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Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease: Strategies for Family and Professionals

Alzheimer's expert David Troxel will speak at Atria on Hudson Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Ossining.

David Troxel, Alzheimer’s care expert and author, had been working as the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association in Santa Barbara, CA for 10 years when her learned his own mother had been diagnosed with the disease. He left his post for a part-time consulting job and became his mother’s full-time caregiver.

“My professional experience gave me a solid foundation in coping with a loved one’s Alzheimer’s,” Troxel said. “But actually living it gave me a much deeper understanding.”

Troxel, who serves as an Alzheimer’s consultant for Atria Senior Living, will hold a full-day Alzheimer’s and dementia workshop for family and professionals at Ossining’s Atria on Hudson beginning with a breakfast at 8:30 a.m.

“Not many people enjoy working with Alzheimer’s patients,” said Troxel, who earned a Master’s Degree in public health and has authored five books on caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  “I get excited about it.”

Troxel recognizes that when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it can be terrifying for the patient’s spouse and children.

“I recommend family members learn everything they can about the progression of the illness and treatment plans as early as possible,” he said. “The next step is to accept the situation and learn to adapt to it.”

He suggests training oneself not to argue with the patient, regardless of how nonsensical his or her remarks may be and “creating a sense of joy for the patient.”

Troxel’s mother died about a year ago, but Troxel said he did everything he could to make her last few years comfortable and keep her as engaged with reality as her disease would allow.

“When she started talking as if Eisenhower were still president, I learned not to argue with her,” he said. “I would simply say something like, ‘I like Ike, too.’”

In the beginning stages, he said it is okay–and often beneficial—to give the patient a gentle cue about his or her true surroundings. “But if it doesn’t work, don’t argue,” he warned. “Go with it and be supportive; you want your loved one to feel as if you’re on her side.”

Another tip he offers caregivers and family is to know the patient’s life story.

“If a patient is famous for her pumpkin cheesecake or his golf game, talk about that,” he said. “My mother was Canadian and drank Earl Grey tea with milk. Bringing her a cup every day made her feel comfortable and more connected.’

Immediately after an Alzheimer's diagnosis is made—or the disease is suspected—Troxel recommends patients receive comprehensive medical examinations, preferably from a neurologist. “Sometimes symptoms of dementia can be caused by something other than Alzheimer’s, such as nutritional deficiencies,” he said.

He also urges family members to make sure patients’ legal and financial affairs are in order as soon after diagnosis as possible.

Once the paperwork is out of the way, it is time to start living with the illness.

People with Alzheimer’s should be stimulated, both mentally and physically, Troxel said.

Though he admitted “there is no scientific data to prove” that doing a daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle will arrest or even slow the process of the illness, he said qualitative studies have shown that exercise, socialization, intellectual stimulation and diet can keep people more connected.

“Completing exercise routines or brain-stimulating puzzles gives people a sense of pride,” he said. “And I think that feeling of accomplishment is important for patients. “

On Tuesday, Troxel will reveal some of the newest research in the still-elusive field of Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

“Some of the most exciting innovations are in the area of diagnostic techniques,” he said. “Our field of knowledge just about doubles every 18 months. My goal is to share that new information to health care providers nationwide.”

David Troxel is the author of the book “A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care,” published in 2004. He is a member of the Ethics Advisory Panel for the United States Alzheimer’s Association. E-mail David Troxel directly at: bestfriendsdavid@aol.com.

Atria on Hudson is located at 321 North Highland Avenue, Ossining, NY. The program starts Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 8:30 a.m. 

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David Troxel's guide to discerning Alzheimer's disease from other types of dementia using behavioral signals:

Aldheimer's disease: Patient experiences short-term forgetfulness and confusion.

Frontal Lobe Dementia: Patient experiences frequent personality changes.

Lewy Body Dementia: Patient experiences movement disorders and visual hallucinations.


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