Unfortunately, memory loss is a significant concern in the Monadnock Region. Cheshire County's seniors have the highest rate of Alzheimer's of people anywhere in New Hampshire, according to HealthyAgingDataReports.org. Forms of memory loss, such as Alzheimer's, affect both patients and their care partners' quality of life. Care can be costly, and the experience can take a heavy toll on the emotional and physical health of all involved.
However, says Melissa Grenier, LCSW, regional manager of New Hampshire's Alzheimer's Association Chapter, being proactive when faced with early signs of memory loss is crucial. Honest conversations, early planning, and connection to the many resources available can significantly increase your quality of life.
"As a clinical social worker, I see how important it is to prepare people living with or caring for people with memory loss for what is to come. Each form of dementia has unique characteristics, and everyone experiences symptoms differently. If people are educated early on, they can extend and improve their quality of life for as long as possible," she says.
"If people don't reach out for education and support until later, they struggle unnecessarily. I enjoy giving people peace of mind through sharing the resources available to them."
Locally, Home Hospice, Healthcare, and Community Services (HCS) in Keene is a wonderful resource to support people experiencing memory loss and their families.
Use online resources
The National Alzheimer's Association website contains a plethora of information. Grenier recommends care partners start by exploring the Caregiver Health section.
Join a support group
Sharing with and hearing from others in similar situations will help you feel seen, heard, and supported by people who understand your experience. You can also learn what has worked for others who have faced the same problems.
- HCS in Keene holds an in-person support group.
- ALZConnected® is an online community for people with Alzheimer's and care partners.
Take care of your own health
Similar to airlines reminding passengers to put on their oxygen masks before fitting someone else's, ensuring your own good health is essential for you and those in your care.
"Make sure you go to the doctor as soon as you need to, take breaks and respite, manage depression or mental health and any of your own conditions, first and foremost," says Grenier.
Ask for help
Grenier stresses the importance of involving others in caring for someone with memory loss. "Anything from preparing meals to taking your loved one to the doctor, to picking up prescriptions, to companionship," she says. Asking for help with specific tasks increases trust and gives others positive opportunities to contribute and show care.
Set realistic expectations for your loved one
"Setting clear, honest, realistic expectations with each other helps you both be more successful," says Grenier. "Clear communication about your needs, boundaries, and realistic capabilities will reduce the care partners' frustration when their loved one can't do what they once did."
For the care partner, Grenier recommends the Caregiver’s Bill of Rights, listed on the Family Caregiver Alliance website, to help you express your needs and maintain healthy boundaries.
Prepare for the future
"Advance care planning is essential. Ensure the Health Care Proxy and other documents are complete. Consider financial resources for future care and options for assisted living or nursing home care," says Grenier. At Cheshire, each primary care team has a collaborative care nurse trained to guide you through advance care planning, such as advance directives.
Consider participating in a research trial
The only way to make progress in the science related to dementia is through the support and participation of people experiencing the effects of this disease. Learn more about clinical trials from alz.org.