursing care.

Certainly educating neurologists — the physicians all over the country who provide medical care to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and who may, in the long run, be asked for their thoughts on the types of memory care that are available to families is a path to consider.

Innovation During the Coming Epidemic of Memory Impairment

MGH Russell Museum 3

The Museum of Medical History and Innovation in Boston

I just finished reading How to Defeat Alzheimer’s, a May 28, 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times. The article, by David Shubert, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, reminds readers of the vast number of boomers who will experience memory impairments (14 million in 2050) at the end of their lives, requiring extensive medical and caregiving support. No cure is in sight, not even that many hopeful signs for possible cure, and research is not keeping up. Dr. Shubert offers some “out-of-the-box” ideas to move along the study of dementia diseases.

As a member of the sandwich generation — I have a married adult daughter and aging parents — I am aware of the challenges that Alzheimer’s and dementia may present for my parents, for my generation, including me, and for young adults who will likely observe a fair number of their relatives passing through various stages of brain impairment. Yet, with so many people moving inexorably toward dementia illnesses, the situation also offers an opportunity for researchers to learn more than ever before and get answers to at least a few of the unanswered questions. The boomer generation may become a sentinel cohort that helps medical researchers find some answers to Alzheimer’s. Continue reading

Sharing Bible Study With Residents at VMRC’s Woodland Park

Front entrance with its own address -- just like any other home.

Check out the new Green House Homes @ Woodland Park.

My father, a retired minister, and my mother are leading a short Bible study once a week at Woodland Park, Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community’s (VMRC), newly opened  Green House Homes. The weekly activity is engaging and fun for mom and dad, and they enjoy sharing scripture as well as music with the group members. Most of the participants who choose to attend are physically fragile and some also have significant memory loss.

Each Thursday my parents bring a lesson, as much as possible, from the weekly lectionary — the three-year cycle of Bible readings that corresponds with the events of the Christian church liturgical year. Many ministers base their Sunday sermons on these readings, and many churches schedule their Bible study groups to help members learn more about the lectionary passages prior to the Sunday service when the passages are read during worship.

At the Woodland Park Bible study sessions my parents just about always read a Psalm. Dad chooses the next reading based on how well-known and familiar it is, because the participants are increasingly engaged when they recognize the story, and some may even share a thought or two after hearing the passage read aloud. With this group familiarity with a passage is more important than any one lectionary passage.

Music and hymn singing become more central each time my parents lead a session, since just about every member of the group seems to automatically remember words to many of the old-time favorite hymns. Continue reading

Dementia Among Inmates Poses a Growing Challenge for Prisons

Read the entire article at The Guardian.

Below is a three-paragraph excerpt from an April 12, 2013 report by Adam Moll, a compelling look at the aging prison population and the increasing amounts of geriatric medical care that must be provided to inmates.

Dementia is not a condition associated with incarceration, yet a demographic shift is challenging the very nature of prisons. In England and Wales, male offenders aged 50 or above are the fastest growing group in prison, rising by 74% in the past decade to close to 10,000, 11% of the total prison population. The over-60s population has increased eight-fold since 1990.

This transformation, primarily driven by decades of punitive sentencing policy from politicians falling over each other to appear “tough on crime”, is exacerbated by an accelerated ageing process experienced by many offenders, a combination of the health risks associated with criminal lifestyles and the psychological strains of prison life.

Most Interesting Quote

The United States, where legislation has been particularly draconian, is facing the genuine prospect of its prisons becoming the biggest single providers of geriatric care in the next thirty years.