Have a plan for dementia care
When it comes to planning for old age, most people don’t consider the possibility of dementia.
What happens if your spouse starts showing personality changes and short-term memory loss? What if you get sick or disabled and can no longer care for him or her? Who can help? How will you pay for care? The cascade of problems can be overwhelming.
“It’s a disease with a long trajectory – you need a plan,” said Suzanne Faith, RN, who leads Cape Cod Healthcare’s new Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support program, along with licensed social worker Alan Johnson.
The program aims to assist Individuals caring for someone with a dementia by educating and helping them over the long haul, as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can progress over a period of many years. During that time, caregivers must deal with changing medical, financial, legal, emotional and physical issues. The support program helps assess a caregiver’s needs and develops a plan to meet those needs.
The program is free and available without a doctor’s referral.
“The earlier the better,” Faith said. “The earlier we can plan, the more we can do for you.”
According to a 2018 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans were estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease. One in 10 people 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, and the incidence grows with increasing age, so that nearly a third of people 85 and older have the disease. Approximately 14 percent of people 71 and older have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the report said.
The Barnstable County population is among the nation’s oldest, and the region continues to attract retirees who want to settle here. Faith estimated there are 10,000-15,000 people with dementia on Cape Cod.
“We are in an epidemic,” she said.
Often the Individual with dementia will not seek help early on, Faith said, as they will deny there is anything wrong with them. In the first stage, they may lose their sense of smell, have trouble with depth perception, have difficulty finding the right word or learning new things. These and other symptoms are clues that help is needed before the disease advances into loss of motor skills, loss of language, further isolation and behavioral issues.
Keeping People Home
The program’s goal is to help keep individuals with dementia in their homes for as long as possible. By helping the caregiver the quality of life for the person with dementia is also enhanced. Education and support of the caregiver reduces stress on the community’s healthcare system, Faith said.
A plan also can prepare for the inability of a caregiver to maintain their role.
Statistics show that about a third of caregivers do not survive the person with dementia they are caring for, Johnson said.
“Last week alone, two (caregivers being helped by the program) fell and broke their hips,” Faith said. “You can only keep somebody home if you can care for them’.
Often patient’s adult children or siblings live off-Cape, and may be unwilling or unable to help with care, Johnson said. In cases where no caregiver exists, there are legal methods to assign one, Faith added.
The caregivers program doesn’t end with setting up a plan. It also includes:
- Continuing support and counseling
- Education classes for patient families
- Caregiver support groups
- Referrals to other organizations
- A telephone hotline and a resource library.
The support groups are educational and led by professionals, according to Faith and Johnson.
The Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group is now under the umbrella of Cape Cod Healthcare this year, although Faith and Johnson have been doing this work for 30 years, first as Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod and later as part of HopeHealth. Johnson and Faith said the consolidation of the program under Cape Cod Healthcare Has increased the program’s visibility allowing them to reach more caregivers in need.
The incorporation of the program aligns with a state mandate that every hospital have a plan by 2021 to recognize and manage dementia patients. The law also requires ongoing Alzheimer’s and dementia education for primary care doctors, nursing professionals and any medical professional caring for someone with a dementia.
To learn more or set up an appointment, call the program at 774-552-6080, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The office is located at 4 Bayview Street in West Yarmouth, at the intersection of Main Street by Cape Cod Hospital.