The best and worst of a family's ability to accept change may show up when a parent is diagnosed with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer's.
As the disease unfolds, Alzheimer's destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. It can have a profound impact not only on their own lives, but the lives of persons close to them.
As family members and/or caregivers provide support for the person in need, over time, and without support it can wear down even the most caring individuals. Families may want to seek out options.
"Sometimes the symptoms appear borderline between Alzheimer's and dementia," said Corinne Folk, community program coordinator of the Frank Bergon Senior Center. Folk also oversees the Madera Adult Day Care Center.
"The first thing to do is take them to a doctor for a complete physical," Folk said. "Too much medicine or the wrong mix of medicines, particularly if they're going to several doctors, can cause a person to have memory loss. Find out if there are any other causes for their symptoms. If there are no other medical causes, an assessment can be done."
California State University, Fresno, does Alzheimer's screenings. UCFC Alzheimer and Memory Center provides a comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and resources to help take care of a person with Alzheimer's or dementia, and provides an educational program in the Valley. UCFC also has support groups for caregivers of people with dementia.
Folk said the screener will ask a series of questions. Questions a family member can expect might be, "What has changed in the person's life?" For example, a person with memory problems might be driving and forget where they are.
The screener will talk to a family member to determine if the person with memory problems can live independently. Making a few changes, such as taking the stove away and replacing it with a microwave, could improve safety, or checking on the person daily might be all they need. If the person is beyond that, Folk suggests looking into other resources such as Madera Adult Day Care.
The adult day care and facilities that provide 24-hour care protect persons from isolation, encourage physical activities and give nutritious meals.
"It can be a win-win for everyone involved," Folk said.
The suggested donation for Madera Adult Day Care is $18.50 a day and $2 for a meal. The fee may be covered by long term health insurance, privately or through donations.
If a family cannot provide caregiving, Madera Rehabilitation Center and Westgate Manor Convalescent Hospital are a couple of options. Hiring at-home caregivers is another option. Resources may include the Alzheimer Foundation of Central California at 222-2444 and National Alzheimer Association at 800-660-1993.
"By the time we get them (patients) they are in a declined state," said Sherrie Deguzman, a social worker and admissions coordinator at Westgate Manor and Convalescent Home.
Deguzman said when people are at risk of running, she recommends other facilities because Westgate is not a locked down building. "Running away is real typical of people with Alzheimer's," Deguzman said. "When they do things that put them at risk, like trying to cook and forgetting to turn the stove off, it is frustrating to the family."
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson started a bracelets program in Madera to help locate persons who have become lost because of Alzheimer's and dementia.
Denham said both Fresno and Merced have Alzheimer's units. Madera Rehabilitation Center has a locked unit and the Cedar Creek Assisted Living facility is near completion in Madera. It will contain an Alzheimer's area or "memory unit" for people who have memory problems.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease advances at widely different rates. The duration of the illness may often vary from three to 20 years. Areas of the brain that control memory and thinking skills are affected first, but as the disease progresses, cells die in other regions of the brain. Eventually, the person with Alzheimer's will need complete care. If the individual has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function itself will cause death.
Longs Drug Store provides free information pamphlets about the stress that comes along with being a caregiver.
"As you care for your loved one, you also need to take care of your own emotional and physical needs," the pamphlet says. "You won't be able to help your loved one if you don't take care of your own mental and physical health. Watch for signs of depression, changes in your other relationships and exhaustion. Allow others to help you, or seek out respite care in your community."
Madera Adult Day Care sponsors a caregiver support group on the second Monday of every month, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Hinds Hospice in Madera provides occasional respite care for caregivers. For more information call Vikki at Hinds Hospice in Madera, 674-2637. More information is available at Valley Caregiver Resource Center for Madera and Fresno Counties, 800-541-8614. For the Oakhurst area, a caregiver support group is held the second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 10-11:30 a.m. at Oakhurst Lutheran Church on Road 426, facilitated by Carol Breit at 683-4045. Valley Caregiver Resource Center can provide information about "group" respite in the Oakhurst area.
Madera Adult Day Care is located at 322 West 6th St., and can be reached by calling 675-3119 or stopping by Monday through Friday, 7:30-5:30.