What do hearing aids, exercise, support groups and travel have in common? They all are ways that individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, specifically, or dementia, generally, can fight these diseases’ progression. Even more important, they help to fight the personal isolation that accompanies these frightening conditions.
We often associate dementias with older adults and the stereotypic confusion that can characterize the individuals with the diagnoses. But it is not just a condition of older adults as the recent public disclosure of The University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, Pat Summit, highlights. Ms. Summit is just 59 as she goes public with her diagnosis, and it helps others to understand that it can happen as early as 30 and 40 years of age. Younger onset Alzheimer’s Disease technically speaking is the manifestation affecting those under age 65, and there are 250,000 new cases in America every year. Yet, there are ways to fight the downward spiral of dementia.
Hearing aids may seem an unlikely fix for dementia. Yet, it is simplybecause hearing aids enhance the clarity of communication and therefore the connection between dementia patients and others that they help alleviate the isolation and bolster memory. When dementia patients can hear more clearly, that connection also helps calm the anxiety that they may otherwise feel when living in a world that is confusing. Hearing aids cannot “cure” dementia, but they can help a patient navigate more confidently.
Exercise can be a helpful boost as well as it improves the blood flow and releases calming endorphin into the bloodstream. For a variety of medical conditions, health care providers often talk about the role that “performance status” plays in a patient’s ability to cope. Being more fit helps dementia patients cope just as being fit also helps cancer patients while they fight a tumor or surgical patients as they recover from a procedure.
I had mentioned the importance of being connected for a person with dementia of whatever sort. Support groups become the new circle of friends who can truly understand what it is like. This is common across a whole host of medical predicaments from grieving widows and family to returning wounded warriors or recovering cardiac or orthopaedic surgery patients. Somebody else who has been there understands what co-workers, friends or even family cannot quite fathom.
Travel is a bit of all these. It is a way to have fresh new experiences that challenge a patient cognitively. When a person experiences what should be familiar settings like home as frighteningly unfamiliar, it can be reassuring to share travel experiences to strange and different places that – well – everyone will find strange and different as well.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.