Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: Early diagnosis crucial for patient, caregiver

Article by Elizabeth Kelsey, Telegraph Herald

Lauren Livingston can’t say enough about the importance of early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“Knowing ahead of time that you’re living with Alzheimer’s is just better for you and your family’s health,” said Livingston, communications director for the Alzheimer’s Association, Iowa Chapter.

As Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month draws to a close, Livingston and other local authorities urged families of memory care patients to seek a diagnosis and explore care options as soon as possible.

“Every case is different — there are people that may have subtle memory impairment for a long time and others who may quickly deteriorate,” said Gretchen Brown, president and CEO of Stonehill Franciscan Services in Dubuque. “It’s good to go in and seek that physician consult early on so you really understand what you’re working with.”

According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report from the Alzheimer’s Association, as of 2020, 66,000 Iowa residents age 65 or older have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to rise to 73,000 by 2025.

Livingston said early diagnosis gives patients time to prepare legal documents and pursue treatment options. She mentioned Aduhelm, a new drug recently approved by the FDA, which she said is designed for early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.

Brown said many caregivers wait too long to consider assisted living for their loved ones with memory issues.

“Many (caregivers) have a preconceived notion that it’s a bad thing if they have to put their loved one in another setting,” Brown said. “They feel like they’re failing them as a loved one or that they’ve disappointed them.”

However, she said the earlier families reach out, the easier it is to facilitate smooth transitions for loved ones.

Among the area’s newest memory care offerings are Stonehill’s 14 assisted-living memory care units, which opened in January. Residents of the units work with speech and cognitive therapists on individualized, targeted activities, often drawn from residents’ previous jobs or hobbies.

Lisa Crawford, director of Stonehill’s Assisi Village, said one resident, a former banker, balances checkbooks. Others help cook or tend the facility’s garden.

“It’s really trying to figure out what brought that person joy in the past and how that can still bring them joy now,” Crawford said.

Early diagnosis and professional guidance are also vital for caregivers’ health.

“Many times, the caregiver wants to continue to care for that individual, but they stop paying attention to how that’s affecting... their own health,” Brown said.

To assist local caregivers, Stonehill is working with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque to launch a caregiver resource center on Stonehill’s campus. Supported by an endowment from Jim and Marita Theisen, the center will offer free support and resources to anyone caring for a loved one with a chronic illness.

Brown said construction for the center will begin this summer and should be complete by August 2022. In the meantime, Stonehill will hire a facilitator to offer some of the center’s services within its current facilities while the new facility is built.

This article originally appeared in the June 27, 2021 issue of the Telegraph Herald