Don’t Miss “A Map Through the Maze” on May 23

Celebrating its 25th year on May 23, A Map Through the Maze, a practical-based Alzheimer’s and dementia care conference sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter, offers professionals a unique opportunity to learn current and cutting edge information on a wide range of Alzheimer’s-related care topics.

I’ve attended this conference for years and always learn something new and useful. It’s a great networking and educational event with many exhibitors and lots of good information. With 30 breakout sessions offered, there is something for everyone. This year, keynote speaker Melanie Bunn, GNP, MS, RN, will present “Managing Pain and Dementia: Detection, Assessment and Treatment.” CEU’s are available.

In addition to the regular program, five tracks will be offered:

  • Dementia Management in the Acute Care Setting
  • Creating Purpose: Therapeutic Activities and Meaningful Engagement
  • Community Based Dementia Care
  • Advancement in Research: Prevention, Treatment and Care Approaches
  • Caring for Individuals with Dementia and Intellectual Disabilities

Along with Attorney Laura Traiger, I’ll be presenting a session on “Collaborative Care Planning in the Community” at 10:45 a.m.

What’s New at A Map Through the Maze?

NEW LOCATION: DCU Center, 50 Foster Street, Worcester, Mass.

  • Larger breakout rooms with table seating
  • Five unique tracks highlighting best practices in dementia care
  • 30 breakout sessions with 39 new speakers and 27 new care topics
  • Expanded exhibitor area, including morning session and interactive learning opportunities
  • Easy access from MBTA Commuter Rail

Exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are also available. There’s a reduced registration fee for those interested in being conference assistants. For more information or to register, please click here.

Questions? Contact Lorraine Kermond at lkermond@alz.org. Hope to see you there!

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: beasty

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The Music of Our Lives Powers More than Just Memories

We all have them—those special memories, conjured by a song from the past. One chorus, and you’re back at that high school dance when you shared your first kiss, or with your best friends at summer camp, or on your first road trip away from home. One phrase, and you can easily recall all the lyrics that touched your heart.

Recently, I was deeply moved by the film Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, which portrays the power of music to touch individuals. This documentary follows Dan Cohen, founder of the non-profit Music & Memory, as he introduces personalized music playlists to people living with Alzheimer’s in nursing homes. As the film illustrates, music has a way of tapping and evoking emotional memories, even for people with dementia.

Music, Emotion and Memory Are All Connected in Our Brains

Research over the past decade points to the reason why: In a 2009 study at the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis, Dr. Petr Janata discovered that the region of the brain that is stimulated by strong memories also tracks music—the pre-frontal cortex, just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is often one of the last to be affected by Alzheimer’s.

Individuals who have lost their ability to connect with the world may regain the ability to speak when listening to their favorite music—particularly songs from teenage years and early adulthood. Witness the remarkable reawakening of Henry, a resident of a New York City nursing home, who can suddenly articulate his love of music after hearing songs by Cab Calloway, in an excerpt from the film.

Music & Memory has brought personalized music playlists into nursing homes and other care communities across the U.S. and around the world. Their work has demonstrated that listening to musical favorites can increase residents’ social engagement and even reduce reliance on antipsychotics.

Hearing Musical Favorites Can Reduce Reliance on Antipsychotics

A 2017 Brown University research study of 25,000 nursing home residents in nearly 200 settings compared residents who had access to Music & Memory’s program to those who did not. Researchers found “that after homes adopted the program, residents with dementia became significantly more likely to discontinue antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medications and significantly less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors, compared to those residing in homes used for comparison.”

Sharing an individual’s musical favorites is an important way for family members to reconnect with a loved one who may seem remote or otherwise uncommunicative. Listening to beloved music can help to ease transitions between home and doctor’s office visits or adult day centers. Having access to those special songs can also make life in a new setting, from assisted living to the nursing home, more homelike. And a personal music soundtrack can provide profound comfort at the end of life.

To find a care community for your loved one that offers Music & Memory, click here. And if you’d like to see Alive Inside for yourself, you can rent the documentary on Netflix here. Be sure to bring a box of tissues.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: CC0 Creative Commons

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Deb’s Professional Education Speaking Engagements

Spring promises to be a busy season at Deborah Fins Associates. In addition to serving our clients, I am committed to helping fellow professionals and students sharpen their skills for serving elders. Among my speaking engagements for the coming weeks and months:

February 27

Aging Life Care® Association Webinar
“Serving as a Client’s Decision Maker: The Pros, the Cons and What the Aging Life Care Professional® Should Consider”
4:00 p.m. ET/3:00 p.m. CT/2:00 p.m. MT/1:00 p.m. PT
Click here for details and registration for ALCA members.

March 8

Becker College Counseling Program, Worcester, Mass.
Guest speaker, graduate class session on “Mental Health and Elders”

March 15

National Academy of Certified Care Managers
Part 3 of 5-part Webinar series on Five Essential Knowledge Areas for CMCS
“Entitlements, Benefits and Legal Issues”
Click here for details.

May 11

ALCA 34th National Conference in Chicago
Panel discussion on “Awareness in Preparedness: Disaster Lessons”
Click here for details.

May 22

Worcester Alzheimer’s Partnership
“What is Aging Life Care®?” at Noon
100 North Parkway #105, Worcester, Mass.
508-799-2386

May 23

Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire
A Map Through the Maze Conference for Alzheimer and Dementia Care Providers
“Collaborative Care Planning in the Community,” with Attorney Laura Traiger, at 10:45 a.m.
DCU Center, 50 Foster St., Worcester, Mass.
Click here for details.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Biegun Wschodni

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Gone Missing: Tech Tools Locate a Loved One Who Wanders

Freedom to go where we want, when we want. It’s a deeply held American value, part of our cultural DNA. The iconic 1960s TV series, Route 66, about two young men coming of age as they drive cross-country in a Corvette, still resonates.

But what if the one with wanderlust is your aging parent with dementia? You don’t want to lock her in her home, but you’re also terrified that she’ll take off on foot and go missing for an hour or a day—or more. So-called “elopement” takes just an instant. Even experienced caregivers can briefly turn their backs, only to discover that their charge has slipped out the door and disappeared. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 out of 10 people with dementia will wander eventually. The risks are real.

These GPS Tools Can Help You Keep Track of Your Loved One

But now there’s an app for that. The same kind of GPS devices that enable you to find your missing smartphone can also help you find your missing loved one. All involve a subscription for some kind of tracking device that is worn by your loved one, paired with text or email alerts, tracking apps and/or a hotline network. Among the options:

Project Lifesaver: Requires your loved one to wear a personal transmitter ankle bracelet. If he wanders, you receive an alert. When you call the local Project Lifesaver agency, a trained team goes into action to find your loved one. Most people are found within a half hour, a few miles from home. This service specializes in helping people with cognitive conditions that cause them to wander. The international search and rescue program also works with local public safety agencies to educate staff about risks of wandering.

GPS Smart Sole: If your loved one objects to wearing a tracking device or is likely to forget to put it on, this option may be the solution. GPS Smart Sole is an insert equipped with GPS technology that fits into most shoes with removable insoles. This works best if your loved one wears the same shoes daily or if you purchase multiple pairs of inserts. The device transmits location data every 10 minutes via smart phone, tablet or computer. You can define a safe radius for your loved one; if she goes beyond, you receive an email or text alert.

Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone™: This service, paired with Medic-Alert, uses location based mapping to track your loved one. The locater device can either be worn or mounted in a car, and transmits signals via satellites and cell towers to a web-based system that you can monitor. Options include real-time location monitoring, alerts if your loved one leaves a safety zone that you define, and emergency assistance if your loved one wanders.

But Technology, Alone, Is Not the Full Solution

These tracking systems can help your loved one to live safely at home as long as elopement episodes are relatively infrequent. But it’s important to understand that this technology doesn’t prevent wandering, any more than a wheel chair alarm can prevent falls. Be sure to have a current photo or digital image of your loved one, in case he goes missing. Call the local police as soon as you realize he’s wandered off. Massachusetts is one of three dozen states to participate in Silver Alert—a public notification system, similar to Amber Alerts for missing children, that broadcasts information about missing individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias or cognitive conditions.

If wandering becomes a serious safety concern, you may need to consider moving your loved one to a secure setting that specializes in memory care. Even that’s not foolproof, since it’s still possible for someone to exit a “secure” setting; however, there are several systems used both to prevent wandering and to quickly alert staff in case someone elopes. An Aging Life Care Professional® can provide a thorough assessment of your loved one’s safety issues and needs, and help you determine the best alternatives.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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How Do You Know It’s Dementia When Dad Can Still Do the New York Times Crossword?

The onset of early dementia is not always obvious. Especially when your loved one is smart and can compensate for memory loss, or is clever and determined to hide symptoms, it can be difficult to know whether what seems “off” is really so.

Maybe your dad has always been a dapper dresser, and you notice him wearing a stained shirt on more than one occasion. When you mention it, he shrugs it off and says he’s having his eyes checked next month (despite the fact that he has no trouble surfing the Internet on his smartphone).

Or your mom, ever the vigilant money manager, who always paid bills ahead of time, has some unopened, month-old invoices on her desk. You point them out, and she laughs and informs you she’s now paying online (even though she’s always mistrusted online fund transfers).

Or perhaps your great aunt, the most punctual person you have ever known, comes late to a luncheon date without calling. Once she reassures you that she’s fine, she explains that she misplaced her car keys and also missed the turn for the restaurant (where you always meet).

How Have Things Changed?

For all three scenarios, the explanations may seem logical, possibly true. But if the incidents repeat often enough to indicate a pattern of unusual behavior, it’s time to be more vigilant about the real chance that something more serious is at play.

At the crux of the issue is determining how your loved one’s behavior has changed relative to what has been normal for that individual. For someone who is smart and able, the changes may be subtle. And even if there are notable changes, he or she may be able to compensate creatively and still be able to do the New York Times crossword. Then the question becomes how much loss of ability is too much.

For example:

Can he still manage his own medications? Warning signs include a pill minder box with lids open out of order, pills not taken that should have been, or empty pill bottles that have not been refilled.

Does she leave bills unpaid or stacks of mail unopened? Especially for someone who was once very organized, increased clutter can be a warning flag. Missed payments, tax returns that were never filed, a bank account that hasn’t been balanced in months—all add up to a decline in cognitive functioning.

Is he at risk driving? Aside from slower reflexes, declining sight and increased fatigue—all good reasons to have driving skills evaluated—your loved one may evidence poor judgment, confusion or forgetfulness, all of which could endanger his safety and others on the road.

Has her appearance changed? Again, the standard of comparison is how your loved one normally presented herself to the world. If she always wore meticulously applied make-up, had every hair in place and dressed impeccably, and now seems less attuned to her appearance, she may have decided that she doesn’t want to bother with it all anymore. But she may also be less aware.

What’s at Stake for You?

Recognizing that your loved one is declining brings challenges beyond mere observation. There is a significant emotional hurdle to overcome: recognizing that your aging parent is vulnerable, admitting to yourself that his or her time on earth is limited, accepting that the status quo no longer works. You may have a lot of other demands on your time, and the idea of taking this on can seem overwhelming.

It can also be extremely difficult to confront your loved one with your observations, depending on the history of your relationship. A parent who has always maintained the upper hand, who insists on control, or who is belligerent and critical when challenged can be a nightmare to deal with.

For all of these reasons, if you suspect that your loved one is showing signs of dementia that could put her at risk, consider having an Aging LifeCare Professional® conduct an independent assessment. This information can provide the basis for informed—and mediated, if necessary—discussions with your loved one about next steps. And you may be surprised that you’re not the only one who is relieved to finally address the issue. Your loved one—whether or not she admits it—may be, too.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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