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Published on - Nov. 26, 2008
Support available for people with dementia
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Peggy Macaluso administers a memory screening to Eldon of Clearwater in the Memory Mobile when it visited Morton Plant Hospital Nov. 17 for National Memory Screening Day.
CLEARWATER – There are about 75,000 people in Pinellas County who have been diagnosed with dementia.

About 187,000 are diagnosed in the 17-county area of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

More than 5.1 million people nationally are diagnosed with dementia, the most common form being Alzheimer’s disease.

About 10 million people nationally are family caregivers for these people, said Peggy Macaluso, director of client advocacy at the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

Even though so many are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, there is still a lot of stigma about the disease, said Celisa Bonner, clinic coordinator at Madonna Ptak Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Loss at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater.

As part of National Alzheimer’s Month, National Caregiver Month and National Memory Screening Day, Morton Plant Hospital and the Alzheimer’s Association hosted memory screenings recently to provide information about the disease and to test people’s memories. The Memory Mobile was parked in front of Morton Plant Hospital Nov. 17 and more than 35 people had their memory tested.

The screenings test people’s orientation to time and place and how they follow basic commands such as “Take this piece of paper in your right hand, fold it in half and put it on the floor.”

One Safety Harbor woman, who wished to only be identified as “Joyce,” got a screening because her mother died of dementia and Joyce wanted to get a baseline on her memory. At 64, she said it is time to think about those things.

Another person, known as Eldon, 69, of Clearwater said he, too, wanted a baseline for his memory. Dementia does not run in his family, he said, and although he is beginning to forget things, he thinks his overall memory is still good. It is important to get tested, he said.

“Memory is important,” Eldon said. “If you lose your memory, you lose your history.”

Of all 24 people Macaluso tested, she said no one was recommended for further testing. That is the normal result, she said.

The screening also tests for depression because that is one of the reversible reasons causes of memory loss. Other reversible causes are urinary tract infections, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, alcohol dementia and medication complications, Macaluso said.

Other forms of dementia are not reversible, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinsons disease, and Lewy body disease, however certain medications can slow the effects if they are caught in time, Macaluso said.

One of the hardest things about dementia for the patients is the loss of self, Macaluso said.

“They realize there’s something wrong, they can’t remember things, and it’s difficult for them,” Macaluso said. “Especially people who have been so independent all their life and now they have to depend on someone for assistance.”

The loss of communication is also difficult she said, as they can’t remember words to help them say what they think.

But the disease is also hard on the caregiver.

“Sixty-five percent of caregivers actually die before the person with Alzheimer’s disease,” Bonner said. “And we see that in our clinic as well. That happens often, and it’s really tough. They really need to become part of a support group that can help them cope. Not that it’s a magic pill, but it helps them see that there are other people out there who are in the same situation and they provide a community to one another.”

Caregivers become frustrated when their loved one asks the same question dozens of times, she said, and aren’t the person they have known for so long. It is hard, Macaluso added, because the caregiver is losing this person even though they are still here. They are responsible for the patient 24 hours a day and the patient may not even remember who the caregiver is.

Morton Plant Hospital has support groups for caregivers where people take turns taking care of the dementia patients to give each other a break, Bonner said. The group offers on-site respite care during support group meetings so caregivers can get together and get the support they need.

Pinellas County also has adult daycare centers, respite care programs, patient assistant programs for medication, scholarships for adult daycare and respite care, and transportation services, Bonner said. For information about these programs, call Bonner at 297-6384.

The Alzheimer’s Association also has resources such as care consultations, which are one-on-one meetings with the caregivers either at their homes or at one of the association’s offices, about various care options. There is also a 24-hour help line that provides both physical and emotional support. When people call that number they can get information on the many local support groups, caregiver training groups, how to deal with stress, client advocacy groups, geriatric lawyers, respite programs, caregiver outings and services such as Meals on Wheels. That hotline is 578-2558 or 800-772-8672.

Morton Plant Hospital also offers Memory Fit classes for seniors without dementia to help them improve their memory. Call Bonner at 297-6384 for details.

If someone thinks they or a loved one may have a form of dementia, visit a physician or a neurologist, Macaluso said. And for caregivers, she said to seek out resources and get help early.

“Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed,” Macaluso said. “Many times our caregivers are so busy caring for their family member that they don’t take care of themselves.”
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