Flu season begins in early October, so it’s time for yearly flu shots. If you’re caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, don’t forget he or she will need a shot, as well.

Why Get Vaccinated?

Believe it or not, people still die from the flu, especially those who are age 65 and over. And as a caregiver, you’re putting both you and your loved one at risk if you don’t get vaccinated yourself.

Why You Can’t Get Sick From a Flu Shot

It’s hard to believe this myth still exists after all these years, but it seems like everyone has a story about how they got a flu shot, then got the flu the next day. It doesn’t work that way. First of all, you can’t get sick from a flu shot because it’s made from a virus that’s been “inactivated,” which means it can’t transmit infection.

Secondly, it takes a few days for flu symptoms to start after you’ve caught the virus. So if you get the flu the day after your shot, you already had it before you were vaccinated. Also, it can take up two two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective. So if you get the flu within two weeks of getting your flu shot, you weren’t yet fully protected. So you would have gotten sick without the shot.

Is it Too Early in the Season (or Too Late) for a Flu Shot?

If you’re thinking it may be a bit early for flu shots, you might be surprised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s okay to get a flu shot as soon as the vaccine comes out. It’s best to get it by the end of October. But flu season last throughout most of the winter, so if you accidentally miss the October deadline, go ahead and get one anyway.

Call Your Doctor Today

Your doctor’s office is a good place to get your flu shot. But if you’re in a rush, there are lots of places in the Kansas City area (e.g., Walgreen’s, CVS) where you can just drop in and get one.

Alzheimer’s disease is a life-changing illness. So if you, or a loved one, have been recently diagnosed, you’re probably wondering what to do next. Here are some idea that can help move you in the right direction.

Get information. Knowing what you’re up against can go a long way toward helping you manage your disease. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Heart of America Chapter is a good place to find accurate information you can use to read up on Alzheimer’s.

Get regular medical care. See your doctor regularly, and ask for a referral to a memory clinic (there are clinics in Kansas City and in Overland Park).

Gather support. Take note of the people you already have in your life who will be willing to help as your disease progresses. If you’re not sure, ask. Support groups can also be helpful, as many people find comfort in talking to others who can relate to what they’re going through. Fortunately, there are lots of Alzheimer’s support groups in the Kansas City area. Also, you’ll want to develop a relationship with a home health agency that can help you later with things like personal care (e.g., bathing), meal preparation, house cleaning, transportation, and more.

Update your living will. If you don’t have a living will, the time to sign one is now. It will let healthcare workers know what type of medical care you want (or don’t want) in the event you should become unable to make decisions for yourself. You’ll also want to sign a healthcare power of attorney, which will allow you to choose someone now to make healthcare decisions for you if you become unable. Your doctor should be able to help you obtain the necessary paperwork for both documents.

Do some financial planning. A financial power of attorney is also a good idea. It’s used to assign someone to handle your finances if you become unable. You may also want to go ahead and update your will. And you’ll want to consider ways to cover your healthcare costs.

Think about safety. Have a home care agency that specializes in Alzheimer’s conduct a safety check on your home. And read the National Institute on Aging’s home safety guide for people with Alzheimer’s.

Stay healthy. A healthy diet has been shown to improve brain health; and scientists believe aerobic exercise may reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Adjust your work hours. If you’re beginning to have trouble doing your job, see if you can reduce your work hours or switch to a position that isn’t so demanding. You might also want to ask your human resources department about family medical leave or disability benefits. And check with your local Social Security office about applying for Social Security Disability.

Consider a clinical trial. The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center is currently enrolling people in research studies with the hope of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. These clinical trials may offer treatment methods that are not yet available to others.

Keep having fun. Continue to do the things you enjoy for as long as you’re able.

Although Alzheimer’s disease will certainly change your life, a little preparation will help things go more smoothly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, hundreds of thousands of U.S. adults who are over the age of 60 are abused, neglected, or taken advantage of financially. Many are abused in their own homes; others are abused while living with family members or in residential facilities. The abuse often goes unreported because the person may feel ashamed, fear backlash from reporting the abuse, or just be unable to communicate effectively due to Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia.

Here’s where you can help. Watch for warning signs if you know someone who could be a potential target. While watching for clues, keep in mind that elder abuse can go beyond the physical. It can also include emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, financial abuse, or abandonment.

Here are some possible warning signs of elder abuse or neglect:

  • Unusual bruises or bleeding
  • Physical injuries (e.g., breaks, sprains, burns, welts)
  • Anxiety, agitation, depression, withdrawal
  • Poor hygiene
  • Bed sores
  • Drug overdose
  • Sudden change in finances

Of course, not everyone will exhibit all of these warning signs. But if you notice any of them and believe you’re seeing indications of possible elder abuse, it’s important to report the abuse as soon as possible to prevent any further damage to the victim’s health or well-being.

Here are the phone numbers for Kansas:

  • Domestic/community abuse:
    Kansas Department for Children and Families Adult Protective Services
  • Nursing home, hospital, home health agency, etc. abuse or neglect:
    Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services

Here’s the number for Missouri:

  • Missouri Department of Health and Human Services
    Adult Abuse & Neglect Hotline

My mom could play just about any instrument she laid her hands on, and she had a beautiful singing voice. She majored in music in college. So music was very important to her.

When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we thought that part of her life was over. Until we hired a music therapist. The therapist would sing with her (I was amazed that Mom could remember the words to so many old songs!). Mom sometimes even played the piano. The music therapist also brought her a small drum she could set on a table and play. She loved that drum.

Music is one of the things that resonates with most people. So even if your loved one who has dementia didn’t major in music as my mom did, he or she may benefit from music therapy.

Music therapy for people with Alzheimer’s has been known to:

  • Improve mood. Upbeat music has a mood-enhancing effect on people with Alzheimer’s, just as it does on those who don’t have dementia.
  • Decrease agitation. Music can soothe people with Alzheimer’s who are agitated or combative, which can also benefit you as a caregiver.
  • Improve memory. Music can help the brain organize information, which can improve both memory and cognitive ability.
  • Manage pain. Music is a proven non-pharmaceudical pain reliever.
  • Enhance social life. Music can allow people with Alzheimer’s to better participate in social situations by singing along, dancing, or playing an instument. Some people even begin talking again because music can bring back memories.

Whether your loved one is partial to Kansas City jazz, rock, pop, or country, a good music therapist can use music to help boost brain activity and improve quality of life.

When providing dementia care, it’s hard to know what to say to the person who has Alzheimer’s (or other form of dementia). So unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to become tongue tied and say the wrong thing. And the last thing you want to do as a caregiver is cause your loved one undue stress. But if you follow these guidelines for what not to say, you’ll be on much safer ground when talking to someone with Alzheimer’s:

  1. Your husband (or daughter, or mother, or anyone else) is dead. If your mom starts looking for your dad who passed away 10 years ago, don’t tell her he’s dead. It will only cause her to grieve all over again. It might be better to just say, “He isn’t here right now.”
  2. You can’t go home. If your dad who has dementia says he wants to go home and you can’t take him there, don’t just tell him he can’t go home. Try telling him, “We’re doing this right now.” Or “we’ll go to the house later.”
  3. You’re already at home. One day my mom, who had Alzheimer’s, was at her home in Kansas City, but thought she was somewhere else. She kept asking to go home. Rather than trying to explain to her that she was already home, my sister told her they were all on vacation. She thought it was odd they had to cook their own meals while vacationing, but she stopped asking to go home and seemed content after that.
  4. You’re wrong. If your mom says the sky is black, don’t argue. You won’t win, and it will only upset her. It’s better to just change the subject.
  5. Remember…? What did… ? Did you…? Early on in my mom’s illness, I used to make the mistake of asking her if she’d eaten breakfast or if she’d talked to any of my siblings lately. She’d get flustered when she couldn’t remember, and I’d feel like a heel. Instead of asking questions, try talking about your day.
  6. You said that already. If your dad has dementia, he’s going to repeat himself. Pointing it out may upset him. Try being a good listener.
  7. I’m right here. My parents were home alone one night and my mom kept asking my dad where Chuck was (that’s my dad’s name). She thought my dad was some other guy named Chuck, and she wanted to know where her husband was. Nothing he said could convince her he was who he said he was. So he left the house, walked around the block, and came in the front door. My mom scolded him for not telling her where he’d gone. He apologized, and all was well again.

Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to avoid saying something that might be hurtful to someone who has Alzheimer’s. And if you do slip up and use one of these phrases, it’s not the end of the world. Just quickly change the subject.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, around 60% of all people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander. There are a number of reasons why. The person might be looking for something (or someone), get lost while walking, be trying to make his or her way home (while already at home), or just be bored.

We were fortunate that my mom, who had Alzheimer’s, didn’t wander. She always was a bit of a homebody, but that’s still no guarantee.  Wandering can be dangerous, and therefore take a toll on your family (as if you don’t have enough to deal with). So it’s important to be vigilant about making sure someone with dementia doesn’t leave the house alone.

If you’re providing elder care at home, here are some things you can do to keep your wandering loved one from taking an unscheduled walking tour of Kansas City or Overland Park:

  1. Secure your home. Add new deadbolts and put them up high where they can’t be reached by the person who has dementia.
  2. Maintain a routine. Structure can help keep your loved one from veering off course.
  3. Be alert for possible triggers. Does Mom tend to want to leave the house after dinner? If so, take a walk with her.
  4. Make sure you’re meeting the person’s needs. For example, are you providing plenty of food, water and bathroom breaks? My mom had a thing about brushing her teeth, so she carried a toothbrush and toothpaste in her purse.
  5. Install signs and alarms. Add alarms to windows and doors. Put up signs that say, Stop” or “Do Not Enter.” Some people with dementia can still follow directions, so the signs may keep them from going outside.
  6. Hide the car keys. If you provide easy accessibility, your loved one may soon be cruising through Prairie Village.
  7. Avoid crowds. They may cause fear and confusion.
  8. Prevent boredom. Try to engage your loved one in activities that will keep him or her busy.
  9. Be prepared. Make sure the person with Alzheimer’s is carrying ID at all times. Keep pictures handy in case they’re needed, and make sure you know what your loved one is wearing at all times.

Care of the elderly can be tricky, especially when Alzheimer’s or dementia is involved. Some added home security measures and staving off boredom can be keys to keeping a senior from wandering.