Realizing a loved one is sliding into dementia presents a host of tough decisions for families.
In December, families gathered across Acadiana to celebrate the holiday season with their loved ones, but for some families reuniting for another year of holiday cheer, coming face to face with their elderly parents and grandparents was not as merry as they expected.
Often families notice certain changes in their relatives' behavior and demeanor that otherwise go undetected from the routine phone call - loss of a conspicuous amount of weight or repeating something a little too often for simple absent-mindedness. If so, they may be showing signs that they're in danger of the most common form of dementia: Alzheimer's disease.
Photo by Robin May
Kathie Zimmermann and Kim Schneider of Emeritus Lafayette
And if such a potentially devastating conclusion is made, many families are left to wonder about their options. Fortunately, several local options for care exist for Alzheimer's patients in the Acadiana area.
One such option is Emeritus Lafayette Senior Living Community, part of one of the largest chains of assisted-living, retirement and Alzheimer's care communities in North America. The non-medical facility affords both assisted living as well as memory care services, which are tailored toward a hands-on approach for those who have been diagnosed with dementia.
"The busiest time we see here is really around the holidays," says Kim Schneider, regional director of marketing at Emeritus Lafayette. "Really a holiday is only one day, and you can pick them up and bring them home or whatever you'd like, but if they're not safe [at home] then you're really taking a big chance."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. In Louisiana alone, approximately 83,000 people were living with Alzheimer's in 2010, up 14 percent from the 73,000 total in 2000.
"Typically with someone who has Alzheimer's, they remember things from their childhood or their earlier age or their short term memory," says Schneider. "We try to partner with the families to learn more about their [early] life such as when they were younger, times with their children and events that maybe they would still recollect. We then build their day around that."
A few key things to be watchful of when seeing your elderly relatives after a long period of time are frequent confusion and disorientation, obvious weight loss, repetitive speaking, not taking medication, loss of time, tendency to wander and unfounded suspicions about family and friends. If you suspect your loved one may be in danger of succumbing to dementia, it's best to start early not only to catch the disease in its first stages, but to confirm that the proper preparations can be made as many assisted living and memory care facilities are subject to deposits and long waiting lists.
But perhaps the best advice a family can receive while deciding on how best to care for a loved one suffering from dementia is that of someone who has already gone through the ordeal.
Local land surveyor Sterling LeJeune is one such person. LeJeune admitted his late mother Ann LeJeune Bowen - one of the founding media personalities at KLFY-TV10 - to Maison de Lafayette this past summer after she began developing dementia-like symptoms and refusing to continue her physical therapy for her broken hip.
"She began experiencing memory loss and began having a hard time identifying people," recounts LeJeune. "As the dementia progressed, she would become manic and then depressed, manic and then depressed; it was a sad thing to watch happen to your parent."
LeJeune laments that it wasn't until he was flipping through her trusty day planner not long after he admitted his mother to Maison de Lafayette that he realized the depth of what she was facing.
"When we opened it up and looked back at the last nine months or so, she had made post-it notes on everything," he says. "You could tell she was starting to slip and that she recognized it."
Asked what advice he would give families who may be preparing to enter a similar ordeal, LeJeune offers one kernel of wisdom. "The children of the parents need to prepare themselves for role reversal," he says. "It can be very depressing, but that's what happens. You become the parent and the parent becomes the child."
"These things don't happen overnight. It may be a very gradual thing, and if you haven't seen your family member in a long period of time then you may dismiss it," warns Mo Hannie, who co-founded Rosewood Retirement & Assisted Living with his brother Nicol 16 years ago. Last January, IND Monthly reported on Hannie's plans to build a lockdown personal memory care facility that would focus solely on patients suffering from dementia, which he would dedicate to his late father Dr. Edward Hannie who suffered from Alzheimer's.
"What I try to get people to understand is dementia is demented," says Hannie. "There's no cookie-cutter way a person is going to be affected by dementia. My dad would do things like a child would do. Some people hallucinate. Some people can't function in a group or setting of other people."
Hannie has named the facility Cedar Crest Personal Memory Living and says he expects to break ground at the property on Beadle Road in April, with the facility up and running by the end of 2013.
According to Hannie, Cedar Crest will be an all-inclusive facility catering not just to its patients but to their family members.
"We're going to go a step further than we do at Rosewood," he says. "We're going to offer them everything other than nurse care. We're going to have a neurologist who's going to be able to consult with the families. We deal with a couple of gerontologists now that are going to consult with us. We're going to have a beauty shop. We're going to have an ice cream shop. We'll do transportation. We'll do scheduled activities. We'll do maid service. We'll do cooking, cleaning. All these things and then some."
Prospective families will be happy to hear that both the Emeritus and Cedar Crest facilities offer their own "open door" policy and welcome any and all family members desperate for understanding and guidance through such a traumatic time.
"It's such a big decision to make. It's almost like looking for a school for your child," says Schneider. "It's Emeritus' philosophy that if someone is not able to live with us we always will help the families find a place that they can go. We give them names of people or will refer them to other places, and we stay in contact with them until they know that person is safe."
Hannie offers a similar outlook for his forthcoming memory care facility.
"We just want to be able to help these people, friends, family, strangers, it doesn't matter," says Hannie. "We want to be able to help them put themselves in the right direction."
For more information on Emeritus at Lafayette visit www.emeritus.com. And for more information on Cedar Crest Personal Memory Living, visit cedarcrestliving.com.