Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s Disease

Join the Fight

Vantage Point: Join the Fight

As days go by, we never really notice change until we sit down to reminisce and look back at our past. Every couple of years, I look back at old family pictures and home videos and realize how much has changed. This triggers memories and further discussion on that particular time in my life.

As we go through our lives, we meet so many people. It can be hard to remember all their names, well at least for me, but I always remember faces for some reason. I love to see people I remember, even if I don’t quite remember their names.

In this line of work, I get to see so many people with different backgrounds, and unfortunately, with different illnesses. When I first encountered Alzheimer’s disease, I wasn’t sure how to approach it or even how to act. It was not an obvious sign. Instead, it was very subtle. I really had to pay attention and see the different demeanor this person had.

After that encounter, I started to do my research on what happens when a person gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I came across the Alzheimer’s Association. I learned so much on its website and realized how Alzheimer’s is so common. Did you know that Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States? The disease also accounts for 60–80% of all dementia cases.

This illness takes away so many of our loved ones, neighbors, and friends. So what is being done? How can we stop this terrible disease from taking so many memories away? One thing to keep in mind if you are going through this, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association has walks all over the county each year to raise awareness and funds for the research of an Alzheimer’s cure. The main reason for the walk is Alzheimer’s care, support, and research.

Here in the Wenatchee Valley, the walk will take place on September 8, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at Pybus Public Market. In Grant County, the walk will be September 15, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at Moses Lake High School. The Yakima walk will also take place September 15, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at Sarg Hubbard Park.

To join the fight, join the Alzheimer’s Association at one of these walks. It’s an opportunity to be the change and the voice for those who are no longer with us.

 Jessica Arroyo, born and raised in the Wenatchee Valley, is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off, she enjoys spending time with her husband and infant son.

Remember September

Long View: Remember September

Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh-so-mellow.

Many of you may remember this Andy Williams song from years ago. For me, it rekindled some fond memories of a younger time. Did you read the lyrics, or sing them (as I did)?

September is a time when we welcome autumn and say so long to summer. Living in the Midwest for most of my life, I love the change of seasons, especially this one! The shades of nature are a mixture of both summer and fall.

It’s a fun time in fashion when colors start to pop as wardrobes transition. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear plum opaque tights with a pastel-colored summer frock, a cozy navy sweatshirt with those favorite khaki shorts, or even a pair of gray light wool pants with some snazzy, strappy sandals! (Is white OK after Labor Day these days?)

One of the most prominent colors of the season that you will see displayed this month is purple. Did you know that purple is the official color of the Alzheimer’s movement?

September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and here at Health Alliance, we participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in many of our communities throughout Illinois. These wonderful walks are intended to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for care, support, and research. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease that progressively and slowly destroys a person’s memory and mental skills to the point of not being able to carry out the simplest task.

Finding a cure for this disease is the focus of Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and developing prevention along with treatment is part of the process. Check out the dates and towns for the 2018 walks near you. It’s a nationwide annual event, with more than 600 communities across the United States participating.

There are many way to help, even if you don’t want to walk. Take your first step and go the official website at Act.ALZ.org/Walk.

Here are some of the 2018 local walks where you may spot Health Alliance:

  • Champaign – September 22
  • Decatur – October 6
  • Mattoon – September 29
  • Bloomington/Normal – September 15
  • Peoria – October 13
  • Rockford – September 15
  • Springfield – September 22

Come up with your own transitional outfit to wear (maybe add a splash of purple,) and hope to see you at a walk!

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Tough Talks to Plan for the Future

Covered Bridge: Tough Talks Now Can Save Hurt Feelings Later

Have you ever noticed how much stuff you have packed in your house? It seems to have a life of its own! There was a point where I thought, “If I bring one more thing home, something will pop out of a window.” The thought of moving with all these treasures in tow is daunting.

Now imagine if you had to do so without notice or against your wishes. That would be a nightmare.

Sadly, I remember that a few short years ago, when my grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his primary care doctor told him and my grandmother that it was time to downsize from their 4-bedroom home on 15 acres in the country to something a little more manageable.

He felt a part of his independence was being taken from him. But fortunately for him, being newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he had a little more say in his plans for the future.

I am sure some of you have older friends and family members who could find themselves in that situation or worse. At some point, they might not have a say in their future and need to transition suddenly from independent living to a group or assisted-living facility, whether the move is short-term or permanent.

It seems that talking about this tough situation ahead of time could save everyone a lot of pain later.

There are some early signs that it is time to talk about moving options. A change might be in order if they have trouble getting dressed or making their own food. Sudden changes in behavior or severe forgetfulness are more alarming and require fast action to protect your loved one.

Help your friends or loved ones have this conversation with their primary care doctors to assess their needs and their next steps and to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible.

There you have it. And it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to plan for the future by simplifying our lives and possessions as we go along!

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she is a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning, and technology.

Technology Improving Seniors' Lives

Vantage Point: Technology Helps Seniors Stay Independent

We all want to stay as independent as possible, and that is especially true as we age. Most adults want to age in place, which means aging comfortably in their own home. Luckily, we live in the technology age, and staying independent as we age is totally possible with some cool gadgets!

  • Automatic pill reminders – There are many options to help you take your medications safely and consistently.

    I’ve seen some models that attach to the pill bottle as the lid. The lid reminds you with an alarm that you or a loved one can program, and the lid also keeps track of when the last medications were taken.

    I’ve also seen some models that keep the pills locked until a certain time, and then unlock with an alarm to remind you.

    Another option might be one of the talking clocks that are out there. A loved one can program its recordings to remind you to take your medications.

  • House-cleaning robots – There are house-cleaning robots that can make things like vacuuming and cleaning your floors a lot easier.

    This is a great idea for those that find housework to be exhausting or hard to accomplish because of ability or illness.

  • Safety devices – There are many personal emergency response systems out there for you to choose from. They range from bands that you wear on your wrists that let you signal for help to full-on camera systems that can be installed to let your family monitor you.

    There are also sensors that can be attached to the objects that you use the most. Then, if something seems amiss or out-of-routine for you, your loved ones can be alerted to check in on you.

    Most of these safety systems can be viewed or managed on a smartphone.

  • Just plain cool GPS shoes – There are shoes out now that are able to keep people dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who may have the potential to wander, safe.

    A safe area is set up for the person, and if they go outside of that boundary, an alert is sent to their loved ones.

These gadgets are just a few of the vast options available to help you stay home and live independently longer.

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwest, serving Yakima County. She is a homegrown girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world. When not attending community events or providing Medicare education throughout the Valley, she can be found indulging in her hobbies of homesteading, pioneer cooking, and learning new survival techniques. She also has a strong love for all things Halloween.

Surviving the Sandwich Generation

Vantage Point: The Importance of Support While in the Sandwich Generation

My husband and I are starting to talk about future property purchases, which has led to many conversations about what we would want in a house or property. I want land. He wants something that he doesn’t have to fix up. Our conversations have swung from a giant, ridiculous wish list to then coming back to reality about what’s on that wish list.

One theme that I’ve been consistent with in all of our talks is that I want a place to take care of my parents when they get older in the future. This is so true for my mother, as her family has often lived into their 90s.

This notion of caring for them on my property has been solidified even further with how unsure Medicare is, how expensive the healthcare system is, and the fact that I want them to have the best care while staying close to family. I figure I can achieve this by buying a property that’s big enough to parcel out a place for my parents.

I haven’t really thought of all the logistics, but the plan is stuck in my mind, and it’s framing what kind of property and home I want. This type of thinking has also led to conversations with my father about what he thinks they would like and need, if and when the time comes for them to sell their home and live with us.

When this happens, if not a little before, I’ll officially be smack dab in the classification of the sandwich generation, the people who are responsible for not only caring for their own kids, but also for their aging parents. According to the CDC, as of 2008, there were 34 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States. I’m sure that figure is much higher now.

I saw my mother do this with her mother, so I’m not afraid of the season when it comes; I just want to be prepared. Being prepared means thinking now about what will make life easier for all of us in the future.

It’s also about knowing and looking out for the pitfalls. I’ve heard from many others that this season of life can be so rewarding while you’re in it, but it can also be very taxing, so it’s important to be extra vigilant in taking care of yourself. In order to keep loving others, we have to keep loving ourselves.

This means that sometimes you need a break! This break could be a spa day, a long walk, a furious cardio kickboxing session, or just talking to others who are in similar situations. It takes a village, right?!

I’ve compiled a list of some support groups for those who are in this situation. Some support groups are local, and some are virtual, but they are all there as resources for support. And if you want something more local that fits what you’re going through, you can always start your own support group. There are tons of advice and tips online on how to make a new group successful. I think the best advice I saw when researching this article was to keep it simple and to feel accomplished even if only 1 or 2 people show up.

Local Support Groups

Memorial Hospital’s support groups

Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Support Groups

Granger – For Spanish-Speaking Caregivers – Starting Soon
Estela Ochoa
Call 206-529-3877 before attending for location, time, and further details.

Yakima – For Caregivers
Location: St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church
4105 Richey Rd.
Yakima, WA 98908
Meeting Time: 2nd Thursday of the month, 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Contact Elaine Krump at 509-969-3615 before attending.

Yakima – For Spanish-Speaking Families
Call Manuel at 509-833-3334 before attending for location, time, and further details.

Online Support Groups

Caring.com has a broad list of caregiving groups for you to choose from. Access to these groups requires a free member account.

AgingCare.com has some groups for you to choose from, and you don’t have to become a member to access these groups.

Caregiving.com has online caregiving support groups, daily caregiving chats, and blogs written by family caregivers.

 

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwest, serving Yakima County. She is a homegrown girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world. When not attending community events or providing Medicare education throughout the Valley, she can be found indulging in her hobbies of homesteading, pioneer cooking, and learning new survival techniques. She also has a strong love for all things Halloween.

Life in Grey Dementia

Vantage Point: A Glimpse into Dementia

“It only takes 20 minutes,” Melissa Knott, community relations coordinator for Highgate Senior Living in Wenatchee, told us as she invited Erin Cass, Mary Brandt, and me to participate in a sensory experience called the Virtual Dementia Tour.

Little did we know that the simulation, which helps family members and caregivers understand the overwhelming effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, would be an unforgettable and personally revealing experience.

Since I’d learned about the tour beforehand, I thought I knew what to expect as I was outfitted and given instructions, but I was not prepared for my brain to go into survival mode as I entered the room. I hunched as I felt my world shrink, and I tried to look purposeful, even though I’d instantly forgotten some of the simple tasks assigned to me. I felt no impulse to smile, interact with Mary or Erin, or feel anything but a narrow, tunnel-like focus.

It was hard to imagine that just the night before, I was riding a rocket of a horse in a community parade, outwardly waving and laughing. That extroverted person was gone, and in her place was someone who shuffled instead of walked, set the table with a towel instead of a tablecloth, and asked for help but ignored the answer.

Afterward, the facilitator went over how the simulation enhanced each of our unique character traits to give us an intimate, introspective glimpse into what our own life might look like if we were diagnosed. I realized the effects of the disease could make a once big world feel very small, and for someone who’s normally independent and active, how depressing that could become.

Thanking Melissa, the 3 of us started to leave, but Erin turned back. “I need to go see my grandma,” she said, and I wished I could hug mine, who passed long ago from the disease.

As a community liaison for Health Alliance, I have participated in both the Wenatchee and Moses Lake Walks to End Alzheimer’s that advocate a cure and honor loved ones. Much like my virtual experience, these events generate empathy, inspire, and give us the energy to make a difference.

It’s not too early to form a team for a walk in September. Visit alz.org/walk to find a walk near you. And for more information on the Virtual Dementia Tour in North Central Washington, please contact Melissa at Highgate Wenatchee at 509-665-6695 or Laurie at Summerwood Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Moses Lake at 509-764-1900.

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.

Love Story through Alzheimer's

Chasing Health: Member’s Love Story of Caring for Wife with Alzheimer’s

As a writer, I get to interview all kinds of people about all kinds of topics, and sometimes I come across a story that gives me goosebumps.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Cary Ulrich, a member who lives in Washington, for the spring issue of House Calls, one of our Medicare newsletters. This former drafter and current fire photographer was kind enough to share his heartfelt story with me.

Cary’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago and passed away after we published this article. But for nearly three years, Cary was her primary caregiver, a tough task for a person watching someone he loves suffer from a disease that does not yet have a cure.

I don’t know if I could handle it, but Cary did. And he even found a way to make something positive out of it. Today, Cary leads caregiver support groups and is writing a book to capture how grateful he is for the time he spent with the love of his life.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I think it’s the perfect time to share Cary’s story of being grateful while making sacrifices. Maybe it’ll inspire you to join the cause to end Alzheimer’s or thank a caregiver.

Take a Minute to Care about Caregivers

Cary Ulrich, a second-year Health Alliance Medicare member, likes a challenge. The one-time drafter and surveyor at an engineering firm went from designing layouts for Wenatchee Valley’s buildings and subdivisions to taking photos on the frontlines of wildfires.

The toughest challenge he faced wasn’t learning the art of drafting by hand before the drafting world went digital, and it wasn’t going out on his first fire call to take pictures of people putting their lives on the line to save others. It wasn’t even a challenge he enjoyed, but it was his most important, being a caregiver for one of the people he loves most, his wife.

Sharon Ulrich was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (a type of dementia) after showing some confusing symptoms, like having visions of everything from Old English-style visitors to spies and people trying to break into her home.

At first, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Was it depression? Dementia? And if she had dementia, what kind was it? At 63 years old, she seemed too young for that.

While doctors looked for answers, Cary stayed by his wife’s side. From her earliest symptoms and first diagnosis in March 2010 to moving her to an adult home in February 2013, Cary was a caregiver. And he quickly learned that being a caregiver can take its own toll.

“I was on the outside going through everything,” he says. “I was very frustrated and angry at the situation, not at her. I had all those feelings, and no one seemed to care about me.”

He watched his wife’s health get worse while knowing he couldn’t help her get better. The woman who’d walked past his back-row church pew almost two decades ago, the one he thought was way too classy to ever even talk to him, now needed him to be her caregiver.

Cary and Sharon

“It’s a hard process,” he says. “I don’t exactly know how I did it, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve had to let go of what was and just totally accept her for the person she is now.”

Cary never backed down. Instead, he used his experience of caring for a loved one with dementia to help others do the same, turning his negative situation into something positive.

Today, Cary helps run two caregiver support groups, one specific to dementia at the Grief Place of North Central Washington and a more general one at Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington in East Wenatchee. In both groups, Cary gives support and tips to other caregivers because he believes it will help them feel better and make smarter choices about their own loved ones.

“The more you know when these things happen, the more you can kind of accept them,” he says. “You know you’re going to have to change because your loved one has changed and can’t go back the other way.”

He also talks to nursing classes at Wenatchee Valley College and to first responders in different fire districts to help them know how to work with people with dementia and the family and friends who care for them.

Cary takes on other challenges, too, like helping put on the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Wenatchee. Last year, he lined up sponsors, set up, and took photos for the 2-mile event that raised money and awareness.

Wenatchee's Walk to End Alzheimer's

Cary’s selflessness shines through in everything he does, and the man who likes to take on challenges and still goes out on fire calls hopes to make caregivers’ lives less challenging in the future.

“As a caregiver, you have the memories of what was, but all you have is what is. It’s a very difficult place to be. I know what these caregivers are going through, though. And I want them to know they are valued and can still enjoy life.”

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