By Lisa Palley, PalleyPromotes
Alzheimer’s touches everyone. Whether someone you know who has the disease, is a caregiver to someone who has it, or is someone who is afraid they themselves might have the disease, Alzheimer’s is in our lives. Especially now that we are living longer. It’s apparent we have figured out how to keep our bodies healthy and strong, but we haven’t yet figured out a way to keep our minds from disintegrating.
The full room welcomed Dr. Marc Agronin at a recent evening at Books & Books in the Gables. Some people he knew, and some he didn’t. It didn’t matter, because everyone there wanted – and needed – to hear him talk about his new book, The Dementia Caregiver. The crowd of over 200 wanted to hear what he had to say about Alzheimer’s, especially what he had to say to caregivers of those living with the disease, now referred to as Neurocognitive Disease.
Agronin, director of the Memory Center at Miami Jewish Health Systems, formerly known as Miami Jewish Home at Douglas Gardens, is one of those special people who you know is doing what they are meant to be doing. He was meant to be a doctor, and not just any kind of doctor, but a geriatric doctor. It is apparent in the way that he speaks of the elderly that he loves them. His gentle approach, evident in his presentation, was calming to all of us there that night, all struggling to understand Alzheimer’s.
During the course of the evening, Agronin imparted thoughtful insights, the first one being: Caregiving to someone with Alzheimer’s is a marathon, not a race.
With six million Americans battling Alzheimer’s, the biggest risk factor is age. But this little factoid startled everyone: Women, older women at that, are most at risk during menopause when the body stops making estrogen. Women who have diabetes also have the highest chance of experiencing Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, and it manifests itself as a change in memory. With the process beginning a long time before the first assessment, Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, with toxins building up over the years. Researchers are working on ways to slow down the progression. But Agronin couldn’t stress this point enough: More money needs to be spent on research.
Agronin refers to himself as a Brain Detective. Before making a diagnosis, he collects as much data and history as possible about the individual, including the physical and the psychological landscape. He regards each piece of information equal in value, all of which come together like a puzzle. He told an amusing story of someone who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when actually she was ADD.
What Agronin hears most from caregivers – be it a child, a sibling, a spouse – is that their loved one “is not the same person,” and that they don’t know how to deal with this new person. Said Agronin, “One has to find ways to connect.”
There are several stages to the disease, and each one is different. Agronin’s approach urges caregivers to focus on what is right with the individual, what the individual can do, and can still do, instead of on what that person can no longer do. And for the caregiver, focusing on what their loved can still do can improve the quality of life for their loved one. “We must avoid warehousing people,” Agronin said.
As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s; we have figured out how to replace limbs and organs, but not how to keep the brain healthy. He did say that an active lifestyle, eating well (fruits and vegetables) and socially engaging activities are ways to keep the brain healthy. He suggested that everyone stay connected with friends and family and find the type of physical activity that makes them happy, because, he said, “You’ll actually do it.”
What he truly wanted everyone to understand is that it is important that caregivers serve as advocates for their loved ones, to do everything they can to improve the quality of life for their loved one. “It is critical to be persistent, to try to stay ahead of the curve,” said Agronin, “to also take a positive, hopeful approach, and to never give up.”
The Dementia Caregiver by Dr. Agronin is available at Books & Books.