The following is an article from the September 2021 issue of "Get Your Ducks in a Row" Carolina Family Estate Planning's free newsletter. You can read the rest of the issue, as well as back issues of our newsletter online at www.carolinafep.com/library/newsletters/ or subscribe for free at www.carolinafep.com/newsletter.cfm

In case you didn’t already know about it, our firm has a special division called The Alzheimer’s Planning Center. It’s dedicated to helping families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia, as it is something we at Carolina Family Estate Planning care very deeply about.

Back in June, I attended a conference dedicated to furthering people’s knowledge of Alzheimer’s and dementia with several other elder-law and estate planning attorneys from around the country. I attended panels and talks from a variety of different experts and learned a lot that I could take back to our firm, as well as share directly with you. Even if you don’t have a family member or loved one who is suffering from dementia, anyone can benefit from knowing a little more about it!

Smiling senior couple with orange flowers in background

The keynote speaker at this conference was a man named Dr. Dale Bredesen, who authored the book “The End of Alzheimer’s” and founded the only program to have ever reversed the effects of cognitive decline. He has a theory that Alzheimer’s disease is a type of protection mechanism that the brain employs to withstand inflammation and toxins, shutting down various “nonessential” functions of the brain, like memories, in order to preserve “essential” functions such as breathing and eating for as long as possible.

It’s an interesting theory, and Dr. Bredesen’s multifactored approach to staving off the inflammation and toxins in the brain has helped hundreds of people avoid serious cognitive decline. He also pointed out that the term “mild cognitive impairment” is misleading, since that’s the stage that comes right before full-blown dementia. “Mild” implies that it’s not yet serious, but the reality is that the cognitive decline is already significant and needs to be treated a bit more seriously. 

At another panel, Laura Wayman, also known as “The Dementia Whisperer” and author of “A Loving Approach to Dementia Care,” discussed the importance of communities as a whole having some knowledge of dementia, not just caretakers or those with dementia. At the very least, first responders, medical and clinical organizations, and local community members should seek to become more aware about dementia.

In short, everyone should have some knowledge of this disease and how to interact with people who have it. So, below are a few ways that you can be more aware when interacting with someone who has dementia. 

Holding hands

Think for them.

Ask people with dementia simple questions, offering statements with fewer options. For example, instead of asking them “Are you hungry?” say, “Come have dinner with me. I’m hungry right now.”

Join them in their feelings.

People with dementia don’t remember things that happen to them or people that they see. But they do remember how certain people and things make them feel. If you’re trying to stop some sort of behavior of theirs, try to redirect their feelings rather than their actions. For example, if they refuse to come on a walk, don’t try to change their mind. Instead, say, “It’s a beautiful day out, we should go for a walk and enjoy it.”

Only share the information that they can handle.

Instead of trying to reason with them with lots of facts and long explanations, communicate through gentle, positive statements. Negative subjects can be difficult for them to understand and can evoke sadness, fear, anger, or anxiety.

Accept that you can’t fix or change their symptoms or behaviors.

Allow someone with dementia to experience whatever emotions they’re feeling, and don’t try to correct any behaviors unless there is an immediate safety hazard. Dementia awareness is all about learning to manage a person’s dementia symptoms, and that can vary for each individual. 

You must always be willing to ask for help.

Seek out support in your community and find ways to continually educate yourself about dementia. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else. 

At the Alzheimer’s Planning Center, we know that it takes a village to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia. We’re here to help you in any way we can. Additionally, if you want more information, download our free Alzheimer’s care guide at GuideToAlzCare.com. And remember, you’re not alone.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning