Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Celebrates World Social Work Day

Today is World Social Work Day, a time to honor social workers and recognize the contributions they bring to society.  As social workers play an instrumental role in the health and improved quality of life of individuals with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering a special discount, throughout the month of March, on its “AFA’s Partner’s in Care: Supporting Individuals with Dementia” training DVD.

“This month is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the profession as we recognize the more than 600,000 social workers across the country,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and chief executive officer. “Social workers are a vital part of the care team.  They face challenging issues on a daily basis, working with individuals and families, helping them to reach their full potential.  It is beneficial for them to have dementia-specific training so they can learn how to make a greater impact in the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.”

Social workers help individuals increase their ability to solve problems, cope with stress, and find valuable resources.  It is always advantageous for health care professional to increase their knowledge, especially when it comes to disease-specific topics.

The “AFA Partners in Care” training series assists health care professionals in gaining a better understanding of dementia, learning effective communication strategies, facilitating care transitions and developing relationships with the individuals in their care in order to foster more meaningful living. It also includes tips and strategies for professional self-care.  Developed by healthcare professionals for healthcare professionals, the program is appropriate for a variety of disciplines. 

Individuals who complete the program and pass the associated exam can pursue designation as an AFA Dementia Care Partner. They will also be eligible for six continuing education contact hours.  Social workers can order the “AFA Partners in Care” training DVD, and take advantage of the discount, which is only $150 this month, by contacting Molly Fogel, AFA’s director of educational and social services, at 866-232-8484 x131 or mfogel@alzfdn.org.

Here’s How Technology Is Providing Support For Dementia Patients

Dementia is one of our time’s leading epidemics currently affecting over 24 million people globally. This has forced governments to catapult healthcare costs to unsettling proportions. These strikingly huge and rapidly increasing numbers have caused researchers across the globe to find a cure for the ailment and unveil ways of improving the quality of life of patients.

Even though a cure for dementia is yet to be found, these escalated research efforts along with groundbreaking developments in electronic/ mobile healthcare have given rise to an array of self-help technologies for patients.

These tools are aimed at facilitating dementia patients at every stage of their condition and include cognitive screening tests, assistive technology and self-care apps all aimed at allowing patients to reclaim control of their health. Here we take a deeper look into how these technological advancements are providing support for dementia patients and their caretakers worldwide.

Benefits of healthcare technology for dementia patients

Healthcare devices go a long way in supporting dementia patients and caregivers by developing a safer environment for them, engaging them, managing their behaviors non-pharmacologically and reliably monitoring them from a distance. The most noteworthy advantages of such healthcare technologies include:

i. Early diagnosis and intervention:

Dementia is irreversible. However, early intervention and healthy lifestyle choices can be monumental in improving the quality of life of patients. This is because an early intervention enables physicians to identify the cause of the ailment well in time to curtail its progression. However, despite this, we see that most dementia patients hesitate to open up to a healthcare professional about the difficulties that they are facing and often wait as long as seven years before finally seeking medical help.

Also, many times the patient him/herself remains unaware of their symptoms and therefore tries to avoid medical consultation about the matter. To overcome this pattern of delayed diagnosis, many healthcare platforms have conjured up cognitive screening tests that can be used by patients and their caregivers to detect the presence of cognitive ailments early on. The results from these tests can then be used as grounds for gaining a thorough clinical diagnosis.

ii. Functioning and Independence:

By hindering routine activities, dementia considerably raises healthcare costs for patients and places a great deal of burden on their caregivers. However, supportive technologies go a long way in remedying this by enabling patients to independently carry out routine activities and reducing their neuropsychiatric symptoms.

iii. Support for caregivers:

Telehealth devices possess great applicability both at home as well as care facilities and work to significantly reduce stress for both patients and their caregivers.

These devices include video monitoring technologies that allow patients and caregivers to conveniently and instantly reach healthcare professionals for counseling. Moreover, they also include sensors, flood detectors, extreme temperature detectors, CO detectors, medication reminders and bed occupancy detectors.

iv. Safety:

Safety devices allow for detailed patient security and include surveillance equipment, exit-sensors, injury prevention tools, door security bars, location sensors, touchpad key locks and window sensors among others.

v. Behavioral management:

Studies have found that the use of non-pharmacological treatments such as music, vibrating tubes, fiber optic string lights, aroma diffusers, solar effects projectors and plasma balls are instrumental in the behavioral management of dementia patients.

This is because multi-sensory intervention leads to an improved attention span, impulsiveness and consequently lead to reduced levels of agitation and anxiety in patients.

Technologies that support dementia patients

Here are some technologies that are improving the lives of dementia patients and caregivers the world over:

1. Cognitive screening apps for patients and caretakers:

Cognitive screening tests are brief self-assessment instruments that can be used by patients as well as their caregivers to detect the presence of cognitive ailments. These tests are available in electronic format online and can also be downloaded in the form of an app to help you monitor your own or your loved one’s cognitive performance.

Moreover, apps such as Brain Test go one step further by allowing patients and their caregivers to identify the presence of cognitive dissonance and monitor patient progress over time.

2. Assistive technology:

Dementia causes a decline in the cognitive abilities of patients, eventually inhibiting them from carrying out simple day to day activities. Therefore, it is tremendously encouraging to note that there are several devices and systems available nowadays that allow dementia patients to perform these crucial tasks independently.

These devices include low-tech items such as walking sticks and frames, calendar clocks and bath aids, etc. In addition to high-tech items like telecare and automatic lighting among others.

The term ‘telecare‘ here refers to detectors and sensors such as movement, smoke, flood, gas or fall detectors that generate a signal via a base unit which is connected to a telephone line in use by the caregiver or monitoring service. These devices can also be used to quickly call for medical assistance as and when needed. Primarily categorized based on the need their core purpose; these devices include:

  • Supportive technologies that assist individuals in completing tasks.
  • Preventive technologies that protect patients from harm and trigger alarms.
  • Responsive technologies that allow for thorough risk management.

3. Apps connecting patients to fitness resources:

As people age, they tend to avoid complicated gadgets such as PCs and this hesitation increases yet further in dementia patients who may not find the strength to use such complex devices.

This avoidance of technology increases the risk of isolation among dementia patients and also refrains them from acquiring knowledge that is necessary to manage and improve their condition. However, in such cases, mobile devices like as tablets prove extremely useful as they are more intuitive to use and avoid the complexity of a mouse, keyboard and operating system.

It is for this reason that we see healthcare applications proving extremely effective in connecting dementia patients with the world around them.  This allows dementia patients to access online fitness resources across multiple mobile devices. These resources help dementia patients in staying fit but also allow them to record and evaluate their progress over time.

Advancements in the field of dementia research are ongoing at an exponential pace, and therefore we can expect to see more groundbreaking technologies surface in the years to come.

Providing Help and Hope to People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Caregivers

AFA
Photo Credit: Alzheimer’s Foundation of America via Flickr

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) was founded in 2002, by Bert E. Brodsky, who was frustrated by the lack of services and support available to families living with Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses—a lesson he learned firsthand, while caring for his mother.

“My mother lived with Alzheimer’s disease from 1980 until 1992,” Brodsky said. “At that time, no one understood the disease; no one knew how to deal with it. After her passing, I wanted to get involved–to help educate and support the families living with this disease. I wanted to give them what my family didn’t have—tools and strategies for coping with their loved ones’ condition. I wanted to help them understand what is happening to their loved one—to ask them to try to put themselves in their loved one’s shoes—and to respond with patience and compassion.”

Since its founding, AFA has grown into a nonprofit that unites more than 2,500 organizations nationwide in the goal of providing optimal care and services to people living with dementia and to their families and caregivers. Its services include a national toll-free helpline and free, telephone-based support groups, free educational conferences and materials, professional training, memory screenings, and more.

National Toll-Free Helpline and Free, Telephone-Based Support Groups

AFA’s national toll-free helpline (866-232-8484) is open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. EDT Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT on Saturdays, and is staffed solely by licensed social workers. Daily, our social workers field calls on questions as basic as “My loved one was just diagnosed with dementia. What do I do now?” to issues as complex as navigating long-term care and managing the variety of emotions that come with caregiving. They offer counsel, support and referrals to local resources for both family and professional caregivers.

In addition, throughout the year, AFA’s licensed social workers facilitate a variety of telephone-based support groups. These groups are ideal for individuals who are juggling work, caring for family, and more, and typically take place in the late afternoon or evening. Participants can join from the comfort of their home or office, their car, or any other place they can carve out an hour to get support from both clinicians and peers. Currently, AFA has two ongoing support groups—one that is general in nature, and one that is tailored to adults whose parents are living with Alzheimer’s disease. A support group focused on young-onset Alzheimer’s disease will kick off this fall. Registration is required and space is limited. For more information, call 866-232-8484.

Free Educational Conferences and Materials

AFA offers a free, monthly teleconference, “Care Connection,” to give family and professional caregivers practical tips and strategies for navigating their caregiving roles. Each session features a guest host and topics have included making the most of a doctor visit, the benefit of telling your story to create change, recognizing and treating depression for you and your loved one, and advocating for a loved one in long-term care. The teleconference takes place the second Thursday of each month, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. The July session will focus on late-life bullying and the August session will focus on understanding mild cognitive impairment (MCI). No registration is required. To join, call 877-594-8353 and use guest ID# 46692951#.

In addition to Care Connection, AFA offers free in-person educational conferences—AFA Concepts in Care—throughout the country. These conferences feature a variety of noted experts in the field of dementia care, with topics ranging from palliative care to research, communication techniques and recreational therapies. Free, confidential memory screenings are offered at each conference. The remaining conferences for 2016 are Chicago, Ill. (September 15), Washington, D.C. (September 29), Melville, N.Y. (October 26), and West Palm Beach, Fla. (November 11).

Professional Training

AFA is also proud to offer dementia-specific training to healthcare professionals and paraprofessionals of all levels. Our training philosophy is rooted in the belief that optimal dementia care relies on building relationships. This person-centered approach to care values promotes the unique strengths, goals, and humanity of each individual, involves interdisciplinary collaboration among care providers, and places individuals with dementia and their families at the center of decision-making. AFA offers DVD-based, in-person and web-based trainings.

“AFA Partners In Care: Supporting Individuals Living With Dementia” is a comprehensive six-hour training DVD that has been recognized as a provider of 5.5 continuing education contact hours for licensed social workers by both the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Individuals who complete the training, and pass the associated exam, are eligible to receive these contact hours, as well as certification as an “AFA Dementia Care Partner.”

For more information about AFA’s training programs, click here.

National Memory Screening Program

One of AFA’s hallmark programs, the National Memory Screening Program seeks to educate people about brain health and the importance of early detection of memory problems by offering free, confidential memory screenings and educational information, year-round, at sites nationwide. Since its inception, the program has screened more than 2.5 million people.

Like many other routine health screenings (blood pressure, hearing, skin check), a memory screening lasts just five to 10 minutes. It consists of a series of questions and tasks designed to gauge memory, thinking and language skills. AFA-sponsored screenings are administered by qualified healthcare professionals and while results are not a diagnosis, scoring below the normal threshold can signal that someone should follow up with a physician for a full evaluation.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all memory issues are a function of Alzheimer’s disease. There are a number of reasons a person could be experiencing memory problems—including lack of sleep, depression, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid problems—many of which are treatable and curable. If a memory problem does turn out to be Alzheimer’s, early detection can help put a person on the proper path to treatment, as well as afford them the opportunity to participate in long-term care and financial planning discussions, to participate in clinical trials and to make known their end-of-life wishes.

A Gentle Approach to Dementia for Care Providers

dementia-patient

When I first became a hospice social worker, I was stunned to realize more than half of my patients were diagnosed with advanced dementia. I had been under the assumption that I would be working with mostly people with cancer or other chronic illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). While many of my patients have suffered from those maladies in the latter category, the prevalence of dementia is rather high. After seven years as a social worker “in the trenches,” I would have to learn a whole new skill set if I was to survive and thrive in hospice.

Most of these patients eventually end up in nursing facilities as the burden of their care becomes too great for family members to keep them at home. In visiting such facilities, I have came to find that many more people than just those in hospice were in various stages of dementia. It is a fascinating phenomenon with several different causes, but I have developed my own way of working with these individuals based on their current level of capability to engage interpersonally. As a result, I have identify several areas of concern regarding the treatment elderly patients receive from care providers and other medical professionals.

Aside from the ways dementia affects different people on a physical level which can include the ability to ambulate, muscle contraction, etc., the mental symptoms can range from extreme forgetfulness to devastating interpersonal impairment. Some of the most pleasant conversations of my day are sincerely answering the same three questions over and over again for an hour with the same patients, but they have little to no short term memory.

I have also spent a lot of time in constant redirection and assurance with people that can no longer recognize relatives with whom they have spent the last eighty years. I have seen these individuals coddling realistic looking baby dolls as part of their care and have played music for people that are nearly catatonic, only to watch their bodies come alive with movement at the faint and automatic memory of their favorite songs, something that blessedly seems to remain long after their ability to speak has faded. I have heard ninety year old patients insist that their mother had just been to visit them or that their young children were running around the facility.

The common thread with which I approach these wounded patients is a measured gentleness that preserves their dignity and, to the greatest possible degree, facilitates their comfort in the immediate moment. For most of these people the present moment is all they have. Thus my preferred method is to redirect them in conversation and to by no means challenge their obviously factually incorrect assertions with harsh reality.

If an elderly woman whose mother has obviously passed insists that she must know when (her mother) will be visiting, I will respond that she’ll probably be around later. I have witnessed facility nurses and aides confronting such patients with the fact that their mother will not be visiting because “she’s dead,” repeating this every time the person asks. I will just as gently take such workers aside and explain that they are effectively breaking the news of the death of a patient’s loved one several times a day, each instance with its own accompanying trauma.

Another of my concerns is when I see people with dementia being treated like children because “they don’t know any better.” Almost every culture in the East has, currently or at some time in their history, had a practice of revering their elders simply for the fact they have lived longer and accrued more life experience than most.

Watching people with little wisdom earned through the kind of adversity their patients have faced treat said individuals as mere nuisances to be quieted makes me sad to say the least. I labor under the belief that my patients are people, whether they be completely lucid and able to participate in conversation or if they are unresponsive. As such, I also believe that each of these persons have the right to my full presence and attention and that, while their minds may have been rendered functionally impaired, their spirits are perfectly intact and engaging with mine. In short, I am no better than these people just because my mind is still functional.

Lastly, watching the pain endured by the family members of such patients is nearly unbearable. They faithfully and dutifully make their regular visits in the vain hope that they will see even the briefest signs of recognition in the eyes of their loved ones, only to inevitably leave disappointed and heartbroken. They deserve to know that their family members are being treated with the highest level of respect and dignity and with a kindliness and gentleness reserved for the most vulnerable amongst us.

Please keep these concerns in mind the next time you encounter a person with dementia. They are locked in a special kind of hell that I hope you and I will never have to experience.

Older People Living Alone With Dementia

Dementia-Signs-and-Symptoms-Include-Alzheimers

We are having a conversation, social worker to social worker, about the older constituents and clients who we each try to help. She works in a small senior center, and I work in the district office of a New York State Senator. I believe it is those of us on the front line of senior issues in our city who see first-hand the breadth and depth of the ever-growing population of older adults who are left to their own resources to navigate the complexities of life in this large urban city. So many are suffering from some form of mental illness, most often dementia. They are only one step away from winding up in a shelter system where they do not belong. To most people, they are invisible.

Sounding frustrated, she says,”They just keep coming”. I reply, “And they are all mentally ill or in some phase of dementia, right?” “Absolutely, she replies, “either that or they are broke…or, more likely, both.”

And yet, over the past several years, with a very heavy heart, I have had to refer elderly people to our city’s shelter system.This comes only after exhausting my own resources to find them even just a bed for the night. Programs that once offered temporary emergency shelter are full. One program director told me, “Clients used to come in and stay for a few weeks or a few months until they could find permanent accommodations. Now they seem to stay forever, and we very rarely have even a single bed available.”

Add to this the fact that these are people who have no social support network. They have no children or are estranged from their children, their friends have all died; and in some cases they have physical and/or mental limitations, that keep them isolated. These constituents are not anomalies, they are part of a cohort of seniors and elderly community members who come into or call our office every day. One day a young staffer said to me, “Wow, all seniors are mentally ill”. My answer was “No, not all seniors are mentally ill, only the ones that come to see us.”

The older adult that seeks our assistance comes with a legitimate presenting problem; i.e. my landlord is harassing me, someone is coming into my apartment when I’m not home, I’m not getting my food stamps or SSI credits. It is only when I sit down to talk with the constituent, whether in person or by phone, that I very soon realize that the presenting issue is just one piece of a much larger problem. When I make the decision that the constituent’s issues are not appropriate for a legislative office, I then refer the constituent to a senior service agency. It is my hope that the agency will be able to assign her to a case worker who can holistically see the entire picture and assist her in getting the help she needs.

While we need the many extraordinary social workers who are dedicated to helping these constituents with direct service, I can’t help wondering why we are having such an influx of older adults with mental health issues. It is only when we can answer that question that an effective solution can be found…or perhaps legislation can be written…to ameliorate the situation. As a macro social worker, this is my job.

Reducing the Risk of Developing Dementia: Is Freedom 55 Really Attainable?

Dementia is a debilitating illness that is characterized by degeneration of memory, cognition, behaviour and the ability to perform activities of daily living. Approximately 35.6 million people worldwide have dementia and there are 7.7 million new cases every year, given the projected increase of the aging population. In addition, although dementia mainly affects older adults, it is not a normal component of aging because it has led to much disability and lack of independence among older adults throughout the world.

Elderly Woman Smiling Wearing a Swimming Cap in a Swimming PoolAlthough incidences of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, have been rapidly increasing, no treatment has been developed to cure the disease or reverse its deterioration of the brain and individuals’ functioning capacity. Therefore, research needs to take place to establish inexpensive ways to help individuals reduce their risk of dementia and maintain cognitive function.

Recent studies suggest that people who delay retirement have a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. However, researchers believe that the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is affected by many more complex risk factors and protective factors that extend beyond simply delaying retirement, which makes this topic relevant to the future health of older adults.

Although, many individuals enter into a pursuit of attaining Freedom 55, this may not be the healthiest option for older adults. A recent study lead by Carole Dufouil concluded that every additional year of work could reduce the risk of developing dementia by 3.2 percent, decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. However, the findings of the study are reliant on many more complex protective factors than only retirement such factors include education, occupation and retirement age.

Firstly, education produces health and well-being, which thus lowers an individual’s risk of developing dementia. In addition, each year of education may decreased the risk of developing dementia by 12 percent. Secondly, employment can be both mentally and socially stimulating, thus helping an individual maintain cognitive abilities. Thirdly, level of occupation, retirement age and education may have greater cognitive reserve capacity that may delay onset of dementia. Other protective factors may include a healthy diet, exercise and continued cognitive stimulation activities later in life.

Therefore, since the amount of people with dementia is expected to double by 2040, it is evident that a means to reduce the risk of dementia needs to be developed. However, older adults must decide what activities will be the most effective in helping them maintain cognitive and mental health throughout old age. For some this may be continuing to work or retirement, depending on their current occupation and job satisfaction. It does not make sense for an individual to continue working if they hate their job; therefore, an older adult must choose unique ways of exercising their brains that will work for them. Freedom 55 may be attainable for some; however, not for all.

References

Basu, R. (2013). Education and dementia risk: results from the aging demographics memory study. Research on Aging, 35, 7-31.

Lupton, M.K., Stahl, D., Artcher, N., Foy, C., Poppe, M., Lovestone, S. et al. (2009). Education, occupation and retirement age effects on age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25, 30-36.

Marchione, M. (2013, July 15). Delaying retirement can delay dementia, large study finds. The Associated Press. Retrieved from .

World Health Organization (2012).Dementia Retrieved November 15, 2013 from .

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