Monday, January 03, 2011

New Ways to Help Alzheimer's Patients

When I was visiting my mother-in-law's nursing home over the holidays, I noticed that several of the patients had baby dolls in their arms. These patients clearly cared about these dolls. One woman had been waiting for her doll, and when the staff member handed it over, she was so relieved. I also noticed the staff giving small snacks to people who said they were hungry. One man was dressed in an oxford shirt and gray flannel pants. He stood up and started to speak in a business-like tone as if he were giving a talk at a meeting, although the words were nonsense. I learned he used to be an executive. I couldn't help but realize that the staff was enabling the patients to live in their own worlds and remain calmer and happier for doing so. This was a far cry from the scenes I used to encounter when my own mother was in a nursing home for dementia in the 1980s.

That's why an article in the New York Times about new ways to treat Alzheimer's patients was so interesting to me -- Giving Alzheimer's Patients Their Way, Even Doses of Chocolate (front page, 1/1/11).

The article told the story of a nursing home in Phoenix, AZ, that allows patients to do almost anything to keep their anxiety at a minimum without drugs. The staff at this home claims that a little chocolate can have an amazingly calming effect. Ironically, when government officials learned about these unusual methods, they frowned upon them because they didn't follow "regulations."

The good news is that people who care for loved ones at home can use these techniques, too. Over 11 million people care for a relative with Alzheimer's in their homes. That is a startling number, one that is going to keep growing. Caring for a loved one at home can be daunting, so new tips to deal with Alzheimer's patients more effectively is a boon. If you're dealing with such a challenge, I urge you to read the article in the Times, even though it is long.

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