A Sixties' Recipe for Treating Alzheimer's

The New York Times reports on the depressing statistics of Alzheimer's disease:

4.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, 1 in 10 over 65 and nearly half of those over 85. Taking care of them costs $100 billion a year, and the number of patients is expected to reach 11 million to 16 million by 2050. Experts say the disease will swamp the health system.

Researchers and drug companies aren't even close to a cure. So what's a person to do when faced with a parent or loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's?

Take a cue from those of the '60's generation: Go with the flow.


If a patient asks for her mother, for instance, instead of pointing out that her mother has been dead for 40 years, it is better to say something like, “I wish your mother were here, too,” and then maybe redirect the conversation to something else, like what’s for lunch.

If Dad wants to polish off the duck sauce in a Chinese restaurant like it’s a bowl of soup, why not? If Grandma wants to help out by washing the dishes but makes a mess of it, leave her to it and just rewash them later when she’s not looking. Pull out old family pictures to give the patient something to talk about. Learn the art of fragmented, irrational conversation and follow the patient’s lead instead of trying to control the dialogue.

In other words,

Basically, just tango on. And hope somebody will do the same for you when your time comes. Unless the big breakthrough happens first.

Zen and the art of Alzheimer's maintenance. How sad that we can't do any better than this.

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    And here's another 1960's methodology (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 06:32:53 AM EST
    BBC article: Marijuana may block Alzheimer's. But DrugWarriors would rather let their parents and loved ones wander in the fog of Alzheimer's rather than approve the kinds of research here that might prove them wrong about their Orwellian sheep-bleat of cannabis having 'no medical uses'. What was that again about 'compassionate conservatism'?

    If you don't go with the flow . . . (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by hellskitchen on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 07:14:55 AM EST
    you'll only drive yourself nuts.

    I am a hospice volunteer.  One woman I visit seems very lucid, but I recently discovered that she's merely learned compensating skills to cover her memory loss.

    In playing cards with her I began to see the fissures in her memory.  One day another woman joined us at our table and she started talking about poker.  My lady said she played poker too.  I've played poker once or twice so we commenced a game of poker - or so I thought until I realized that they didn't know what they were doing and were merely throwing the cards around.  After a couple of uncomfortable rounds of throwing cards around (because I am a person who likes card games and likes the logic of play), I realized that we were going nowhere and just cheerfully gave up.  Now, I can toss cards around with the best of them.

    That's so true about compensating skills (none / 0) (#4)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:43:49 AM EST
    Although sometimes the compensating skills they had pre-Alzheimers comes in handy too.

    My grandmother had Alzheimers.  When my grandfather died we were concerned whether she could make it through the funeral and looking back I'm not sure why anyone even considered that she should go to the funeral much less spend a few hours at the funeral home.  But ... denial.  And people didn't know too much about Alzheimers in the 80's.  

    It worked out fine though. My grandfather had been very involved in local politician and for fifty years my grandmother had gone to functions and greeted hundreds of people with a smile pretending that she remembered who they were.  That day was, apparently, no different for her.  


    That's all well and good, but....... (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by MikeInOhio on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:03:47 AM EST
    A co-worker of mine has just had to move his father in law, who has Alzheimers, in with himself and his wife, who just lost her mother a few weeks ago.  Her mother died, in part, due to the stresses of trying to care for her husband.  Someone has to be with him 24 hours a day.  He pees in the kitchen trash can, craps his pants semiregularly, and can't remember to eat.  But he is very mobile and in good health.  He is the stereotypical Alzheimers victim.  They could easily put him in a nursing home, sign over his assets and walk away from the daily care.  But they feel the loving care he gets from them would be superior in every way to anything he can get in a nursing home.

    They are quickly finding out that the legalities surrounding the assets of those with Alzheimers is, to put it mildly, a load of crap.  If they want to put him in a nursing home the nursing home would use his assets to cover his care costs until it all runs out.  Then he is covered by Medicaid.
    However, if they want to keep him at their home and give him the same, or better, level of 24 hour care than a nursing home would, they are not allowed to use one thin dime of his money towards providing him that care.   Not one damn dime can be touched.  Even though a nursing home would be given full ownership of all his assets for their care, they, his own family, cannot use any of it.

    They've gotten all the lawyer BS about how, in the past, people have stolen family members blind, taken vacations and bought fancy cars in situations like this.  And that, apparently, is the reason such a blanket  action is applied.  He has written and talked with his Congressman and, of course, gotten sympathetic words.  But the fact of the matter is, the system is not even remotely prepared to handle what is coming down the pike with regard to Alzheimers.  As long as the law is set up in such a dysfunctional fashion so that families who want, and need, to provide support and care for suffering family members cannot access the financial resources needed, it is a ticking time bomb for a lot of us unsuspecting baby boomers.

    So, Jeralyn, "going with the flow" is good advice to get through a day or a week without losing it.  It is a necessary thing.  But the long term financial strain created by our completely dysfunctional laws in this matter is an elephant in the room which no one wants to recognize.  That is, until you are the one clearing out a room in your house to accomodate someone.   Then it becomes all too real.

    My wife works for a dementia care facility. (none / 0) (#5)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 11:58:07 AM EST
    Jeralyn, I can't for the life of me figure out what your point is of this thread, unless it's simply to express sadness. If so, I'm with you.

    Yes, that's the point (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 12:02:18 PM EST
    And dementia is a particular interest of mine, spending as much time as I do at the nursing home where the TL mom resides.

    Fair enough. (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 12:08:09 PM EST
    I'll never forget the afternoon my brothers and I walked into our house after school looking forward to seeing our grandmother who visited every Wednesday, and said "Hi Grandma" and she just looked at us, chuckled in kind of an embarrassed sort of way, and said "Grandma? I'm not your Grandma."

    The brain needs exercise... (none / 0) (#8)
    by Dadler on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 02:06:38 PM EST
    ...just like the rest of the body.  Studies have indicated that those people who keep their minds engaged in creative and intellectually challenging pursuits and hobbies (reading, writing, puzzling, etc.) are much less likely to develop these problems.  The two people I have had in my family to suffer this fate are the two people who took the least care of themselves mentally.

    Use it or lose it, in my humble opinion, plays a big factor.  A nation that is largely fat and sedentary is not a nation taking care of its minds.  

    I think you're right (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 03:46:36 PM EST
    My grandma did the NY Times crossword puzzle religiously, she lived for it and continued doing it long after Alzheimer's hit her. Sure didn't stop her from getting Alzheimer's, although it may well have delayed its onset...

    Yes with a but (none / 0) (#10)
    by LarryE on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 03:54:47 PM EST
    It is true that people who remain mentally active are clearly less likely to develop Alzheimer's and I was going to mention just that until I saw you had beaten me to it.

    However - your last sentence is a non sequitur. I know the old line about "a healthy body, a healthy mind" but not only is that not more than a little true, it referred to mental "stability," i.e., wholesomeness, not being criminal or subject to "perversions." It was not about being mentally active.

    It may not be the best way to be physically healthy, but there's nothing contradictory about being sedentary and reading, doing puzzles, etc.


    Non-sequiter? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Dadler on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 10:01:17 PM EST
    Lack of physical exercise is also a great way to lose your mind.  The human body, all of it, must move and be used or it dies.  There are the rare execptions (Stephen Hawking, let's say), but the mind and body are one and the same, there is no separation, and the abuse of one leads to the degradation of the other and vice versa.    

    I know this sounds callous ... (none / 0) (#11)
    by Sailor on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 05:25:02 PM EST
    ... but I'm of an age where a lot of my friends are now taking care of their sick parents. I try to comfort them as best I can but at the same time I'm relieved that both my parents have passed.

    One when I was young and one a few years ago after a long debilitating illness. The constant hospital visits, the false alarms and travel in the middle of the night, the dementia ...

    Don't get me wrong, I also appreciated that we had that time together, but I'm glad I'll never have to go thru it again.

    p.s. to LarryE, I think Dadler's point might have been that folks who are lazy physically tend to be lazy mentally. And sitting around, even if mentally engaged, allows toxins to build up that would be flushed by regular exercise => increased blood & oxygen flow.

    p.p.s. to SUO: there's a good chance it not only delayed the onset but inhibited the progress.

    Note to self: we're going to die of something. Advances in medicine mean it will be something we haven't solved yet.

    What's truly troubling is that the higher incidences of cancers and other diseases probably from environmental factors (e.g. accretion of heavy metals anyone), and the fact that the US has slipped to 42nd in longevity and 41st in infant mortality rates is a trend that makes no sense for a country that spends more per capita than any other country in the world.

    Good point (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 05:48:01 PM EST
    p.p.s. to SUO: there's a good chance it not only delayed the onset but inhibited the progress.