DUNMORE, Pa. — The Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Community Club at Penn State Scranton hosted its third and final Educational Awareness Luncheon with a special presentation on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by Janet Melnick, HDFS program coordinator and associate teaching professor in HDFS.
The presentation, given last month, was to commemorate National Alzheimer's Disease Month.
Melnick’s presentation focused on the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s and how to tell the difference, as well as offering information on how to support family members and loved ones who may have been diagnosed with either of these diseases.
Dementia entails a wide category of memory loss, with over 260 diagnoses, some of which can be treated, she explained. Alzheimer’s disease has only one cause and can only truly be diagnosed by a brain autopsy. When diagnosing someone who is still alive with Alzheimer’s, it is done through process of elimination.
While most individuals have lapses in memory, such as forgetting information they recently read or misplacing items — not being able to find your car keys, for example — the memory and cognitive issues with both dementia and Alzheimer’s are more profound and serious.
When caring for someone suffering from either disorder, caregivers and family members need to remind themselves that these individuals are working on a different level, and it is the caregiver who needs to adjust their approach, Melnick advised.
For example, individuals with dementia cannot follow multi-step directions.
“So, as a caregiver, you need to adjust your behavior and tell them one thing at a time, and let them complete that action, before telling them to do something else,” Melnick explained.
“Oftentimes, these diseases are harder on caregivers because they see the progression of the disease in their family members,” Melnick added. “Or, the family member doesn’t know or recognize them anymore. They may even have behavioral issues.”
The information struck a chord with several people in attendance, as they shared their own stories of dealing with loved ones who have these issues, or nodded their heads as they recognized the symptoms and behaviors Melnick was talking about.
She ended her presentation with a reading from a book titled “The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss” (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book).
The passage Melnick chose detailed a story about Mary, a woman suffering from memory loss, written from Mary’s perspective — from noticing slight changes in her memory to eventually losing her independence — providing a stark, but real, view of how these diseases impact the lives of those suffering from them.