A new support group has started in Payson. It is a group that provides a place where individuals with Alzheimer's disease, their caregivers, family members and friends can get together and share feelings, concerns and information.
The group meets the third Thursday of each month, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the Payson Senior Center, 514 W. Main St. The next meeting dates are Nov. 17, Dec. 15 and Jan. 19.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that "one to four family members act as caregivers for each individual with Alzheimer's disease."
According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, the disease is an irreversible disorder of the brain, caused by the death or permanent dysfunction of neurons or nerve cells. It is characterized by forgetfulness and eventually an overall loss of physical and mental function.
Life expectancy for patients is two to 20 years following diagnosis.
A family watching as a loved one no longer recalls how to do simple tasks is difficult enough, but when they stop remembering their spouse and children it is heart rending.
Unfortunately, the disease is on the rise, currently stealing memories and causing depression in an estimated 4.2 to 5.8 million Americans. Those numbers are expected to triple by 2050. The numbers are estimated because the disease cannot be absolutely diagnosed without an autopsy and the viewing of the plaques and tangles that develop in the brain.
It is the goal of the group to encourage one another by sharing ways that ease the daily routines of all affected. Just having someone to talk to who is experiencing the same things can often be very helpful.
Free memory screenings
Payson Care Center is offering confidential free memory screenings all day Tuesday, Nov. 15 in its chapel and at the Health Fair at Payson High School this Saturday.
"Memory loss is a hard thing for people to acknowledge, but it's also very helpful to be proactive and to find out what you're facing," said actress Deidre Hall, best known as "Dr. Marlena Evans" on "Days of Our Lives." She encourages everyone with memory concerns to participate in National Memory Screening Day.
"Getting a memory screening is a first step toward knowledge and a giant step toward care. It can make all the difference for families," said Hall, whose father had Alzheimer's disease.
Sponsoring the screenings in Payson seemed a natural fit for the Payson Care Center because of the facility's special 25-bed Alzheimer's unit, said admissions and marketing director Krystal Glasscock.
Memory screenings take from seven to 15 minutes and consist of a series of tasks designed to test memory, language skills, thinking ability and other intellectual functions, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
The health care professional providing the confidential test and results will review them with the individual, then that person may choose whether to follow up with his or her doctor.
The screenings are a first step toward finding out if Alzheimer's or a related dementia is causing memory loss. They are not meant to be used to diagnose an illness or replace consultation with a physician.
Screenings can also let a person know that they are fine. That knowledge can put fears to rest.
Memory can be affected by stress, insomnia, depression, thyroid and vitamin deficiency.
In general, the earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat and/or slow the decline in loss of memory and other functions.
"Early detection enables people to benefit most from available medications that can help slow the progress of symptoms, and psychological and social interventions that can ease the journey for families. It enables individuals to exercise self-determination related to future care, and legal and financial issues," said doctor Richard Powers. He is an AFA board member and chief of the Bureau of Geriatric Psychiatry at the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Questions that might help one decide to be screened:
- Am I becoming more forgetful?
- Do I have trouble concentrating?
- Do I have difficulty performing familiar tasks?
- Am I misplacing things more often?
- Do I feel lost in familiar surroundings?
- Do I have trouble remembering names or words in conversation?
- Are friends or family members noticing a difference in mood or behaviors?
Another advantage to people with a normal screen is the opportunity to learn more about how to keep their brain healthy.
Art, music and pet therapy at home
Human beings have a natural desire to express themselves. The arts, crafts and music humans create evoke emotions and stir memory.
Even with memory loss, an Alzheimer's sufferer can experience the reduction in depression and self-esteem with the boost that art and music therapy offer.
"We don't ever want to insult their dignity by trying to get them to do a childish thing," said May Vance, who helped coordinate and facilitate the new caregiver education and support group in Payson.
She said the positive impact of art therapy depends on the stage a patient is in, and the kind of day they are having.
Simple things like beading with large beads are best because they are not challenging and Alzheimer's victims do not become as easily frustrated.
"Therapy helps them with hand-eye coordination. It helps them do something concrete."
One group she worked with painted with watercolors. Sadly, members of that group are no longer able to hold a brush, but they can do other activities.
"We hide ping pong balls of different colors inside bowls of rice or pinto beans. That's really good for tactile stimulation. Their attention span is obviously very short, so they don't want to spend a lot of time on it. But it does help if they can actually do something, recognize the color of the ball, find it in the bowl and place it somewhere else," Vance said.
Clay is another medium that is great for hand muscles.
"They like it because they can pound it. It's real soft."
Play dough is another art therapy tool, according to Vance.
"We worry about them eating it sometimes. It's pretty and it smells good, so they think they can eat it.
Music the Alzheimer's patient likes is best listened to in a quiet room without outside noise. Interruptions by commercials can cause confusion, so CDs are probably better than the radio.
Encourage movement like clapping to increase enjoyment.
The addition of music to activities, such as looking at pictures, can also stir memories.
Interaction with animals is another therapy that can be effective for people who previously enjoyed animals. Both Payson Care Center and Rim Country Health and Retirement Community have therapy dogs that visit patients.
Two books that Vance recommends for caregivers are "Alzheimer's Activities That Stimulate the Mind" by Emilia Bazan-Salazar, RN and "Alzheimer's Activities" by B.J. Fitzray.
"The books teach people how to do these projects (and others) with their loved ones who have Alzheimer's," she said.
Perhaps the biggest fund-raiser that the Alzheimer's Association has is the memory walks that take place all over the country, said Vance.
There are three Alzheimer's walks, ranging from 11.71 to 48.7 miles, taking place in Arizona this month:
Nov. 5 in Phoenix at Wesley Bolin Plaza
Nov. 5 in Surprise at Surprise Community Park
Nov. 29 in Casa Grande at Dave White Park
Contact Desert Southwest Chapter at (602) 528-0545 for further information or go to www.alz.org on the Web.