April 22, 2021
Films about Dementia Help Us Understand it
“Supernova” does not have a happy ending. But that’s how stories about Alzheimer’s go, and the film, which recently began streaming, is worth watching.
It’s one of those occasional movies that come along and portray the emotional aspects of this disease with nuance. The films, by using big-name stars like Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in “Supernova,” lift some of the stigma around dementia that can isolate its victims and their caregivers.
Dementia “is still very much a taboo topic,” said Bobbi Matchar, who, as director of the Duke Dementia Family Support Program, facilitates group discussions for people with dementia and their families. “Having movies that more accurately portray the face of dementia is really helpful.”
The newest of these films, “The Father,” is in contention for an Oscar on Sunday, as is its star, Anthony Hopkins.
Julianne Moore also won an Oscar for the lead in the 2014 film, “Still Alice” about a spirited college professor coming to terms with a failing memory. The most powerful scenes are her first realizations – forgetting a class lecture or not recognizing the center of campus, where her jog has taken her. Her denial ends when she admits to her husband (played by Alec Baldwin), “I’ve got something wrong with me.”
In “Away from Her,” Julie Christie is an older woman with Alzheimer’s who wanders the woods near her home on Lake Ontario. For her safety, she and her husband (played by Gordon Pinsent) agree she will move into a nursing home. This movie is about the disintegration of a loving marriage when one partner’s memories fade and then go dark, forcing her husband to grieve while she is still alive.
“Supernova” examines the implications of Alzheimer’s for two men who remain partners until the bitter end. On a road trip, they struggle to communicate about what Tusker’s dementia means for each of them.
Tusker (Tucci’s character) is a writer. His partner, Sam (Firth), becomes angry after discovering Tusker is hiding the extent of his dementia – he finds indecipherable scribbles in a notebook – so as not to burden Sam. …Learn More
December 3, 2020
Woman with Dementia Gets Lots of Support
In the 3 1/2 years since Brenda Lugar was diagnosed with dementia due to Lewy body disease, she has found great comfort in the people who want to make her life a little easier.
This support takes many forms. At church on Sunday mornings, Shirley always reminds Lugar of her name. When Lugar is writing an email, she knows it’s okay to text her friend, Michele, or her sister-in-law, Janet, for help finding the right word. Lugar’s husband of 43 years, Robert Lugar, recently bought her a special board for Christmas so she has a place to work on her jigsaw puzzles – and he insisted she open it early and start enjoying it now.
“Just that little thing – it meant a lot,” she said in a recent interview.
It’s common for people who are grappling with the painful reality of a dementia diagnosis to deny their condition or hide it from others. But not Brenda. Asking for the support she needs – and getting it – is “soul cleansing,” she said.
Lugar, who is 62, didn’t arrive at this place immediately. When a neurologist at Duke University Medical Center diagnosed her, her initial reaction was denial. “I said, ‘Oh you can cure me.’ He said, ‘I can’t cure you but I can slow it,’ ” she said. “When he said that, I knew that wasn’t good. I kind of shut down.”
Lewy body disease is a condition in which abnormal protein deposits in the brain can cause dementia. For Lugar, disclosing her disease gives her an odd sense of relief – it’s an explanation to others for her memory loss, her intermittent hallucinations about animals, and her uneven performance at work. “I had to tell people, because I wasn’t the same person,” she said.
She even shared her condition with a store clerk to explain her fumbling with the credit card reader. “If I tell them [and] if they have any decency in them, they’ll treat me better,” she said.
Barbara Matchar, director of the Duke Dementia Family Support Program, which Lugar participates in, said that people like Lugar “who are open about their diagnosis often feel relieved.”
Lugar was diagnosed in 2017 after she noticed frightening things happening to her at work. …Learn More
April 30, 2019
Medical Costs Slam a Minority of Seniors
As retirees’ health declines, their medical costs go up. These costs include both everyday healthcare expenses and long-term care costs.
The everyday expenses that Medicare does not cover – Part B and Part D premiums, copayments, eyeglasses, and dental care – consume about 20 percent of the incomes of households ages 75 and over. While not exactly good news, 20 percent is “perhaps manageable” for most, concluded researchers at the Center for Retirement Research in a summary of various studies in this area.
The real problem comes for the unlucky minority – about 5 percent of seniors – who spend more than half of their income out of their own pockets for healthcare.
Turning to long-term care, these services are less frequently required but can be very costly. For example, while many nursing home stays are relatively short, a lengthy stay is a potentially crippling expense. One common trigger for a long-term stay is dementia.
The retirees facing the greatest financial risk from health care expenses tend to be those who earned enough to buy a house and put money away in their employer’s retirement plan. They have more to lose if their wealth is eaten up by exorbitant medical costs. The poor, in contrast, are covered by Medicaid, which often pays for Medicare premiums and long-term care. …Learn More
April 16, 2019
Dementia is a Threat to Managing Money
The perils of aging generally escalate around 75, and they are becoming more pervasive as more Americans live to very old ages.
One of these perils – declining cognitive ability – often creates financial problems. A new study that summarized the research on this side of the retirement equation identified the financial fallout from dementia.
Currently, dementia afflicts roughly a quarter of seniors in their early 80s. And geriatricians and demographers have predicted for years that dementia will become a serious societal problem in the future as the tsunami of baby boomers reach older ages.
The first sign of deteriorating financial skills might be forgetting to pay a bill. But when severe dementia sets in, the vast majority completely lose their ability to manage their finances and risk making big mistakes, such as losing money in a fraudulent investment scheme.
Another concern is retirees’ growing reliance on 401(k)s for more of their income. Increasingly, they are grappling with the complicated question of how much money to withdraw each year from their 401(k) accounts – this is difficult for anyone but virtually impossible for people with dementia.
Fortunately, most of them get assistance managing their finances. But the seniors who don’t get help face potentially grave repercussions, such as having difficulty affording food, housing and medical care.
Managing money is not the only financial risk posed by dementia. A more serious issue is the potential need for a lengthy stay in a nursing home, which will be addressed in a future blog post. …Learn More
December 18, 2018
Holidays with Dementia in the Family
When my grandmother was spirited away by dementia and no longer recognized me, I stopped visiting her in the nursing home.
I didn’t understand this at the time but now think that I just wanted to remember her baking lemon cream pies or waving at me as she rode around on her lawnmower cropping the lot next to her Indiana farmhouse.
I wish I could get another chance and do things better this time. Regret is hard to live with.
Psychologist Ann Kaiser Stearns views the holidays as a precious time of year to make elderly family members feel they are loved and included in the festivities.
“People respond for as long as they live to smiles, to touch, to music, to kindness, to sitting in the sun, to pumpkin pies,” Stearns, a professor of behavioral science, said in an interview.
“We just need to remember that all of that nourishes an elderly person to whatever degree they have impairments,” said Stearns, who also wrote “Redefining Age: A Caregiver’s Guide to Living Your Best Life.”
Stearns encourages people to make an extra effort to connect with a loved one over the holidays and provides some tips:
Be patient. Take the extra time to sit down with your parent, aunt, or uncle and talk to them. Encourage them to reminisce. “Don’t do something if you don’t have the time,” Stearns said.
Be present. If grandma doesn’t remember you or something that happened in the past, do not argue with her or ask, “Why don’t you remember?!” She advised that it’s better to say, “Remember grandma, it’s your granddaughter from Baltimore.” When an elderly person repeats or forgets, connect with them where they are now, even if it means going through the same conversation again.
Stir sweet memories. Stearns said that her friend’s father, a former minister, has Alzheimer’s but the friend brings him to church anyway. When Stearns’ parents were old, they used to sit happily watching the squirrels in their yard while her father smoked cigars. It’s important to repeat rituals that are uplifting and have always brought meaning to their lives. …Learn More
Originally posted at https://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/tag/alzheimers/