by Lisa Wells, Demntia Specialist at the Eau Claire ADRC and Katy Hacksworthy
It’s easy to lean on stereotypes when thinking about those living with dementia, but there’s so much more to understand than meets the eye. To help demystify these conditions, we chatted with Lisa Wells, a dementia care specialist with the Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC), about the things she wishes people knew about those living with dementia.
What are some myths about dementia? One myth is that only old people get dementia; although more rare, people as young as their 20’s can develop a form of dementia. Some may perceive people with dementia cannot live a quality of life, or are aggressive, when really there is a huge range of ways dementia may show up in your mind & body. Additionally, people may think dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same or if you have memory loss you must have dementia.
How can people live well with dementia? The most important thing you can do is learn about the condition & plan ahead. Prioritize actions such as how you want to be cared for, complete or update your power of attorney for health care documents & learn what resources are available in the community. Pay attention to overall health by exercising, eating well, and staying socially active & engaged in your community. When necessary, talk to your doctor about palliative care, occupational & speech therapy,. If you’re in the Chippewa Valley, consider joining the Stand in the Light Memory Choir, participating in the early memory loss & dementia support group or joining the Brain & Body Fitness Program. Above all, live life and be happy!
How can the community help someone with dementia? Stop calling people dementia patients – they are individuals living with dementia. Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease and the over 70 different types of dementia. Remember that people living with dementia can live well & that 70% are living in the community rather than in nursing homes. Find out if you have neighbors living with dementia & ask how you can help them and/or their care partners. Learn simple communication strategies so you can engage with someone who may be having a difficult time. Tell your church leader/supervisor/manager/director about becoming a dementia friendly business, share your knowledge on social media, and like and share the Dementia Friendly Eau Claire County Facebook page. Ultimately, see the person as an individual & treat them with care & respect.
How can family members support their loved ones with dementia? Don’t wait to get support and find resources. Contact the ADRC & learn about community resources who can support you & your loved ones through this journey. Consider help in the home early on, take classes, or even go to support groups and conferences. Most importantly, plan for the future: do things like make a crisis plan, learn about treatment options such as medications & non-pharmacological interventions, set up a routine and expectations, and keep active & engaged. It’s important not to isolate, so creating a “care team” of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. can be a huge source of support as well.
What do you wish people knew about dementia? While there is no way to prevent, cure or slow down the disease, people can live well with the necessary support. While not all people living with dementia are seniors, age is the greatest risk factor, and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, more people die from Alzheimer's Disease than breast and prostate cancer combined, and it’s worth noting it’s the most expensive disease in the U.S. For more info, visit www.alz.org.