By Megann Horstead | For The Sentinel
Joliet resident Lois Tomac knows how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
So, when an opportunity arose to learn more about dementia, she said this is it.
“I just want to educate myself so just in case anyone loved ones in my family start it,” she said. “Maybe, I can have a little understanding about it.”
Alden Courts and Estates of Shorewood hosted the first of three spring lectures to educate the community about dementia and maintaining a healthy lifestyle on March 8.
The program was designed to engage the community about the disease by means of a live demonstration, presentation and open forum for questions and answers.
Alden Management Services Operations Director of Clinical Programming Dr. Jennifer Stelter noted that talk of memory care is an up and coming topic that is drawing a lot of attention among baby boomers in today’s world.
Dozens were in attendance for the first installment of the lecture series at Alden Estates of Shorewood.
Stelter said though people hold differing amounts of knowledge about dementia and how it works, she would define it simply as memory loss.
“It’s not a diagnosis, it’s actually an overarching term for many different type of disease processes,” Stelter said. “There are actually over 100 different types of dementias.”
Typically, dementia first impacts short-term memory and moves onto long-term memory.
Stelter said it’s important for people to get tested to determine what form of dementia they may have.
What’s more, people could actually be experiencing Alzheimer’s disease as early as 20 years prior to receiving a diagnosis, Stelter said.
Like cancer and diabetes, dementia manifests itself in several forms and there is no single treatment.
Tomac was one of four people who volunteered to take part in a live demonstration to simulate what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone living with dementia.
Each volunteer took part in the activity by putting on pieces of garb designed to manipulate the ability to use the five senses. This included headphones, gloves, sunglasses and nose plugs.
Participants were asked to perform a series of tasks ranging from turning to a specific page in a copy of Reader’s Digest and picking up a comb to identifying a pen’s color and obtaining a Kleenex. Stelter used a number of prompts, cues and reminders to help the volunteers as they completed the exercise.
“The difficult part for me was the vision,” Tomac said. “It was extremely impaired—very blurred, couldn’t see out of my left or right peripheral. That part really bothered me the most. The pinching of the feet, that was annoying. And those sounds in the ears, I mean, it was so distracting to concentrate on doing what she asked me to do.”
Stelter said though there are medications designed for people with dementia, there is no cure for it.
“They slow the progression down, they don’t stop it,” she said. “It’s like a parachute. It will slowly make it go down meaning that they will eventually have full-blown dementia. It will slow the progression so it’s not so quick, but it does not cure and it does not stop it.”
Stelter referenced research showing how non-pharmacological techniques can be employed to support people with dementia.
Staff working at Alden Courts of the Shorewood, which is a newly opened memory care facility, often will utilize these strategies. This includes cuing, prompting and reminding.
Stelter said it’s important for people to be supportive of loved ones with dementia.
“We should habilitate, not rehabilitate,” she said. “That’s not possible. It’s possible to habilitate meaning focusing on what they can still do.”
Tomac said the lecture was very eye-opening.
“[It was] very helpful, and I can’t wait to come to the next two [lectures],” Tomac said.
Alden Estates and Courts of Shorewood will host another lecture called “Embracing Mindfulness” on April 12.
For more information, visit aldenestatesofshorewood.com