“For anyone diagnosed with Alzheimerʻs, itʻs important to know that you can live a meaningful and productive life after diagnosis.” — Mike Buck
Radio personality Mike Buck of KHVH Radio is the “Voice for the Alzheimer’s Association.” Both of Mike’s parents had Alzheimer’s and he is committed to get the word out about the need for early detection. In doing so, Mike literally became the Association’s voice—appearing in a Alzheimer’s TV PSA, recording all of the Associations radio PSAs this year and stepping up to MC gala events.
Mike is passionate about de-stigmatizing Alzheimer’s disease. He’s been on the Aloha Chapter’s board since 2007. Currently, he is the Association’s Treasurer and has stepped up into a leadership position on the Board, offering his significant experience as a Board member of other non-profits.
I called my mother, Nancy Cummings, “Mom.” Mom was amazingly independent and self-sufficient. She ran a chain of tourist resort shops here in Hawai‘i for years, provided for her four children and lived life to the fullest.
She, like so many mothers, was a vitally important part of our community. Mom could do just about anything; her resourcefulness, warmth and incredible sense of humor buoyed our family through many of life’s troubles.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease robbed Mom of her memories, her independence and retirement plans.
Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias affect more than 31,000 people in Hawai‘i, a majority of who are women.
We are a very close family; we saw Mom just about every day. However, we didn’t notice the changes immediately. Mom found little ways to cover her failing memory. Everyone loses keys, forgets a name and gets lost in the mall parking lot. Mom’s little lapses began to build up over time, and we really noticed she had a problem the second time she “lost” her car. This just wasn’t like Mom.
We decided it was time to bring Mom to the doctor. After learning that she had Alzheimer’s disease, Mom actually seemed relieved. She could finally stop trying to keep up her constant deception. We all knew that this was going to be tough. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease; so our focus was to make the time she had left with us more enjoyable.
The Aloha Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is here for all families living with this disease, free of charge to all family caregivers. By accessing caregiver training and counseling early in the process, families learn essential skills to help ease their burden and make the lives of our mothers, fathers, grandparents or spouses better.
Families trying to face this on their own often suffer needlessly through wandering incidents and don’t know what to do with parents who live in persistent fear and confusion. The Aloha Chapter is here so that families don’t have to go through this in isolation. It lets you know that there are typical behaviors exhibited as the disease progresses, that there is support, and even hope for families coping with this disease.
If you suspect someone in your life is living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia —call the Chapter, attend a class and learn as much as you can about this illness. You can make a difference in their lives. — Mike Buck
Early Detection Matters
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that gradually destroys the brain and the brain’s nerve cells, typically affecting people 65 years and older. Symptoms affect a person’s memory, ability to learn, make judgments, communicate and carry out basic daily activities. In its early stages, memory loss may be mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, people may lose the ability to communicate and may need help with personal hygiene, bathing, eating, dressing and other basic functions.
As many as one in eight people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD). Fifty percent of people ages 85 and older will be diagnosed with this heartbreaking illness. Here in Hawai‘i, kūpuna 85 years and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. According to the State Plan on Aging, this population grew 518.8% between 1980 and 2010. It is estimated that there are currently more than 31,000 kūpuna suffering from this debilitating disease in Hawai‘i.
Many people do not know when forgetting becomes a problem and the difference between normal aging versus something more serious. By putting off learning more, people impacted by the disease are being diagnosed late and miss the opportunity to get the best help possible.
Early detection normally results in a more accurate diagnosis, earlier treatment and better care. “Although Alzheimer’s disease is a not a curable disorder it is a treatable disorder to some extent, depending upon what stage an individual is in at diagnosis,” says Elizabeth Stevenson, executive director and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, Aloha Chapter. “With proper diagnosis and treatment, the decline of cognitive function is slowed which in turn helps improve quality of life and the activities of daily living.
“Early treatment makes a difference, not only for the patients but also for their family members,” says Stevenson.
“This disease will come whether you get a diagnosis or not, and it will worsen whether you get the diagnosis or not,” continues Stevenson. “Yet, we are obviously better prepared to deal with it both from a patient, family and public health standpoint if the diagnosis is made early when we can work with a family to help develop a plan to build the support they will need to care for their loved one.”
Mike agrees. “Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease makes the impact less traumatic, helps people cope with change and better prepares them to make decisions for their future and the future of our kūpuna,” he says. My mother was actually relieved to know that there was something medically wrong with her.
“For anyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to know that you can live a meaningful and productive life after diagnosis,” Mike continues. “You can remain active and take part in activities you enjoy. You can work with family and friends to plan for the future and help to educate others about Alzheimer’s disease.”
Let Your Heart Lead The Way
Like other parts of our body, our brains may lose some agility as we get older. It can deteriorate even more if we don’t take care of it. Science is unlocking many of the mysteries of the brain, but we don’t have all the answers yet. One can do everything “right” and still not prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But it is often said what is good for the heart is also good for the brain:
- Social activity not only makes physical and mental activity more enjoyable, it can reduce stress levels, which helps maintain healthy connections among brain cells.
- Physical exercise is essential for maintaining good blood flow to the brain as well as to encourage new brain cells. It also can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and thereby protect against those risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
- Mentally stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and the connections between them, and may even create new nerve cells.
- A low-fat, low cholesterol diet is advisable. Research suggests that high cholesterol may contribute to stroke and brain cell damage. So there’s been growing evidence that a diet rich in dark vegetables and fruits, which contain antioxidants, may help protect brain cells.
- Take care of your heart by watching your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and also consider quitting smoking.
Nearly everyone has momentary memory lapses that include difficulty recalling a familiar phone number, losing car keys or calling a loved one by the wrong name. However, there are certain warning signs that could be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Common symptoms include:
- reduced social abilities
- memory loss
- problems thinking
- difficulties with language
- personality changes
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be a challenge. But there are places where family and friends of Alzheimer’s sufferers can find support for emotional issues, care giving and planning for future care.
At no cost to family caregivers, local support services include care counseling, caregiver training, support groups, and the MedicAlert+Safe Return® program. Referrals may be made for other services such as respite care, transportation and meal delivery. Join an Alzheimer’s support group to share experiences with people who understand.
The Alzheimer’s Assoc., Aloha Chapter
The Aloha Chapter is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research in Hawai‘i.
I cared for my father, Captain Mishan, who had Alzheimer’s for almost eight years, through all the stages. He passed in 2006. It was the best and most important work I will ever do, and it came with unexpected and magnificent personal rewards.
Caring for someone you love who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can have a positive side. But, at first diagnosis, which can feel like a “death sentence,” there’s so much negative about it. It’s overwhelming. This disease can bring the best and worst out in all of us. You have to face that. And, you can make a choice to do the best you can, and meet each challenge along the journey.
You find the deepest most compassionate love you thought possible—connection on another heart level. You learn to ease their minds, giving them the best quality of life possible. This can be deeply gratifying, heart-warming and beautiful. Yes, beautiful.
Learning from experts and fellow caregivers provided me with an opportunity to make a big difference in my father’s life.
The demands of caregiving are like one of life’s mysteries, full of awe and deep lessons learned. It’s a modern heroic quest. We are never the same. I personally have been transformed forever by the 8-year journey with my father. I received the treasures of his well-being, his love and smile—that far outweighed the bad parts.
There are so many caregivers out there doing this important work for their loved one every single day. If you are one of them, please seek the camaraderie of support groups. We learn to strengthen the muscles of patience and compassion, but there is also an odd sense of humor that only caregivers can share with others in the same boat. You learn you’re not alone. When things get bad, go to the Alzheimer’s Association to get counseling. Try to network with others doing the same whenever you can. And always, listen to your loving heart. Let it overpower your anger and grief. Compassion is stronger than fear. — by Jody Mishan, Caregiver / Daughter