The month of June is Alzheimer’s and Brain awareness month. Denise Gibson, Program Coordinator for the Greater Grand Rapids Alzheimer’s Association, and Barb Martini, caregiver for her husband Tony, who has Alzheimer’s, share their experience and expert insight into the disease.
Five million people live with Alzheimer’s and every 65 seconds someone is diagnosed.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s are short-term memory loss, which is different from walking into a room and forgetting what you went in to get; if you can remember shortly after you leave the room this is a good sign and is completely normal. You should only be concerned if you begin to connect patterns. If you notice a frequent inability to remember simple tasks, such as paying the bills or the names of loved ones, it’s a good idea to make a doctors appointment. You may be witnessing the early stages of dementia.
Other signs include: word finding issues, the inability to problem solve, confusion, and issues with connecting time or place. However, it’s very important to know that these signs are not exclusive to Alzheimer’s; these symptoms can also be signs of dehydration, UTI, depression, a simple med change, or other forms of dementia. Receiving a diagnosis can be extremely difficult for both the patient and the family. Although it may be difficult to face, having a plan is essential for the health of both parties. Having a conversation with your family member early on while they can still express themselves is important, as you want them to receive the best possible care. Make sure to ask important questions such as, “If I start seeing signs of decline, would you like me to point it out?”
It’s worth putting a plan into place that works best with your loved one, this will serve as your guide throughout their treatment.
Take care of yourselves otherwise, you won’t be able to take care of them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if it’s too overwhelming. Make sure you have a support team for yourself and your family. You are not alone, there are plenty of options throughout West Michigan: Support groups and day programs, such as Sarah’s Care, provide support for both you and your family. Day programs will engage the patient in conversation and games while you take some time for self-care. The better you care for yourself, the better you will be able to provide for your loved one.
Barb and Tony Martini’s journey with Alzheimer’s began 12 years into their marriage. Barb she first noticed his decline while he was driving to and from work.
Despite what other family members said, she followed her intuition and took her husband to a Neurologist. After being asked to perform basic memory tasks, it was clear Tony was entering the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Although her family had been doubtful, they were grateful to have caught the signs early.
As Tony moved from the early stages of Alzheimer’s caregiving became difficult for Barb. In need of help, she sought out day programs that could watch after her husband in order for her to practice self-care. At first, Barb was hesitant, she felt that his care was her full responsibility. After six months she decided to give Sarah’s Care a shot. Although leaving him for the day was difficult she was able to take some time to herself. Barb knew she had made the right decision when she finally picked him up and he was smiling.
“It was the best thing I ever did for both him and I,” Barb expressed.
Tony is still able to enjoy activities such as going to Meijer Gardens and participating in walks to support Alzheimer’s patients. On September 15, he and Barb will be attending The Walk to End Alzheimer’s held in Grand Rapids Michigan. Both Tony and Barb enjoy attending this event every year.
If you are concerned about the possibility of having Alzheimer’s it’s important to bring it up with your doctor at your next physical.
The Greater Michigan Chapter