On Wednesday, the Elkin Public Library hosted a class outlining dementia. Presented to a full room, the information shared was part of a year-long program of education about mental health in aging adults. Presented by VayaHealth and the Alleghany Council on Aging, this was the first of six classes.
Division of Health Service Regulation-approved continuing education credit was available which helped bring in participants, though some were present because they were concerned about their own health.
With much of the population likely to experience some form of dementia, this overview felt like it could have lasted much longer than the one hour designated. “Everyone will have contact with someone with dementia,” claimed Geriatric and Adult Specialist Debra Rochelle. “It doesn’t have to be a family member, caregiver or police officer.”
Although Rochelle and fellow specialist with VayaHealth, Mandy Matney, had a set outline of what they hoped to cover, they were very open to involving the class. “It’s about reaching the community,” stated Matney. Rochelle agreed, “Any training we do needs to go where you need it to go versus what we have scripted.”
By breaking at the end of each section for questions, the class was able to both stay on track with the information they had to share as well as field questions about causes, cures and communication.
“For so long these diseases have been so hopeless in the terms that there has been no hope for a cure. Because of the sheer numbers and the cost to countries all over the world, it’s getting a lot of attention,” enthused Rochelle. “For the first time I’m hopeful that we are going to find something.”
Before that happens, however, Rochelle and Matney caution that there is a great deal of education necessary. As well as not knowing the difference between typical attributes of aging and dementia, most people are unaware that there are four kinds of dementia or that dementia is actually the brain dying.
“It is a progressive disease and can present with multiple forms,” explained Matney. While some forms may affect cognitive behavior, others impact physical ability. The area of the brain which is affected directly impacts the attributes it shows.
Rochelle called Lewy Body Dementia, “the trifecta from hell when it comes to poor quality of life. It combines cognitive problems of Alzheimer’s with the physical disabilities of Parkinson’s and the psychosis of schizophrenia.”
“With Lewy Body they treat the symptoms,” cautioned Rochelle. “What you give them for the mood can make the movement worse. What you give for the movement could make the mood worse. We’ve got a huge knowledge gap [when it comes to Lewy Body].”
Some kinds of dementia can present early and in unexpected ways. Frontotemporal usually happens in individuals who are 40 to 50 years of age, according to Matney. “It can take a while to get diagnosed because doctors don’t expect someone to have dementia that young.”
The way dementia manifests usually impacts other people as well because of behavioral changes. “There are people’s lives behinds all of these labels,” cautioned Matney. “We always need to remember the human toll this takes on the family.”
“If someone runs off with another woman or blows the IRA, I can guarantee you won’t think, ‘oh I bet they have dementia!’ agreed Rochelle. “How it manifests is going to be different because everyone is unique.”
Matney and Rochelle educated the class on communication techniques as well as highlighting the variations of dementia. “How you approach the situation is going to set the tone for whether successful communication is going to take place,” reminded Rochelle. “Keep in mind when a dementia patient doesn’t recognize words doesn’t mean they can’t still recognize body language.”
“Refrain from questioning. Stick to simple yes or no questions,” cautioned Matney. “If you have something you want them to do, break the task down or they’ll get lost in the process.”
Rochelle impressed the importance of keeping in mind that, “behind every behavior there is an unmet need.”
Although presenting a thorough overview of dementia, there was still much more to learn. Rochelle noted that they would be willing to teach further classes noting that the next scheduled at the Elkin Public Library will be April 12 at 1:30 p.m. with the topic of bipolar disorder.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.