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Confused about care? Dementia adviser has the answers

Support available for caregivers
By: Tinka Davi, Press Tribune correspondent
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Keeping your brain healthy

There are several things you can do to keep your brain healthy as you age. Kristina Blocker, dementia care adviser, recommends the following:

· Exercise daily

·  Eat healthy foods

· Keep hydrated

· Play bingo

·  Do word game puzzles

However, if you have been doing crossword puzzles most of your life, Blocker recommends switching to word searches.

She also recommends activities for those who have dementia.

“Most families feel that once you have dementia, the activities are over, but that’s so far from the truth,” she said.

The best thing to do is change the activity. For example, a woman who crocheted all her life may not be able to do that anymore, but she can be given thread to wind up into a ball. That’s crocheting to her, Blocker said.

“Doing activities will prolong the life of someone with dementia,” she said.

The person with dementia should:

· Be physically active

· Eat healthy foods

· Vary or change regular activities

Families of a loved one with dementia should:

· Schedule a home safety inspection.

 Report concerns about driving.

· Consult an expert in dementia care.

 

When Laurie Erskine-Farley began noticing changes in her mom’s behavior, she wasn’t sure what to do. Changes began after her mom had radiation therapy for lung cancer and seemed to have a lack of energy. Several months later, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia.

“My mother had a drop off in memory and was doing some things that concerned me,” Erskine-Farley said.

Married for 65 years, her mom, 86, and dad, 87, lived in their own home with assistance from a caregiver. However, it wasn’t an ideal situation, and Erskine-Farley’s siblings didn’t agree about what should be done.

“I was trying to grapple with what my mom needed,” said Erskine-Farley who was calling them and traveling frequently from her home in Redding to care for her parents in this area.

Then she met Kristina Blocker, of Granite Bay, a dementia care adviser who helps families across the country deal with problems with loved ones.

“Kristina was wonderful,” Erskine-Farley said. “She helped us change to a neurosurgeon who diagnosed my mother as having early onset Alzheimer’s. She explained things to me and to my father and met with my sisters. She was also instrumental in convincing my father that he and my mother couldn’t live in their home.”

“She helped me deal with medical, psychological and family issues,” Erskine-Farley said.

As a dementia care adviser, Blocker’s mission is to support and educate families, loved ones and caregiver professionals so they may provide the best possible care and services for people with dementia.

She assists with many, including helping families decide when a loved one should move from his or her home to a care facility. She starts with a consultation.

“Some people don’t know what to do and give up,” Blocker said. “That’s why it’s important to have a consultation, so that they are able to go forward.”

Blocker has specialized in memory care for 14 years. She worked in a major San Jose hospital for eight years, served as activities director in two adult day care centers and was marketing director for an assisted living/memory care community.

“I was on the clinic side; now I’m on the social work side,” she said.

When she saw that people were trying to understand how to communicate with loved ones, she made the change to adviser and is now working with families.

During the initial consultation, she discusses communication with loved ones, what to expect in the process and what to ask the doctor.

“We talk about advance directives, power of attorney and how to pay for care,” she said. “I give them a lot of reading materials.”

People who are involved in making decisions about the family member are included and Blocker offers the option of meeting in their homes or in hers.

Various family members have different ideas about what to do, she said.

“They use me as mediator. I help create a care plan for their loved ones and give them a lot of options.”

She also does personal assessments by meeting with and having a casual conversation with the loved one.

“I introduce myself as a senior advocate,” she said.“It’s not invasive and I know what to look for. It’s not threatening. I make them feel comfortable.”

She then reports back to the family and offers advice on lifestyle options, from staying in their home to moving into an assisted living community.

“It’s really important to find the right community for their loved one. Some may like a large place with lots of activities; others may want a quieter atmosphere. There are many choices for assisted living on the internet, but I narrow the choices down to three places. I’m very picky.”

Blocker charges for consultations and assessments, but that’s it, she said. She doesn’t charge for looking for communities or time spent talking to facility directors.

“Families want to hang on,” she said. “A lot of families go through the stages of grief. That’s very common in dealing with people with dementia. They’re angry, say that they can’t look at their mom or they feel guilty. It’s my job to say ‘that’s normal.’”

She encourages family members to attend support groups and workshops where she talks about communication and helps them understand the stages of dementia.

“People can relate to other families who are going through the same things. They (the workshops) are not only educational, but they’re a forum where people can talk to others.”

They’re held about twice a month and generally cover a specific topic dealing with myriad facets of caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Under Blocker’s guidance, there is generally a free-flowing exchange of ideas and concerns.

“Around 63 percent of caregivers develop a detrimental health issue due to the stress of care giving,” Blocker said. “They’re up all night thinking of mom, they’re angry or they can’t socialize and they reach caregiver burnout,” she said.“So many people give up.”

Health and other issues that can develop include depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, eating problems and divorce.

If the loved one is a spouse, the relationship changes and the other person has to alter his or her life.

But she offers solutions and care plans, suggests questions people should ask doctors and recommends tasks.

“I’m not a doctor; I help plan their lives and how to have a relationship,” Blocker said.

She also suggests books on her website or will recommend reading material based on personal situations.

“People used to think that those who weren’t very smart developed dementia, but that’s not true. It has nothing to do with intelligence at all,” she said.

“We are very routine,” she said. “A doctor once told me that our brains go on auto pilot when we do the same thing every day. It becomes routine and we’re not using new knowledge. We’re stuck in our old ways.”

There are many different types of dementia and every type has different characteristics, she said. That’s why a doctor’s diagnosis is necessary.

“It’s important to know that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia,” Blocker said. “Around 60 percent of people have Alzheimer’s; other types are vascular dementia related to a stroke or heart attack or dementia related to Parkinson’s disease.”

When Blocker meets with families, she discusses her major concerns about people who drive and people who wander. “It’s important to take these things into consideration.”

She doesn’t recommend that people with dementia live alone, but, if they do, she suggests home safety inspections, which she does. She also assists with arrangements for in-home help or other services.

If the person is still driving, family members can call the DMV anonymously and say they’re concerned about mom or dad’s driving. The DMV will call the person in for a random driving test.

Family members can blame the doctor for placing restrictions about driving or living alone.

Almost 100 percent of people don’t want to leave their homes, but there comes a point when the decision has to be made, Blocker said.

A facility can cost between $3,000 and $10,000 a month, however, there are many options including selling a home or receiving veterans benefits, Blocker said. She will help families find ways to cover the costs.

Blocker’s territory isn’t limited to the Sacramento area. “A lot of people don’t live near their children,” she said.

She has helped families as far away as New York make arrangements to move their loved one to that state. And she recently helped a person move from Los Angeles to this area.

She assists with moving an older person to or from a retirement community, care home or skilled nursing facility. She also manages care for a person for out-of-town families, acting as a liaison for them.

Many family members have their heels in the sand and don’t know what to do, that’s why it’s important to have a care plan, Blocker said.

Erskine-Farley praises Blocker for her help.

“When you’re trying to deal with emotions over a loved one, she is a great help. She created a map of how to go through this situation.”

For more details on Blocker’s services, visit herwebsite, www.DementiaCareAdvisor.com