Alzheimer’s Association reports that millions of Americans are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. When a family member is diagnosed with dementia it can spark a wide range of emotions: fear, anger, sadness and feeling overwhelmed. Education about the disease is powerful for the patient as well as the entire family.

“When care partners build their dementia awareness, they can meet the challenges of the disease with empathy and practical skills to stay connected in meaningful ways as things change,” says Erin Staadecker, manager of Opal by Leisure Care, the memory care program at Murano Senior Living in Seattle. “They can differentiate the person from the disease and savor the moments of joy while simultaneously grieving loss in a healthy way. It also helps to connect to a greater dementia community, experts and resources, so they don’t have to walk this path alone.”

Early intervention is key

Dementia is a progressive disease and early intervention by medical health professionals in a memory care setting can improve the journey for your family as well as your loved one. While increasing forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, here are three signs from the Alzheimer’s Association that your loved one may be experiencing early dementia.

  • Trouble following or joining a conversation. People with dementia may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  • Losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. Your loved one may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. They may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.
  • Misplacing things and the inability to trace steps. A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.

Murano Senior Living’s Opal program by Leisure Care is an evidence-based program of activities with sensory stimulation like culinary classes, music therapy, their signature PrimeFit program for physical and cognitive health, pet therapy, life skill stations, reminiscence therapy, horticulture therapy, spiritual care and more. “We have a diverse community with different interests, personalities and abilities, so all of our programs are tailored to meet people where they are at different stages of their disease, and still allow them to shine,” Staadecker says.

Understanding dementia at each stage

It’s important to understand what’s happening at each stage of the dementia journey — for loved ones and caregivers at a memory care facility. That means working together as a team, starting with developing an initial care plan unique to your loved one. For example, Murano’s Opal Life Stories is an internal document created with each new resident’s loved ones. It describes the individual’s life history, hobbies, careers, spiritual affiliations, pets, marriage(s), children, personality traits and more. With this information, the staff creates care plans and integrates the residents into the activities that provide meaning and interest to them. 

Staying involved throughout the dementia journey can help to build a supportive community for your family. “Our family ‘Dementia Education Series’ addresses how the disease affects the brain,” Staadecker says. “We look at the ‘why’ behind the behavior and coach families to ask questions that foster connection, not shame; how to present choices that promote autonomy, not frustration; and how to enter their loved one’s reality while understanding it’s just that — their reality. We share plenty of photos and videos, but most important, we invite families to come join our activities and share in those moments of joy. The moments of joy are for the residents, but the memories are for their families.” We invite care partners to attend the community Dementia Awareness educational session, 4-6 p.m. October 18. Call 206-205-5355 to RSVP.

5 things people with Alzheimer’s want you to know

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are five things people with early-stage Alzheimer’s want their friends and family to know.

  • I’m still the same person I was before my diagnosis.
  • My independence is important to me; ask me what I’m still comfortable doing and what I may need help with.
  • It’s essential that I stay engaged. Invite me to do activities we both enjoy.
  • Don’t make assumptions because of my diagnosis. Alzheimer’s affects each person differently. Ask me how I’m doing. I’m living with a disease, just like cancer or heart disease.
  • I can still engage in meaningful conversation. Talk directly to me if you want to know how I am. Don’t pull away. It’s OK if you don’t know what to do or say. I value your friendship and support.

Murano Senior Living is a vibrant community in the heart of First Hill offering independent living, assisted living and specialized memory care with no buy-in requirements and elevated amenities like PrimeFit, innovative design and unparalleled dining.