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Posted November 15, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Dementia, Alzheimer's: Caregivers get answers

Local experts on disease give presentation at Valley Health

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER -- About 30 caregivers and family members of dementia and Alzheimer's patients gathered Thursday morning at the Valley Health Wellness Center to hear from local authorities on the disease, and ask questions on a variety of topics associated with it.

From 8:30 a.m. to after noon, several presentations were given by physicians, nurses and even a financial planner who touched on themes of signs and symptoms of the disease, medications, legal and financial planning, activities and treatment options for patients.

Many of those in attendance have been caring for loved ones, both at home and through facilities, for some time, but still had questions.

Linda Kurtz, marketing director for the program's co-sponsor, Dutch Haven Assisted Living, said the timing of the event had to do with November being National Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

"There is still so much that these caregivers, and even professionals, don't know about the disease," she said. "It's not a one-size-fits-all type of thing."

Rick Gow, a financial planner with Lara, Shull & May in Falls Church, specializes in helping senior citizens. He emphasized how important it was to plan as early as possible.

"The process of aging can present a number of complex issues, and you never know when something's going to happen," he said. "It's a good idea to sit down with your aging loved one and have a discussion about where they want to be taken care of, and how, if they are unable to make those choices in the future."

Gow described a number of his client's scenarios, and how things like guardianship, wills, Medicaid and advance directives all need to be taken into consideration as soon as possible. He also encouraged caregivers to have easy access to such important documents, and make them available for the hospital or facility in which their loved one may end up.

For those interested learning more about legal and financial planning for an aging loved one, Gow suggested websites naela.org and lawhelp.org.

"Finances and legal matters are not something that you want to worry about and stress over when you're already faced with taking care of and dealing with a family member who's diagnosed with this disease," he said.

Nancy Niswander, programs and services manager for the Alzheimer's Association's National Capital Area Chapter, gave a compelling presentation which left many program attendees feeling that they weren't alone in their care-giving efforts.

After a video that showed the statistics associated with dementia and Alzheimer's, Niswander asked, "Are you surprised?"

The numbers stated that if all the nation's caregivers for the disease were to live in one state, it would be Illinois, the fifth largest populated state. Over the course of a year, caregivers give billions of hours and funds to their loved ones, yet Alzheimer's is still the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

"But this isn't about the statistics and numbers, even though I could easily rattle them off for you. This discussion is about you," she said, pointing to the caregivers.

Niswander told her background story, which started with her working for a company in which she held a high ranking, executive position. However, when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she asked for flexibility in her schedule, she was fired on the spot. Along with caring for her father, she also helped care for an aunt and father-in-law, who all faced dementia diagnosis.

"I have been there, and I have walked in your shoes," she said. "I mean, seriously, who wakes up wanting to be a burden to their children? No one, but it happens. My father, who has a list of degrees as long as my arm, went from being intelligent to violent because of this disease."

She urged caregivers to take advantage of any "good days" that their loved one might have, and play up even a glimpse of the person they were before the disease took over.

"We have to enter their world ... we can not pull them back into ours, no matter how frustrated and upset we might be," she said.

Niswander went over the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, and how they are different from typical aging.

"I'll admit it, I misplace my keys from time to time," she said. "But it's when the brain no longer remembers the actual function of a key ... that's when you know it's more serious."

The program's participants were then invited to tour the Alzheimer's Association's award-winning website -- alz.org -- and use the hotline, available 24/7 and in 140 languages: 800-272-3900.

"And please, take care of yourself," she said, giving closing thoughts to her presentation. "I am here to help ... I live for this."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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