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Published on July 15, 2013

LIFE lessons and Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. StefanacciYour mother can’t remember where she parked her car. Or when she last paid the rent. When is forgetfulness a normal part of aging, and when is it a cause for serious concern?

“Everyone experiences occasional memory lapses. When they start to impact a person’s daily life, it could be a sign of dementia or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease,” says Richard G. Stefanacci, DO, a Senior Physician at Mercy LIFE.

Dementia is a gradual decline in mental ability. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects more than 5 million people in the U.S., or one in 10 people over the age of 65.

“Your loved one may forget how to get home or their best friend’s first name. They may experience personality changes and lack of judgment,” says Dr. Stefanacci.

If you start to notice these changes in behavior or mental ability, the first thing to do is to report it to a doctor. Early detection is key to getting the right care and support.

Because 70 percent of people with Alzheimer’s live at home, programs such as Mercy LIFE are a vital resource for both caregivers as well as patients.

In addition to providing regular screenings and exams, Dr. Stefanacci helps patients and families sort out the confusion and fear that surround Alzheimer’s. He connects Mercy LIFE patients to the right resources, many of which are available right at the Mercy LIFE Adult Day Centers.

“The LIFE Centers offer a positive yet controlled environment,” says Donna Raziano, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy LIFE. “Our participants are supervised 100 percent of the time, which gives their loved ones peace of mind.”

The staff at Mercy LIFE also knows it’s important to keep patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s stimulated and active, but also calm. That’s why Mercy LIFE is installing Snoezelen, or “multi-sensory,” rooms in three centers. Snoezelen therapy is used to stimulate the senses through light, scents and sound.

“The thought is that a high level of stimulation helps adults who have difficulty connecting with their world,” explains Dr. Stefanacci. “It helps to calm older adults with dementia.”

Alzheimer’s: Did You Know?

  • Dementia is another name for Alzheimer’s disease. False. Alzheimer’s is the most common but not the only form of dementia. Other forms include dementia from a stroke and alcohol-induced dementia.
  • Only the very old get Alzheimer’s disease. False. Nearly 5 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s developed the disease before the age of 65.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is fatal. True. Alzheimer’s disease begins with memory loss, which worsens over time but then progresses to a loss of basic motor skills. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. today.
  • You can cure Alzheimer’s disease with memory pills. False. New memory-enhancing medications may slow down the progression of the disease in some, but there is currently no “cure” for Alzheimer’s.

Time To Talk? Talk to a healthcare professional about symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Visit mercylife.org or call 215.339.4747.

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