By Joy Tipping/Richmond News Managing Editor
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association — together with advocates in the early stages of the disease — encourages families to talk about memory and cognition concerns sooner rather than later.
Chris Brown agrees. As director of Oak Ridge Assisted Living & Memory Care and Shirkey Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Richmond, he has dealt with dementia patients for more than 30 years. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, Brown said, but dementia can also be alcohol- or stroke-induced.
“Open communication is so important, as soon as you see signs,” he says. “Oftentimes what we see, especially with couples, is that there’s the one who has the disease, but the other spouse will compensate for what they lack to protect and shield them, until it gets to the point that there’s no amount of cover-up you can do.”
By then, he says, the dementia patient has often reached a point where they can no longer be part of the decision-making about their own future.
“It’s so important that a family be able to come together and form a plan to meet a loved one’s needs — powers of attorney, end of life issues, etc. … The disease is fatal, and eventually patients will reach a point where they can’t even eat or drink. It’s so much better to map out care strategies that everyone (including the patient) can be onboard with, and not in a rushed way.”
The Alzheimer’s Association can help patients and family/friends navigate challenges and considerations at each stage of the disease through face-to-face conversations with experts in local communities, a free 24/7 Helpline (1-800-272-3900) and comprehensive support/resources at alz.org.
The complete version of this story appears in the Friday, June 22, 2018, print edition of The Richmond News.