Dealing with Dementia

January 01, 2013

Providence offers 360­-degree support for dementia patients and caregivers.

Television personality Leeza Gibbons knows how difficult it is to recognize dementia. Her mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, caught her off guard. “She was repeating herself, her personality changed, her hygiene changed,” says Gibbons, admitting that at first she chalked up the behaviors to aging or possibly depression.

Instead, it was the beginning of what Gibbons calls “rapid death in slow motion.” Gloria Jean Gibbons was 62 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Know the Signs

Simple forgetfulness—misplacing car keys, blanking on a neighbor’s name—is not a sign of dementia. According to the National Institutes of Health, the early markers of dementia include:

  • Difficulty balancing the checkbook or playing games
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Diminishing social skills

If a family member is showing symptoms, the Center for Optimal Aging at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro offers cognitive performance testing in a simulated home environment under the guidance of an occupational therapist. The real-life simulation assesses direction-following, memory and language through the activities of daily living.

Ease the Symptoms

While there is no treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that can halt its progression, medications can help lessen the symptoms.

Treating depression may also help. “Isolation, decreased engagement from the world around you, these things hurt the brain,” says Robert Davies, M.D., a psychiatrist at Providence Little Company of Mary San Pedro. He adds that depressed patients with mild cognitive impairment, a diagnosis that can precede dementia, may experience significantly less impairment if depression is treated.

Get (Caregiver) Support

Meanwhile, there is also help for caregivers. Leeza’s Care Connection, a home-like “sanity sanctuary,” is housed at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. For Gibbons, the location is a perfect fit. “Providence Saint Joseph is committed to a real 360-degree perspective for patients and families,” says Gibbons, who founded the free support program to honor her mom, who died at age 72 in 2008.

Legacy scrapbooking, exercise programs and a support group help combat the stress, guilt, resentment, isolation and exhaustion of caregiving. “These are all very necessary mile markers along the way to funding incredible strength and blessing in a role you never wanted,” Gibbons says. “It may well be the most defining role of your life.”