Recently, a presentation was given at a Chicagoland hospital by a highly regarded neuropsychiatrist and educator on the topic of dementia. His objective was to explain a particular type, vascular dementia, and how it differs from Alzheimer’s or other dementia. It was informational and engaging. At the conclusion, a member of the audience raised his hand to make an extensive yet thoughtful comment to the psychiatrist. The gentleman in his early 80’s presented an unexpected opinion that truly encompassed “changing the view of Alzheimer’s care.”
He began by prefacing his statements with an introduction of himself as a widower whose wife had passed away after living many years with dementia. His profession had been in engineering, and his self-awareness of his analytical mind explained his desire to connect the dots of reason with reality. Although his comments related to the creation of the human body and the individuality of how it functions, he stated that he did not intend for this to become a religious or philosophical debate.
He questioned the presenter with a concrete example. “Has anyone ever given thought to the fact that each human has their own unique and identifiable set of fingerprints so why not consider that each human may have a brain that is also distinct and individual? In attending seminars on the latest and greatest research, medicines and diagnostic testing,” he went on to say, “nothing ever changed for my wife. She continued to be a poor decision maker, and it was unsafe to leave her alone. Each spouse or family member I have encountered have their story about the various behaviors they have had to endure in caring for their loved one. Each person with dementia has different experiences with the way they act and decline from the same disease. Depending on the type of dementia, it may be due to different parts of the brain with an issue. However, even when the diagnosis is the same sort, the experience is still unique and different.” After a moment of thought, this analogy of fingerprint to a brain print was not that outrageous.
He then made a statement that was incredibly bold, passionate and the farthest thing from mainstream thinking. “I remain heavily involved in my support group. I will always recommend to families NOT to care for their loved one at home. Let the professionals take care of them. It is in the best interest of the caregiver who often is run down, resentful, depressed and on the verge of hospitalization themselves as well as for the quality of life of the person with the disease. I would suggest to you, Doctor, that there should be just as much funding, if not more, for communities and their professionals who are caring for our growing population of those no longer safe without supervision. Then the family remains healthy while decreasing medical costs. They will be more able to continue to navigate a changing relationship, but a meaningful one, when they do spend time visiting their loved one.” The presenter stared at his audience. He did not disagree.
There is not disagreement about the value of researching a disease of this proportion. It is only one piece of the dementia epidemic that needs addressing. To only view dementia as just another disease in need of a cure is short sighted. Due to the nature of the illness and the individuality of its symptoms, there is a domino effect on the economy, and health of our country that is far greater than any other.
As long as dementia threatens to affect millions of Americans, we will advocate private and legislative funding used to enhance the care giving profession. With these two objectives in mind, Terra Vista is changing the view of Alzheimer’s care both for the families and residents who allow us to be the primary caregiver. For the surrounding community, our vision is to educate about the disease, eliminate stigma and minimize guilt affecting families when creating a care giving plan.
What is your opinion of the notion that family caregivers should allow professionals to take care of a loved one with dementia to minimize their own caregiver stress and enjoy quality visits as a result? What would prevent you as a caregiver to not seek additional support in providing care to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of memory loss?