About Kristen Mauk

President/CEO - Senior Care Central, LLC

Alzheimer’s Disease

Elderly woman with medications

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia seen in older adults. An estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. Nearly half (45%) of people over the age of 85 have AD. By 2050, the number of individuals age 65 and over with Alzheimer’s could range from 11 million to 16 million unless science finds a way to prevent or effectively treat the disease. One in eight older adults has AD, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012). Those affected with AD may live from 3–20 years or more after diagnosis, making the life span with this disease highly variable.

Risk factors

Advanced age is the single most significant risk factor for AD (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012). More women than men have AD, but this is because women live longer than men, not because gender is a risk factor. Family history and heredity are also identified risk factors for AD, as are head trauma and poor cardiac health.

Warning Signs

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by progressive memory loss. The person affected by AD is gradually less able to remember new information and memory lapses begin to affect daily function. It is a terminal disease that over its course will eventually leave a person completely dependent upon others for care.

Diagnosis

Initially, the clinical progression of the disease is slow with mild decline; however, deterioration increases the longer the person lives, with an average life span of 8 years after diagnosis (Cotter, 2002; Fletcher, Rapp, & Reichman, 2007). The underlying pathology is not clear, but a growth of plaques and fibrillary tangles, loss of synapses, and neuronal cell loss are key hallmarks of AD that interfere with normal cell growth and the ability of the brain to function. Absolutely definitive diagnosis is still through autopsy, although clinical guidelines make diagnosis easier than decades ago when less was known about the disease. Primary care physicians generally make the diagnosis through a thorough history, physical exam, cognitive testing, and labs. New criteria for diagnosis include staging the disorder and biomarkers (beta amyloid and tau in the cerebrospinal fluid and blood) (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012b). An MRI of the brain may be ordered to rule out other causes of symptoms.

The clinical course of AD is divided into several stages, depending on the source consulted. In the early course of AD, the person may demonstrate a loss of short-term memory. This involves more than common memory loss, such as where the keys were put, and may involve safety concerns such as forgetting where one is going while driving. The inability to perform math calculations and to think abstractly may also be evident. In the middle or moderate phase, many bodily systems begin to decline. The person may become confused as to date, time, and place. Communication skills become impaired and personality changes may occur. As cognitive decline worsens, the person may forget the names of loved ones, even their spouse. Wandering behavior as well as emotional changes, screaming, delusions, hallucinations, suspiciousness, and depression are common. The person with AD is less able to care for her- or himself and personal hygiene suffers. In the most severe and final phase, the person becomes completely dependent upon others, experiences a severe decline in physical and functional health, loses communication skills, and is unable to control voluntary functions. Death eventually results from body systems shutting down and may be accompanied by an infectious process. Although there is no single test, and the diagnosis may be one of exclusion, early diagnosis is important to maximize function and quality of life for as long as possible. Persons experiencing recurring and progressing memory problems or difficulties with daily activities should seek professional assistance from their physician.

Treatment

Treatment for AD is difficult. There are several medications (such as Aricept, Namenda, Razadyne, and Exelon) that may help symptoms (such as memory), but they do not slow the course of the disease. There is currently no cure; however, research continues to occur in pharmacology, nonpharmacology, and the use of stem cells to manage symptoms and perhaps one day eradicate the disease.

Treatment will focus on symptom management, particularly in the areas of behavior, safety, nutrition, and hygiene. Behavioral issues such as wandering and outbursts pose a constant challenge. Many long-term care facilities have special “memory care” units to care for Alzheimer’s patients from the early to late stages of the disease. These units provide great benefits such as consistent and educated caregivers with whom the patient or resident will be familiar, a safe and controlled environment, modified surroundings to accommodate wandering behaviors, and nursing care 24 hours a day. Additionally, nurses are present to manage medications and document outcomes of therapies. However, many family members wish to care for their loved ones at home for as long as possible.

Thus, another important aspect of care in AD is care for the caregivers. Howcroft (2004) suggested that “support from carers is a key factor in the community care of people with dementia, but the role of the caregiver can be detrimental to the physical, mental, and financial health of a carer” (p. 31). She goes on to say that the caregivers of persons with AD would benefit from training in how to cope with behaviors that arise in these patients and how to cope with practical and legal issues that may occur.

Research has shown that ongoing skills are needed by family caregivers to deal with the progressive decline caused by AD. In fact, “a 63% greater risk of mortality was found among unpaid caregivers who characterized themselves as being emotionally or mentally strained by their role versus noncaregivers” (National Conference of Gerontological Nursing Practitioners & National Gerontological Nursing Association, 2008b, p. 4). Adapting to stress, working on time management, maximizing resources, and managing changing behavior were all skills caregivers needed to develop in order to successfully manage home care of their loved ones. When interventions and resources were not used by caregivers in the early stages of the care recipient’s AD, the risk of a healthy patient being institutionalized due to caregiver burden was higher (Miller, Rosenheck & Schneider, 2012). Caregivers needed not only to acquire knowledge and skills, but also to make emotional adjustments themselves to the ever-changing situation.

Such findings suggest that nurses should focus a good deal of time on educating caregivers of persons with AD to cope with, as Nancy Reagan put it, “the long good-bye.” Scientists continue to explore the causes of AD and hope in the near future to be able to isolate the gene that causes it. In the meantime, results from a fascinating longitudinal study (called the Nun study) on aging and AD, which used a group of nuns who donated their brains to be examined and autopsied after death, has suggested that there is a connection between early “idea density” and the emergence of AD in later life. That is, essays the nuns wrote upon entry to the convent were analyzed and correlated with those who developed AD. It was found that those with lower idea density (verbal and linguistic skills) in early life had a significantly greater chance of developing AD (Grossi, Buscema, Snowdon, & Antuono, 2007; Snowdon, 2004). The nun study has allowed researchers to examine hundreds of brains so far in nuns who died between 75 and 107 years of age and discover other important facts such as a relationship between stroke and the development of AD in certain individuals, and the role of folic acid in protecting against development of AD (Snowdon, 2004). Scientists from a number of fields continue to research the causes and possible treatments for AD and the Nun study project is continuing at the University of Minnesota. Snowdon’s research suggests that early education, particularly in verbal and cognitive skills, may protect persons from AD in later life.

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at: http://www.alz.org/

 

Adapted from Mauk, K. L., Hanson, P., & Hain, D. (2014). Review of the management of common illnesses, diseases, or health conditions. In K. L.
Mauk’s (Ed.) Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Used with permission.

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By |2021-08-12T09:10:35-05:00August 16th, 2021|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Alzheimer’s Disease

Guest Blog: What is Assisted Living?

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Assisted living is a long-term care facility that provides housing, support, health care, and most importantly, a sense of community to senior citizens. These facilities make it possible for the elderly to continue living on their own, with occasional assistance now and again. The benefits of living in an assisted living community are immeasurable for seniors and their families alike. Learn more about the multitude of benefits the elderly receive when they move into an assisted living facility.

  • Proper, Healthy Meals:  Daily meals are provided at assisted living facilities. This helps senior citizens to get the proper nutrition in their daily diet, and also lets family members feel assured that their loved ones are eating enough. Any and all dietary needs are taken into consideration. For instance, if a senior has diabetes, this is of course taken into consideration when creating their meal plan. The utmost care is used when serving seniors their meals at assisted living facilities.
  • Help with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living):  An assisted living facility will provide its residents with assistance completing a number of day-to-day tasks that one might not be able to do on their own. This includes dressing, eating, mobility, hygiene, bathing, toileting, using the phone, and personal shopping. Take, for example, patients with dementia or other types of memory loss who might find it difficult to remember doing the simplest of tasks. Assisted living facilities make it possible for these types of patients to continue living on their own with minimal help.
  • Medication Management:  This is perhaps the most important benefit of living in an assisted living community. More than 50% of senior citizens make a mistake when administering their own medication. This rate is shockingly high, and of a major concern due to potential life-threatening consequences. Assisted living staff not only ensure the right medications are being taken at the right times, but they also help to educate seniors on the importance of their medication.
  • Transportation:  Many seniors do not have the ability to drive anymore. In some cases, a senior simply no longer possess a car. Whatever the case may be, assisted living facilities handle any and all of the transportation necessary for senior citizens. Most of the time, transportation is needed for doctor’s visits. A senior who resides in an assisted living facility will have transportation to and from their appointments, as well as to activities outside of the facility, like shopping trips. When a family member can’t be there to take a senior citizen out and about, assisted living staff is.
  • Social Interaction:  Assisted living facilities are a great place for senior citizens to socialize. Like-minded individuals in similar situations are all around, and with plenty of activities to choose from, your loved one is sure to make a new friend or two. Many of the activities that take place at assisted living facilities are moderated by staff to ensure that healthy interactions are occurring at all times.

Assisted living may be the right choice for your aging loved one. Discuss this option with them, and share the numerous benefits that this type of facility can offer.

 

Byline: Ruth Folger Weiss is a blogger for Skyview Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, a post acute rehabilitation and long-term care center in Croton-on-Hudson, NY.

 

By |2021-08-02T12:17:22-05:00August 7th, 2021|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Guest Blog: What is Assisted Living?

The 6-Step Process of Stroke Recovery

Caring For Husband

 

According to the CDC, nearly 800,000 persons in the United States have a stroke each year. This is about one every 4 minutes, resulting in over 130,000 deaths annually. Stroke is simply defined as an interruption to the blood supply to the brain and is caused by a clot or hemorrhage. It can be a devastating problem for survivors, resulting in changes in mobility, cognition, speech, swallowing, bowel and bladder, self-care, and general functioning to varying degrees.  Some people recover completely after a stroke, but others experience lifelong challenges.

The good news is that there is hope and quality of life after stroke. In my research with stroke survivors, I discovered 6 phases that survivors reported as they made the journey through rehabilitation towards recovery. These steps can be used to see where a person is in the recovery process, help us understand how they may be feeling, and help guide the way we interact with them.

Agonizing:  In this first phase of the process, stroke survivors are in shock over what has happened to them. They can’t believe it, and may even deny the warning signs of stroke. The important task during this time is survival from the stroke itself.  Call 911 if you see the warning signs of facial droop, arm weakness, or speech difficulties.

Fantasizing:  In the second phase of the stroke process, the survivor may believe that the symptoms will all go away. Life will return to normal, and there is a sense of the problem being unreal. Time takes on a different meaning. The way to help is to gently help them recognize reality, and without taking away hope for recovery.

Realizing: This is the most important phase that signals a turn in the recovery process. This is when the survivor realizes that he/she may not fully recover from the effects of the stroke and that there is work to be done to rehabilitate and reclaim life. Common feelings during this phase of realizing are anger and depression. The way to help is to encourage the person to actively engage in rehabilitation. The real work of recovery is just beginning.

Blending: These last 3 phases in the process of stroke recovery may be occurring at much the same time. This is where the real work of adaptation to life after stroke begins. The survivor begins to blend his “old life” before stroke with his new life as a stroke survivor. He/she may start to engage in former activities even if it requires adaptations to be made. He/she will be actively engaged in therapy and finding new ways to do things. The way to help is to promote education. This is a time when survivors are most ready to learn how to adjust to life after stroke. Listen to your rehab nurses, therapists, and physician. Be active in the recovery process.

Framing: During this phase, the individual wants to know what caused the stroke. Whereas in the Agonizing phase they were asking “why me?”, now they need to the answer to “what was the cause?”  Stroke can be a recurring disorder, so to stop a subsequent stroke, it is important to know the cause. Interestingly, if the physician has not given the survivor a cause for the first stroke, patients often make up a cause that may not be accurate. Help the survivor to learn from the health care provider what the cause of his/her own stroke was. Then steps can be taken to control those risk factors.

Owning:  In this final phase of stroke recovery, the survivor has achieved positive adaptation to the stroke event and aftermath. The survivor has accomplished the needed grief work over the losses resulting from the stroke. He/she has realized that the effects may not go away and has made positive adjustments to his/her life in order to go on. Survivors in this phase have blended their old life with the new life after stroke and feel better about their quality of life. While they still may revisit the emotions of the prior phases at times, they have accepted life as a survivor of stroke and made good adjustments to any changes that resulted. They feel that they have a more positive outlook on life. At this point, survivors can use their experience to help others cope with life after stroke.

For more information about stroke recovery, visit www.seniorcarecentral.net and view Dr. Mauk’s model for stroke recovery.

By |2021-06-30T11:49:16-05:00July 21st, 2021|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on The 6-Step Process of Stroke Recovery

Assisted Living: 7 Answers to Common Questions

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What is assisted living (AL)?
A Scandinavian model for senior care, now known as assisted living, made its way into America’s care system in the 1980’s. According to a 2012 report by AARP, there is no standard definition for assisted living (AL). Although individual states and residential facilities can give their own definition of AL, the term most often means that help is provided with meals, social support, medications, dressing and/or bathing and the like with 24-hour per day supervision. The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) (2013) defines assisted living as “a long-term care option that combines housing, support services and health care, as needed”. The focus of AL is on maintaining dignity, respect, and independence of older residents.

In 2010, there were more than 51,000 licensed residential care settings (including assisted living) that reported more than 1.2 million beds (AARP, 2012). A study published by the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) cited 31,100 assisted living facilities serving 733,400 persons in 2010.

What is the typical assisted living resident like?
The average age of those in assisted living facilities is 86.4 years (MetLife, 2012). According to the National Center for Assisted Living (2013), the typical resident needs help with at least one activity of daily living (ADL), and most are over the age of 85. More females (76%) live in assisted living settings than males (26%). Thirty-seven percent of persons in AL receive help with more than three ADLs (NCAL, 2012). More than half of persons in AL facilities have some type of cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009). A growing percentage of persons in AL facilities have Alzheimer’s disease.

What types of services are provided?
Some of the usual services provided in a licensed AL include:
• Assistance with eating, dressing, bathing, toileting
• Access to health services
• Medication management
• Dining services
• 24 hour staffing and security
• Emergency call systems
• Exercise and wellness facilities
• Social and recreational activities
• Housekeeping and laundry
• Transportation
• Access to banking
• Chaplain or religious services
• Memory care

How do I know if I need assisted living?
There are a variety of reasons why persons might choose an assisted living setting. Some people move to AL because they want more socialization than living alone, they want to be nearer to their adult children but do not reside with them, or because they can no longer manage at home. The person in an assisted living facility generally needs some help with activities of daily living, but does not need skilled nursing care. So, AL might be right for you if you wouldn’t be able live at home any longer without help, but you still don’t need to be in a nursing home or need the help of a nurse around the clock. You may be able to do many things on your own but maybe you have difficulty with dressing, meal preparation, or managing your pills.

How do I decide which senior living community to choose?
There are a variety of senior living options, of which assisted living is but one. Often, family members will help you decide which option is best for you, but you should look at all your choices. You should pick a place that offers the services that you need. Cost and location are additional considerations. It is also good to ask about the staffing ratios, what nursing care is available, and what happens if you later need a higher level of care than the AL provides. ALFA provides a Guide to Choosing an Assisted Living Community. This includes a helpful checklist that can be downloaded from their website.

How much does it cost to live in an AL facility?
The cost of AL depends on where you live. Keep in mind that most assisted living is paid for privately, meaning out-of-pocket, and not by insurance. According to MetLife’s Market Survey of Long-term Care Costs (2012), the national average base rate for assisted living was $3,550 per month. This means that a person who lives in an assisted living facility can expect to pay an average of $42,600 per year. Of course this also varies depending on the number of extent of services with which the resident needs help. The base rate generally includes specific services, but each additional service beyond that may add an extra monthly fee. Compare this to an average nursing home rate for a shared room at nearly $84,000 per year for a person needing Alzheimer’s care (MetLife, 2012) or a national median cost of $270 per day in a nursing home that provides 24-hour per day nursing care (Genworth Cost of Care Survey, 2013).

Are there alternatives to assisted living facilities?
So, are there other options besides going to an assisted living facility if you are an older adult who needs a little help? The answer is yes. Adult day services are one community option. Also, many home care agencies offer companions, homemaker aides, or nursing assistants to help people age in place at home. Most of the time, getting these services means a minimum number of hours per day must be paid for. The national average hourly rate for home health aides was $21 in 2012. Homemaker or companions who provide “hands-off” care such as running errands, shopping, housekeeping made a median of $19-20 the same year (Genworth, 2013).

This is where unique options for assisted living services at home are needed and can save consumers money. Senior Care Central offers persons needing assisted living in the home the opportunity to have more control over their care situation at a much lower cost while getting professional, quality care. Imagine that you could set the hours that you want to have a caregiver in the home, and that caregiver could be a nursing student who has a higher level of education than most home health aides. This care option may cost you half the price charged by a home health care agency. SCC’s model promotes aging in place on your own terms and lets you link with caregivers online, browse profiles to choose caregivers you want to contact, and make your care arrangements directly with them.

By |2021-06-30T11:47:38-05:00July 15th, 2021|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Assisted Living: 7 Answers to Common Questions