Healthier Together: Resources for Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month

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June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. In hopes of helping other families impacted by this disease, a Washington family is sharing their experience.

"They both are aware enough that they need help, " said Ann Callahan whose father and aunt were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. "They don’t ever call you up and say you know your dad has Alzheimer’s they don’t do that."

Ann Callahan is talking about her aunt Mariella and her father Tom.

"That confusion about direction continued to grow over time," she said. "It became obvious that something was definitely off because he was a pilot - he could navigate anywhere."

Both brother and sister were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and now reside at Quail Park Memory Care.

"Our residents - some of them come to us and they are 93, so they’ve been caring for themselves for 80 years," said Brian Anderson, executive director of Quail Park Memory Care. "And through moments of lucidity realizing that you are losing your independence and control of your life and environment is very, very difficult."

In Tom and Mariella’s cases, Ann says she’s learned a lot as a caregiver including the importance of having power of attorney.

"And don’t be afraid to exercise it if you feel it’s important," Callahan said. "With dad I’ve had to be very confrontational at times, with Mariella I haven’t. If there’s any way at all you can be on their checking accounts, do that because it makes your life so much easier when you have to start managing their finances."

According to Dr. Drew Oliveira with Regence BlueShield, the top five early signs of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Memory loss
  • Challenges with problem solving
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty with balance or distance

"The first big step to get them out of where they’re living was the first big step and each time for each of them that was not only a loss of familiarity but when you have Alzheimer’s it's an impact, It's like you lose a percentage of your memory just from the change," said Callahan. "New things are hard to integrate into your sphere of known things and your sphere of known things is shrinking anyway."

120,000 people in Washington age 65 or older were living with Alzheimer’s as of 2020, and that number is projected to jump to 140,000 by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association of Washington.

"He seems to be sundowning, so sometimes he’ll call me around 6 or 7 in the evening and say that things are really terrible, and he doesn’t know what these people are doing, and I need to come and get him," said Callahan. "And then if I talk to him in the morning everything is just fine."

Ann says she is just grateful her dad and her aunt have each other and a place to call home that can meet the needs.

"Memory care I think operates on the presumption that we have people who are progressing in the direction of doing less and less and less, so we as a facility are here to provide more and more and more," said Callahan.

Experts say it is important to start talking about the disease early on and get permission in advance to speak with doctors and lawyers about your loved ones’ care and personal business.

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