Facing the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be one of the most challenging issues a family can face. Without question, the diagnosis is sobering but it doesn't have to be hopeless. Experience shows that for many Alzheimer's patients, quality, one-on-one care can make an appreciable difference in quality of life.
Easy Living Services client Martha Gray's family is an excellent example of a family that refused to give up hope. Like so many others, the Grays were initially distressed to learn that mom, Martha Gray, was afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. Initially, the only noticeable symptoms were memory lapses and mild confusion. Mrs. Gray continued to live independently alongside her husband, Willard, a practicing Chiropractor. At 87, Dr. Gray managed to provide supportive care for his wife and still remain active in his chiropractic clinic. Three daughters pitched in when needed to give their Dad a break from caregiving. This approach worked well for some time. After a near tragedy shocked the family, they were forced to face their mom's declining condition and take action.
I remember the afternoon Easy Living received a call from Martha Gray's daughter, The daughter contacted us to inquire about in-home care options for her mother as a recent incident had made her very concerned about Martha's safety and security. One rainy afternoon, Martha wandered away from home on foot. No family members were at home or aware that she had wandered. After walking over a mile from home, Martha stopped and collapsed on an area bridge. A concerned citizen contacted police to report having seen an elderly woman lying down on a bridge in the rain. Fortunately, Mrs. Gray was not injured as a result of this ordeal. It was now obvious to all that her mental condition had degraded substantially and Martha could no longer be left unattended. The Gray family had many questions and some tough decisions to make.
Was it possible for their mom to remain at home? Could Easy Living help?
Ultimately, the answer to both of these questions was "yes!" The Gray daughters formulated a care strategy and approach affectionately dubbed "Team Martha". Their idea was to combine their efforts to enrich their Mom's life as much as possible and to keep her happy at home for as long as possible. Each day was to be "all about Martha". Easy Living Services was selected to play an integral role in "Team Martha" through Certified Nursing Assistant, Lashonda B. After careful consideration, we selected Lashonda for the Gray family based on her unique skill set, experience and probably most importantly, positive attitude. It was clear to all of us at Easy Living that an energetic, upbeat caregiver would be required to keep up with fun loving Mrs. Gray!
When care first started, Martha was really a shell of her former self. Her daughters had described their mom as a once energetic, interesting woman with a zest for life. Lashonda arrived on her first day to find a much different Martha. She was quiet, withdrawn and spent much of her day sleeping. Her memory was significantly impaired and mental state was confused. She was not eating, drinking or taking her medications with any regularity. In fact, her family reported significant weight loss. Her blood pressure was frequently too low, resulting in dizziness .She had become resistant to showering and neglected overall hygiene. This was a real change for the former Mrs. North Georgia winner! Overall, it was a pretty grim picture but very much like that of many other Alzheimer's patients.
Fast forward 4 short months and we are pleased to see an entirely different Martha Gray. Truthfully, Martha wasn't miraculously restored to her "pre-Alzheimer's" condition. However, she is now a much more engaged, active, healthy Martha. Improvements noted following the addition of a personal caregiver to her care team include the following: weight gain of 7lbs, stable blood pressure, normal sleep patterns restored, effective medication management, talkative and engaging with loved ones, increased levels of activity, renewed interest in grooming and personal appearance ,and improved cognitive test scores as reported by her physician.
How did "Team Martha" accomplish these amazing results? Without question the love and commitment demonstrated by Mrs. Gray's family was the primary force behind her improvement. Caregiver, Lashonda, put her experience from working with other dementia patients to work with Mrs. Gray. Initially, she carefully observed Mrs. Gray's habits and behaviors without making any radical changes. She "shadowed" her throughout the day working to build familiarity and trust. At appropriate times, Lashonda would ask her to join in as she performed routine tasks like folding laundry or putting away dishes. Pleasant conversation during these tasks allowed the two to become acquainted. Helping Lashonda increased Mrs. Gray's self confidence and feeling of usefulness around the home.
Lashonda worked with family members to implement a better medication management system which meant that Martha would receive her medications on time, every day. Better control of Alzheimer's symptoms with effective use of meds resulted in improved energy, focus and appetite. Additionally, Mrs. Gray's sleep cycles normalized which further enhanced her daytime energy levels and mood.
A rough schedule was developed to organize Mrs. Gray's day. Establishing a predictable routine reduced anxiety levels and was soothing. The schedule is "rough" because Lashonda never wanted to force Mrs. Gray to conform or do anything she didn't want to do. She worked to organize essential tasks like eating, showering, taking meds at times of the day when Mrs. Gray was likely to be most receptive. She tried to give her opportunities to make decisions and feel some sense of control over her day. For example, Lashonda would allow her to help make clothing selections and menu choices.
Slowly, Lashonda worked up tore-introducing activities that Mrs. Gray had enjoyed earlier in her life. She had been an excellent seamstress at one time. While she could no longer complete real sewing projects, Lashonda discovered that she could sew together pieces of cloth and enjoyed doing so for long periods of time. Outside time is always incorporated into their routine. Nature walks or active gardening work keeps Mrs. Gray strong and connected with the outside world. I was also tickled to learn that Mrs. Gray holds a daily yoga class and serves as instructor to her favorite pupil, Lashonda. To retain thinking skills, puzzles and reading is part of the regimen. A fun game of "Name that Tune" is great for Mrs. Gray's memory and plays off her love of music. Mrs. Gray's "music class" is also on the agenda...where she gives Lashonda piano instruction. I have also heard that Martha has returned to doing one of her very favorite activities, singing in the church choir.
It's truly heart warming to hear how much progress Martha has made in living life to the fullest despite a tough diagnosis. Working together, "Team Martha" has far surpassed its initial goal of keeping her safe at home. She is now thriving at home and re-engaging in a way no one thought was possible a few months ago. Mrs. Gray's personal physician is very pleased and has attributed her remarkable progress to the In-Home Care she receives on a daily basis.
I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Gray a few days ago when she stopped by the office after an outing with Lashonda. She looked beautiful and happy. So did caregiver, Lashonda. It seems that both caregiver and client are benefiting from this fantastic match!
Alzheimer's disease doesn't have to feel like a hopeless situation to your loved one and to your family. Want to learn more about how your loved one might benefit from one-on-one care by a seasoned, professional caregiver? Consult Atlanta's most trusted source for Home Care, Easy Living Services, Inc. We have supported families in their efforts to keep loved ones fulfilled since 1994.
Call us today to discuss your specific needs 770-442-8664. We're ready to help.
visit us at: www.easylivingservices.com for more information.