Three-part class offers vital insights of Alzheimer’s
Jack Crockett’s wife had become increasingly confused while playing dominoes.
Francis Chavez operates an adult foster home and one of the residents quit washing her hair.
Both wanted to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and how to care for those suffering from it.
Kristina Barragan, of the Alzheimer’s Association, is teaching a three-part series, Living with Alzheimer’s: For Caregivers — Middle Stage, and she wants to help. Each of her 90-minute sessions is dedicated to a stage of the disease.
Crockett and Chavez joined Barragan and about 18 others — all of whom have different relationships to Alzheimer’s disease — on Tuesday for the public and free seminar offered at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.
The class — the second in the series — addressed the phase when an Alzheimer’s patient transitions from early onset to the middle period in which they require oversight and assistance in performing basic tasks such as running errands, doing household chores and maintaining personal hygiene. The second phase is also when those afflicted often relinquish their car keys and hand over a power of attorney to loved ones.
One in 9 people 65 and older face a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 32,000 residents living in Deschutes County are over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Unpaid caregivers who provide care, usually loved ones, often juggle full-time jobs and other obligations while also providing dignity and compassion for Central Oregonians living with the disease.
“Everyone I talk to has some connection to Alzheimer’s,” said Barragan, the Central Oregon regional coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association. The cheerful instructor taught 32 class sessions on multiple aspects of Alzheimer’s last year in Central and Eastern Oregon counties. Barragan incorporates anecdotes involving her multilingual grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, to lighten the mood of discussions that hit close to home for many.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, one that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. The disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. The onset is gradual. Alzheimer’s leads to nerve cell death and tissue loss. Over time, the brain shrinks dramatically, affecting nearly all its functions, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s has no cure, but treatments can temporarily slow its progression.
Alzheimer’s in Oregon/Deschutes County
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, around 62,000 Oregonians live with the disease. In 2016, it’s projected to cost the state $225 million in Medicaid.
Additionally, Alzheimer’s took the lives of over 1,300 Oregonians in 2013 — dementia is the cause of death for 1 out of 3 seniors. Oregon has the 10th highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the country, Barragan said. While over 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, as the Boomer Generation and Generation X age, it is projected that 16 million Americans will have the disease by 2050.
Some patients who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s die within two years, while others live with it for 20 years or more. Even so, the regressive nature of the disease makes it difficult for those involved.
Crockett’s wife, Mary, was diagnosed with administrative dementia nearly two years ago. He admitted confronting his wife’s disease is scary, “…but we need answers to our questions,” said Crockett, 72. He and his wife, 75, showed up early for the class. Mary said her short-term memory loss was making her nightly Bible readings increasingly difficult. A once-avid knitter, Mary had stopped her hobby because she would be making a pair of socks but have to stop because she’d lose count of the number of stitches.
“It’s very frustrating for me. I’ve always been able to do things on my own, but now I can’t,” said Mary. The La Pine couple learned of the class through the newspaper. “This is the first class around that we heard of,” Jack said. The pair paid close attention throughout the class; at times, Mary’s hand could be seen enclosed in Jack’s.
“It used to be that someone with Alzheimer’s was just considered ‘senile,’ or ‘loco,’” Barragan told the class, explaining how some languages like Spanish lack a word for Alzheimer’s. “But Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. And each person with Alzheimer’s is different than the next.”
Alzheimer’s is not a disease that patients should shoulder alone.
Caring for your loved one
There are approximately 463,000 unpaid caregivers in Oregon. Since 2014, caregivers have taken over 12,000 training sessions through more than 373 online and in-person classes, according to Angela Neal, project director of Oregon Care Partners, which partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to do the three-part series in Deschutes County.
“The main thing is creating a surrounding for the patient that is safe,” said Neal, but it’s particularly difficult when the caregiver has received little or no training.
That’s where this type of class factors in.
Caregivers come from every age, gender, socioeconomic and racial and ethnic group. An estimated 43.5 million American adults have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months. Approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past 12 months, or 14.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to the report, “Caregiving in the US 2015,” co-authored by AARP and the National Alliance of Caregiving.
The Alzheimer’s Association concludes that in Oregon in 2015, 178,000 caregivers provided 202 million hours of unpaid care, valued at nearly $2.5 billion.
The average caregiver is a 49-year-old female, currently caring for a 69-year-old female relative who needs care because of a long-term physical condition, according to a report co-authored by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. The care provider typically works 34.7 hours a week, is married or living with a partner, and is in very good or good health. She is a high school graduate or has taken some college courses, but does not have a degree. Her average household income is $54,700, the report said.
After the class, Francis Chavez, 45, who founded the local adult foster home Helping Hands Senior Care Home, peppered Barragan, 30, with questions. Chavez said she had taken some online OCP classes before attending the session with Barragan. “She has a such a good sense of humor, you can really soak it in,” Chavez said of the instructor. Chavez cares for several residents who live with Alzheimer’s; she said this class has given her vital insight.