We started with a presentation from Susan Frick, MSW, of Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Susan gave a thoughtful presentation on person centered care and the vital role this plays in caring for those with dementia. She compared and contrasted the old and new cultures of dementia and highlighted the many advances that have been made in person centered care over the past few years. Susan really got us thinking when she posed the question, “How would I want to be treated if that were me?” Her presentation was a real eye opener in terms of putting ourselves in the shoes of those we care for.
Next on the agenda was a panel discussion with first hand experts on Alzheimer’s. Susan runs a support group for individuals with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease and a few members from this group shared their experiences with us. The members discussed the early signs of memory loss, how they got their diagnosis, the feelings the diagnosis evoked, how life has changed for them since then and what they want others to know about the disease. For me, this was one of the highlights of the program. It was an inspiration to hear each member share openly about their struggles and triumphs with a sense of humor and optimism. When asked what they wanted others to know about Alzheimer’s disease, one of the guests responded, “I’m sad that I have this but I’m not devastated. I have decided I have a life I can live and I’m going to live it.” The hope shared by each of the panelists was something I won’t soon forget!
After lunch, Dr. Raj Shah joined us and discussed the latest findings in the field of Alzheimer’s research. He gave an overview of the differences between normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Additionally he discussed how memory loss is evaluated, diagnosed and treated. Dr. Shah pointed out that currently 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease aims to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2025. Although many strides have been taken in the field, there is still so much work left to do to meet this goal.
Day two of the program began with a presentation by Kristin A.R. Gustashaw, MS, RDN, LDN, CSG. Kristin gave an overview of nutrition and the vital role it plays in cognitive function. She discussed some of the nutritional struggles faced by those with Alzheimer’s and what can be done to help meet their caloric needs in new and tasty ways.
Up next was a field trip to the lab for a front row seat for a tissue dissection. Participants in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s Memory and Aging Project agree to donate their brains upon passing. This is an invaluable way for Rush to continue furthering research in the hopes of finding a cure for this devastating disease. After getting gloved up, we were able to observe as the left hemisphere was carefully cut into one centimeter thick sections. Staff from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center explained the process of dissection, the studies that are conducted on the tissue and identified different areas of the brain where damage of Alzheimer’s may be seen with the naked eye. Further observation under a microscope reveals the proteins, Amyloid and Tau, the hallmark biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.
The first two days of this program flew by and I'm looking forward to learning more over the next four session this fall and sharing this information with our residents, family members and the community.