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  • Writer's pictureSpira

Ageing and Alzheimer’s; Caretaking in America

Des during her time as a volunteer in Haiti

We decided to share this article with you because taking care of our parents, elderly care, and problems associated with age such as Alzheimer’s Disease is the reality of life. It is a complicated and heartbreaking journey that we all have to face, and we all need to know; we are not alone. It is important to share these experiences and learn from one and other.

I received this blog as an email from Desiree, her friends call her Des. I am lucky to call myself her friend. She is an amazing soul, her dedication to humankind, family, and friends brings me to tears; she is a constant reminder of the good in human nature. Her courage is in extreme opposite to her short stature :- ), which makes her amazing willpower even more impressive.

So who is Des? She wears many hats; she is a mom, a wife, a nurse, a yoga teacher, a business partner (you can check out our new venture Spira Mindful Wellness), but most importantly for this article, she is a granddaughter and a caretaker of her grandmother.

Ageing in America; A yogi’s perspective

Des’s Grandma a few years ago with Des’s newborn baby girl…

My name is Desiree, I am my grandmother’s only grandchild, Durable Power of Attorney and her only living relative in the state of Washington. Granny is 85 years old, and up until recently she lived alone but due to her severe Advanced Alzheimer’s Dementia she is moving into memory care facility. Granny was born in a small town Pikesville, Kentucky. Like most women in her generation, she was married right out of high school and had her first child at the age of 19, her second at 21. Her husband was a Vietnam Army veteran who died in 1995 from complications related to gastric cancer, he was only 58 years old. Since that time, both of Granny’s children have died including my father and uncle. Granny has lived alone since the death of her husband and survives on a minimal income from social security and a small pension from my Grandfather.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer is the most common type of dementia and is defined as a progressive disease with memory loss as the main component. Alzheimer’s Disease involves the part of the brain that controls thought, memory and language. Although scientist are learning more every day we still don’t know exactly what causes the disease but we know it is on the rise with over 5 million American’s living with Alzheimer’s and by the year 2050 the number of people is projected to rise to over 14 million people, a nearly three-fold increase!

Granny has always been a boisterous person. She has a strong southern accent, smokes cigarettes and is fiercely independent. In 2015 I began to notice abnormal memory loss. I asked Granny’s primary care Doctor to refer her for neuropsychiatric evaluation. She was seen by a Neuropsychologist where formal cognitive testing with MRI data showed she had Alzheimer’s Disease. Since her diagnosis three years ago Granny has continued to decline. Her personality, mood, and behaviors have changed drastically. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, the memory deficits involved disrupts daily life and familiar tasks become very difficult. Maximizing her ability to live independently has been extremely taxing especially because we live 2 hours away from each other.

Just this week the home health RN that came to visit and called to notify me of a discrepancy between her medi-set and her medication vials. Apparently, Granny had taken four days worth of her daily medications in one day. A very dangerous, life-threatening situation. Thankfully, her vital signs were stable and she did not require admission to the hospital. Granny has also lost 15 pounds in the last three months, she no longer prepares meals for herself and has multiple expired or spoiled food items in her fridge, her nutrition is poor and she is showing signs of self- neglect, unable to wash clothes items or maintain appropriate hygiene.

Last month one of her neighbors witnessed Granny letting a stranger into her home. She is at risk for elder fraud/abuse and no longer has the judgment or insight on basic safety needed to live alone. She also has severe hip arthritis making her a high fall risk.

My Grandmother now requires secure memory care to prevent elopement and self-harm. She can no longer care for herself safely and it breaks my heart. The woman I knew and love has become a shadow of herself. But I fight for her because it is what you do. My grandmother has saved my life on more than one occasion and has been one of my biggest support throughout my life. Unfortunately, the cost of memory care is prohibitive. She makes too much on a minimal pension and social security to qualify for Medicaid and the care facility she is going to does not take Medicare. I will need to sell her house in order to pay for the $7,000 per month care cost. I have been working tirelessly to apply for veterans spousal benefits but remain uncertain if I will get funding to help off-set the cost. I am transparent about the cost of memory care in this blog because I had no idea how much it was and I am hopeful this may help someone else going through it. I do have a medical background which has aided immensely but it has been incredibly time consuming and I have had to take several leave days from work to coordinate her care. The cost of treating Alzheimer’s disease in the US is projected to rise between $159-215 billion/year. Dementia is now a public health epidemic and the burden is impacting the nation.

What does yoga have to do about this?

Well in terms of prevention, physical activity is vital for aging adults. Yoga has been shown to help support neuroplasticity; the brains ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections improving cognitive function; even leading to hippocampal total brain volume growth. The hippocampus is the area in the brain responsible for retention of long and short-term memory. A recent Meta-Analysis suggested improved quality of life especially in older adults who practice yoga at least 3 days per week. Yoga and other mind-body practices, especially meditation may reduce markers of inflammation another component that has been linked to cognitive decline. Evidence now suggests that older adults who participate in a yoga practice show improvements in balance, strength, flexibility and mobility.

As a yogi and a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s; yoga has been instrumental in helping me de-stress and reduce my anxiety. Yoga has also pulled me through the grief and loss that has accompanied the progression of my grandmother’s disease. It has been difficult to witness the slow demise of someone you love get lost in a confused state. Right now, Granny is still able to recognize her incapacity which adds to the burden and pain. Thankfully, the Spira yoga community, my family and friends have been instrumental in helping provide a network of support. It takes a village and I am so grateful for mine.

1.Hebert LE, Weuve J, Scherr PA, Evans DL. Alzheimer disease in the United States (2010–2050) estimated using the 2010 census. Neurology. 2013;80:1778-83.

2.Xu J, Kochanek KD, Sherry L, Murphy BS, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: final data for 2007. National vital statistics reports; vol. 58, no. 19. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.

3.Heron M. Deaths: leading causes for 2010. National vital statistics reports; vol. 62, no 6. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.

4.Hurd MD, Martorell P, Delavande A, Mullen KJ, Langa KM. Monetary costs of dementia in the United States. NEJM. 2013;368(14):1326-34.

5.Tejada-Vera B. Mortality from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States: data for 2000 and 2010. NCHS data brief, no 116. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.

6.James BD. Leurgans SE, Hebert LE, et al. Contribution of Alzheimer disease to mortality in the United States. Neurology. 2014;82:1-6.


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