Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Simulation mimics Alzheimer’s symptoms
Jessica Loch tries to match socks in a bedroom at Oak Pointe Assisted Living & Memory Care while wearing goggles, earphones, and other appliances designed to simulate physical deficits associated with Alzheimer's Disease. Monitoring the exercise is Oak Pointe Activity Director Mary Tapps.
For the families and individuals who must pay its devastating price, Alzheimer’s Disease is among the most heartbreaking illnesses imaginable.
Aside from the considerable physical suffering it inflicts, the condition steals away what, to many, would seem the essential elements of being human: memory, personality, language, awareness of personal relationships — all the qualities that make those we love unique and special.
More than perhaps any other chronic medical catastrophe, Alzheimer’s places an agonizing burden not only on those stricken, but on the family members seeking to care for them, and who often find themselves bewilderingly out of their emotional depth.
In order to help family members and others better understand the impact of Alzheimer’s on both patients and loved ones, a Northwest Missouri State University faculty member has developed an exercise designed to give caregivers, at least to some extent, a taste of what dementia is like.
Sue Myllykangas, an associate professor in the university’s School of Health Sciences & Wellness, teaches courses in therapeutic recreation and gerontology — the study of aging.
Using funds from a small Northwest academic grant, Myllykangas has created a set of sensory appliances that give those who wear them some sense of the disease’s manifestations.
She demonstrated how the appliances work during a session last week at the Oak Pointe Assisted Living & Memory Care community in Maryville that was attended by several Alzheimer’s family members and caregivers.
Myllykangas said her hope is that by participating in the exercise, caregivers and loved ones will develop increased empathy for Alzheimer’s patients, a deeper understanding of the condition that will allow them to lessen feelings of frustration, bitterness, loss, grief, and ager.
Alzheimer’s, Myllykangas said, is often called “the long goodbye,” a condition that forces spouses and other family members to endure “years’ worth of grieving for someone who is leaving little by little.”
Without working to comprehend the disease from the patient’s point of view, she said, “It’s hard to adjust your expectations because you want to hang on to your loved one as long as possible. But it’s really important to go to where they are instead of trying to bring them to where you are.”
While memory loss is the condition most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, Myllykangas said, the disease carries a host of other symptoms as well, many of which are worsened and compounded by the natural aging process.
These symptoms can include loss of balance, diminished vision and hearing, loss of tactile sensation, and decayed fine motor skills.
To reproduce such challenges, Myllykangas, for example, has designed special goggles that simulate tunnel vision and cataracts.
Those taking part in the exercise also wear rubber gloves stuffed with tongue depressors that make it difficult to bend their fingers and feel textures.
In addition, participants have dried beans placed in their shoes in an attempt to mirror foot problems and are hobbled with a length of twine tied to each ankle. They also wear a headset attached to a small device that fills both ears with white noise mimicking the tinnitus-like gibberish Alzheimer’s patients must often endure.
Once suited up at Oak Pointe, each person taking part in the exercise was asked to complete a series of five simple exercises while moving through a living space containing a bed, kitchenette, bathroom, and small dining area.
The tasks included things like selecting sugar pills from the correct bottle of “medication,” folding towels, finding a blue shirt in a closet, putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, making correct change from coins scattered across a counter, setting a table for two people, matching socks, finding a TV remote control, and balancing a checkbook.
While participants were able to complete at least some of the assigned tasks within the 12-minute time limit, nobody managed all of them, and no one did any except the simplest especially well.
And they did seem to age. Their gate became slow and halting, and their movements tentative and unsure.
“You see people with Alzheimer’s becoming really, really cautious,” Myllykangas said. “It’s basically sensory deprivation. That is the reality for someone with dementia all of the time.”
One of those taking part in the exercise was Jessica Loch, whose mother and mother-in-law both live at Oak Pointe, and whose mother has Alzheimer’s.
Loch helps lead a support group for Alzheimer’s family members and caregivers, which usually meets at Oak Pointe on the third Wednesday of each month.
“We don’t have a regular program,” Loch said, “and all you have to do is just show up. It’s a place for people to say, ‘This is what’s going on with my loved one, what do I do?’”
Loch said anyone interested in participating in the group can call her at 816-261-2440.
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by MARYVILLEDAILYFORUM
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