W hen Certified Nurse’s Aide Karen Martin noticed an elderly patient she was caring for shuffle her feet in an odd way and struggle to walk, she knew it was an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Martin has been working in the health-care field for more than 20 years and manages the office of Right at Home Houston, a 26-year-old organization that specializes in the care of elderly patients.
Through mandatory courses, or Right at Home University, Martin said she learned the important warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s, how to care for patients exhibiting those signs and how to explain to often overwhelmed family members how to remain patient.
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month takes place every November in the United States with walks and fundraisers in support of research for a cure. Martin said it’s important the public knows the signs and what to do when family members start declining.
“To me, this is something that’s very important because Alzheimer’s patients need to have someone who cares and someone who’s patient,” Martin said. “The patient’s condition can be severe, but we are trained to know how to handle their case. Some of (the care) is in-patient in our facility, and some of it is in their own home.”
Specialized care is a vital part of treating dementia patients, Martin said. Because there is no cure, it’s important that those with the disease are met with understanding and extreme patience, she said.
“A staggering 50 million people currently live with a form of dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year,” No Limit Agency Account Executive Allison Bush said in an email. “Dementia and cognitive change often affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks such as dressing, personal hygiene, eating and managing personal finances. It also impacts communication and interactions with loved ones.”
As memory loss worsens and the disease begins to take over, Martin said there are some things that still surprise her about the people she works with.
“We recently lost one of our Alzheimer’s patients,” Martin said. “But she still spoke six different languages with her illness. Being around an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient is still being around a person. Always be patient and kind with them. You just might learn something from them.”
A largely genetic disease, the Alzheimer’s Association reports there are some things people can do to prevent early dementia while research is still being conducted.
“Though research is still evolving, evidence is strong that people can reduce their risk by making key lifestyle changes, including participating in regular activity and maintaining good heart health,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
For Right at Home staff, Martin said they do their best to make sure families of Alzheimer’s patients can aid their loved one and still live a productive lifestyle.
Photo books with pictures of family members are a way to comfort those with memory loss and assure that they have something to reference when they don’t remember who someone in their life is, Martin said.
“Some of the training we go through in part is creating a photo album for the client who has Alzheimer’s,” Martin said. “We made an album with all the photos of one of our client’s husband and pictures of people in her life so she wouldn’t get upset or scared. It’s comforting to the family so that they know we took the time to sit down and do that.”
Alzheimer’s is classified in levels as it progresses, with very mild forgetful behavior to combativeness and confusion, Martin said.
Raising awareness about the disease is the key to finding how to end it, she said, adding that taking care of people is what she was meant to do.
“I realized I can take care of people and I enjoy it,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, sometimes (the patients) don’t have any family members with them at all. If they talk about the same story over and over again, it’s OK to just listen.”