Mark Harvey — In search of “better” with Alzheimer’s


This column is NOT about health insurance, which should immediately help a lot of you to feel better — I know it makes ME feel better!

This column is about dementia, which may not make us feel better, but might actually do some of us some good.

“Dementia” is an umbrella term, because there are a lot of dementias, the one we hear about most often is Alzheimer’s disease. We hear about that most often because it happens the most, but once you’ve gotten an actual diagnosis and seen all the right medical folks and are doing all the right medical things, dementia is dementia.

What I mean by that is that if you are someone who’s taking care of a person with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease on a day-to-day (more-or-less) basis, and you’ve got the medical piece as “under control” as you can get it, then you don’t much care what it’s called — dementia is dementia. So, for today, let’s agree to that, OK? And we’ll just talk about Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’re in that “taking care of” role, you know how this goes, and you know how quickly it can change — moment to moment, week to week. You know how important “safety” is, and you SURE know how tough that can be! Or just dressing, or … meals!

Or just plain getting through the day, today.

And that person who you’re trying to take care of changes, sometimes moment-to-moment. What was OK a minute ago, isn’t OK now. Or you’re answering the same question over and over and over. Or, now they’re happy, now they’re sad, now they’re angry, now they’re … quiet.

Now they’re hungry, now they’re not, now … You don’t know what’s wrong, but you’re pretty sure something is, or, it seems to be. If you could just ask! But, you can’t; well, you can, but …

And we HATE this disease! It takes from us the person who was the reason to do what we’re doing, this “taking care of” thing — WHO ARE YOU?? And, sometimes, if we’re not careful, that hating-the-disease can slip into hating-this-person (just for a moment), but most of us get pretty good at grabbing a breath and pulling ourselves back from that.

And we become obsessed with the disease! With the “behaviors!” What is he going to do next? What am I going to do next? There’s nothing wrong, so what’s WRONG??

We get so focused on the “disease” that we lose track of the rest of this person, and whatever else might be “wrong.” I get that. We lose track of the fact that something else — some other physical/medical thing might also be “wrong,” because it seems like Alzheimer’s disease ought to be “enough!”

Yes, it does and, no, it isn’t fair.

But the fact is, that other things can be “wrong” at the same time, so if you’re somebody who’s taking care of somebody with Alzheimer’s disease, stay with me for another minute.

There is a program called “Reducing Disability in Alzheimer’s Disease” (“RDAD,” if you must). This was developed by some pretty high-powered researchers at the University of Washington, then tried out with quite a few folks, here and there, so it’s “evidence-based.”

The idea is that when folks with Alzheimer’s disease get a little exercise, on a regular basis, they tend to do better — better physically, better medically, better emotionally. And when that person does “better,” you do better, so everybody does better and things go … better.

And many of us will take “better” in a heartbeat.

This won’t cost you anything, dollar-wise. If you’re taking care of a person with dementia in Grays Harbor or north Pacific counties, this might do you some genuine good, and it (the program) will come to you. You have to be willing to commit to a few visits by a decent human being who will teach both of you some simple exercises, then actually do them with your person between visits. What you’ll get, along with learning this exercise program, is some individualized help with some of the “behaviors” (and you know what I’m talking about) that make days tough — and you’ll get that at home, where they happen.

I said it won’t cost you anything, dollar-wise — that’s true. It will cost you time (that you probably don’t have) and it will give you another thing to do, which you probably don’t think you need. I guess that’s the cost of “better.”

Maybe? Not sure? I don’t blame you, because I’d be cautious (if not downright skeptical), too, so try this: Call Eric Nessa at 538-2458, at 1-866-582-1485, and ask about this “RDAD thing” (or something like that — he’ll get it), then see what you think of what you hear. If it sounds worth a shot, give it a try! If not, no harm, no foul.

I have seen this help. It isn’t a cure and everything that happens every day will not suddenly become magically wonderful, but it will help.

And if you’re walking this road, you’ll take “better” in a heartbeat.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.