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The Impact of Dementia on a Spouse

husband-wife demantia

A day in the shoes of someone with early onset Dementia

By Mike Takieddine

Early Onset Dementia has been found in people as young as 30, though the disease more commonly impacts individuals over 60. When it does present itself, it can be an incredible burden to a spouse or family. Dementia at a relatively young age is often misinterpreted, causing the loss of jobs and relationships.

When recognized, the patient may need to quit work, or come to terms with their employer about a decreased workload that is within their limitations. There are times when there is an employee assistance program, so you may wish to investigate that, as well as options under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New strategies

When one partner is obliged to leave their employment, the financial burden can be substantial. But when the other spouse must also leave their job and turn into a caregiver, the disruption can be immense. Consult with your employer about taking an early retirement if, that is, the option exists. A partial pension is better than no pension at all.

As for the early signs, couples should consider things they can do together that they both enjoy. Exercise has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect that can slow the progress of the disease. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase the body's production of NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. It also increases the number of small vessels supplying blood to the brain, as well as the number of synapses (connections) between nerve cells.

Mental Workouts

Another great strategy is to undertake to learn a new language. Modern brain studies have disproven the myth that our brains are set-in-stone after age thirty. In fact Neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to reconfigure itself and to retain new learning) persists throughout our lifetimes. Learning a new language is one of the most complex things we can do later in life, since the process is entirely different from learning our first language as children. “Strain your brain your memory to retain”!

Contingency planning

Stay apprised of current studies and research about the disease to keep you hopeful and inspired. And while waiting for a stunning technical "breakthrough", it is still helpful to create a list of resources that you may need as the disease progresses. Thoughtful consideration now can ease the burden for your partner.

  • Investigate benefits through Medicare or Medicaid, as well as Social Security

  • Consult with a financial planner and find the best way to deal with your future financial needs

  • Organize your financial documents; knowing where everything is reduces stress

  • Make sure your partner understands and can manage your finances when you're no longer able to offer cogent advice

Family support is essential too, when available -sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters can all lend a hand. A day (or even a few hours) of off-duty respite for the primary caregiver can be of great help.

Granny and Grampa

A friend’s Granny and Grampa, both suffering from dementia, were taken in by a local group home when it was discovered that the house was full, ceiling to floor, of boxes and endless piles of newspapers. They had little paths between them from the bedroom to the bathroom and the kitchen.

Grampa was a clockmaker, and spent his time in the basement disassembling and reassembling clocks. Granny sat in the kitchen all day, periodically making tea and toast for the two of them.

Once they were in care and were getting real food, Granny started to recover some of her memory. She started talking again and frequently recognized people.

Grampa wasn't so lucky. His memory record was stuck skipping one particular groove; he was convinced he had to get to a disaster area where a hurricane had struck 40 years before and help the people there. One day, in late winter, he escaped, determined to help those people from four decades earlier. Wearing only light garb and slippers, he simply wandered away before they could find him.

Their daughter, also impaired, had been making regular calls to 911 to report that the trees around her house were getting ready to attack. Bear in mind that she was an award-winning author that had written four encyclopedia-sized reference works, gaining much international acclaim.

The Takeaway

Education and support is the key to dealing with Early Onset Dementia. Learning what the symptoms are, recognizing them, and how to deal with them early on is critical. And of particular significance is to keep the mind stimulated –the more stimulation, the more the advanced stages can be deferred.

Have a question? Call the Allheal Home Health

business manager at (936) 756-1111

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