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Your Mother’s Day Visit – Being The Caregiver

Posted May 08 2009 10:34pm

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

This is Part Two in a two part series about recognizing the signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease so that aging family members can get the help they need.

In Part One,Your Mother’s Day Visit – Seeing Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, I described how Theresa Robaldo recognized the signs of dementia and convinced her family that her grandmother, Lita Baker, needed treatment. And, when Lina was no longer able to live alone, Theresa became Lita’s loving, full-time caregiver.

Mother’s Day offers the perfect time to share our appreciation and love with elderly family members. It also offers an opportunity to look for signs that your Mom (or Grandma) needs help.

Dementia is difficult to understand and even more difficult to discuss. Before you take Mom out to dinner on Sunday, check out the resources on YouCanBeTheOne.com. It is an easy-to-read website filled with information and tools to help you talk with your loved one, your family and the doctor about the signs you are seeing.

In addition to sharing her thoughts about the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, Lita’s neurologist, Dr. Susan Steen, emphasized two important aspects of caregiving for families of Alzheimer’s patients.

Dementia Doesn’t Go Away

First, treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is not like treating an infection. When my sons attended preschool, I got to know the treatment regimen by heart.

After diagnosing an ear infection, pink eye or bronchitis, the doctor would send us home with a 10 day prescription for antibiotics. Exactly ten days later, my child was back to normal.

But, dementia isn’t like that. It is much more like treating diabetes or heart disease. It is always there.

The physician will help the patient and the caregiver set up a program of exercise, diet, supplements and medication to slow down the progression of the dementia. Dr. Steen even looks at the other medications a patient may be taking for possible drug interactions that can cause cognitive or other problems.

Dr. Steen said that she often gets asked by family members, “Why isn’t the medication working?” Most families are hoping that their loved one will make a major recovery. She reminds them that the medication is working. It is slowing the loss of mental function. It gives the patient more time . . . time at the current level.  That’s why early diagnosis and treatment is important.

Paying Attention To The Caregiver

Theresa has a lot of support now in caring for Lita. Family members have rallied to help her. But, it wasn’t always like that.

When she first started out, Theresa tried to do everything herself. Even with her knowledge as a registered nurse, she quickly discovered that caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease is physically and emotionally exhausting!

“We need to pay attention to the caregivers. Caregivers need: 1) a support group, 2) to get educated about their loved one’s disease by reading as much as possible, and most importantly, 3) to take care of themselves first. The flight attendants on an airplane instruct you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. It works the same for a caregiver. You have to take care of yourself first,” Dr. Steen stressed.

With Dr. Steen’s encouragement, Theresa gathered a support team of family members together to care for her grandmother.  Lita is never left alone. Someone is always with her while Theresa is out of the house.

Theresa doesn’t have to worry while she is away. She knows Lita is safe.

If you are a caregiver, the Family Caregiver Alliance offers a guide to help you with common issues that caregivers face including getting help with care, legal and financial issues, even fact sheets in Spanish and Chinese.

What I discovered in caring for my Dad in his final years was, that as difficult as it was, the time I had with him was a gift that I continue to treasure. Other caregivers I have chatted with say the same thing. They all feel blessed to have been the ones to provide care for their aging parents.

You can be the one, too.

Return to Part One

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Susan Jane Steen, MD

Dr. Steen is a board certified neurologist, practicing at Tampa Neurology Associates and also serves as the president for Axiom Clinical Research of Florida and Medical Director of South Tampa Memory Center.

Dr. Steen is available to further discuss Alzheimer’s disease as a growing health issue, the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, and the differences between signs of “normal aging” and something more serious.

Dr. Steen completed her training at the University of Florida

Theresa Robaldo
Registered Nurse and Alzheimer’s disease Caregiver

As a registered nurse and primary caregiver for her 87-year-old grandmother, Lita Baker, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in 2007, Theresa encourages anyone noticing changes in memory or behavior in their loved ones to talk to a doctor right away.

Theresa first started noticing changes in her grandmother’s behavior after her grandfather passed away in 2007. She knew that some of the changes were related to memory problems, but experienced some challenges getting answers toward a diagnosis. When they did receive the diagnosis, the family was able to start taking steps to address the issue. Theresa has seen firsthand the benefits of an early diagnosis, and knows there are no advantages to waiting or stalling when it comes to AD.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many thanks for Dr. Susan Steen and Theresa Robaldo for sharing their stories for this article.

Click the “Share This” link below to email this post to a friend or social networking site. Thanks for reading!  Feel free to comment.

© 2009 CK Wilde. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to link to this post but you must have prior written permission (please use the comments) to reproduce this post either whole or in part.

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