LeBlanc: A letter of competency

In my estimation there is no disease that can tear a family apart faster than Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

The reason for this may be the need for extensive care to keep a loved one both safe and calm. When they reach the moderate stage, which may come about before you know it, they honestly never should be left alone — for their own safety.

The number one complaint I hear is, “I’m the only one in the family who’s doing anything to help.” More often than not this is accurate. Everything is falling upon “Mary’s” shoulders. What the rest of the family seems to be missing is that poor “Mary” is falling apart.

It is difficult to describe the hardships and stress that caregivers of dementia patients endure.

There’s a 24-four-hour-a-day, inescapable weight of self-doubt that follows caregivers wherever they go: “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing it right?” And while experiencing this mental anguish, they are doing everything possible not to lose their patience with the ones for whom they’re caring.

Unfortunately few of the rarely seen kinfolks realize this. After a phone call or a visit, more often than not they will be heard to say: “Mom really seems to be doing quite well. I don’t know what the fuss is all about.” This can drive the caregiver to distraction! These uninformed visitors aren’t there after the visit or phone call to hear, “Who in the world was that?”

Yes, this is when the doubters and naysayers make matters so much worse. Their interference in the last stages of Alzheimer’s adds so much confusion and anxiety to the life of the caregiver who has been there 24/7, often for years. It’s so unfair for them to come along and be critical at this juncture. They may make statements like, “What do you mean she’s on Hospice? How did it get to this point?” I’m telling you, it just makes you want to shout, “Maybe if you’d been around for the last few years, you’d know!”

Sadly, this is sometimes when lawyers appear on the scene. One of the most common arguments brought to the table is, “I don’t believe they were competent at the time they made you power of attorney.” More often than not these are the same people who for the past several years kept saying, mostly from a distance, “Mom sure seems to be doing just fine.”

Here’s a bit of advice: When patients are establishing power of attorney, creating a last will and testament, or producing any other legally binding contract, ask their doctor to write a letter stating they are competent. I then would make sure the lawyer retains a copy for safe keeping. The last thing a caregiver needs when coming to the end of this exhausting battle is to end up in court with his or her own family. Deplorably, this happens everywhere and every day.

I have seen this disease tear families so far apart that they never mend. Keeping all legal and financial matters protected may prevent this from happening to you and your loved ones.

DOH has tools to check on questionable health providers

Sometimes, even under the best of circumstances, a medical procedure takes a bad turn. But when an unlicensed medical practitioner is involved, it can be criminal.

That where the state’s Division of Medical Quality Assurance’s Bureau of Enforcement, comes in. With unlicensed medical activity on the rise in Florida, the state’s Department of Health has launched an outreach project to ensure people know about this unlawful activity and it’s potential dangers.

Hernando County, while not currently considered an area of high concern, has businesses susceptible to unlicensed practices. Among them are mental health, tattoo removal and hearing-aid industries.

“It isn’t a big problem yet,” said Ann-Gayle Ellis of the Department of Health in Hernando County. “But it has the potential to be.”

Florida’s Department of Health wants people to be wary and encourages them to choose their medical professionals carefully — the same way they might choose to deal with any business.

State officials ask people to be alert for activities that don’t seem appropriate, and to questionable actions immediately to the Bureau of Enforcement.

A website — www.flhealth source.gov — enables users to check the validity of a license for more than 200 different professions. Users can find out if a particular profession requires a license. Any suspicious activity, or follow-up questions, can be directed to a dedicated hot line: 1-877-HALT ULA.

It is illegal to practice mental health counseling without a license, to fit a hearing aid without a license or, in most cases, to offer tattoo removal services without a license, said Scott Flowers, of the Division of Medical Quality Assurance.

By logging on to flhealth source.gov, any medical license can be tracked — if it exists. And the website is easy to navigate, Flowers said.

Department of Health officials urge people to act on any suspicion. It won’t get a physician in trouble unless there is a problem, Flowers said, “and in most cases the licensed professionals appreciate the policing of their profession to drive out the bad actors.”

Considering the potential harm that might be caused by an unqualified hearing aid fitting, tattoo removal, plastic surgery or any other treatment without the knowledge and experience required of licensed professionals, there never is a reason to hesitate if something is suspicious.

According to Flowers, some red flags to look for include:

♦ Huge discounts on procedures, treatments or medical equipment such as hearing aids.

♦ Medical supplies, like contact lenses, sold inside convenience stores or beauty supply stores.

♦ Clinics or facilities that perform a range of unrelated services.

Some illicit medical professionals concoct ways to remain undetected, Flowers said. Their businesses can be tucked among other medical facilities, or customers might find their way to unlicensed professionals based on referrals from acquaintances or friends.

“You may not get the same positive experience,” Flowers said.

The bottom line, state health officials say, is that cracking down on unlicensed medical activity only happens with a community’s help. People become the enforcement department’s eyes and ears.

“If they can’t find the name they are looking for on the (website’s) list,” Flowers said, “we’ll send an investigator out to see if they are licensed.”

Those who are found not in compliance will receive a cease-and-desist order, be given an opportunity to correct the problem or, in some cases, be fined or arrested.

The enforcement officials’ message is simple. “We want them to check up on their practitioners,” Flowers said. “And we want them to notify us if there is something suspicious.”

It is also important for the medical community to know the state’s position, he said. “We want the unlicensed ones to know as a deterrent and we want the licensed ones to know so they can feel protected.”

Just out of the box: Medicare’s 2015 Advantage Plans

This annual opener to the holiday season is much like Halloween or Christmas, depending on your health-care plan. After an overall 3 percent cut for 2015 plans, nothing appeared too bad and nothing appeared too good.
Medicare’s 2015 Advantage Plans

The good: We did not see a huge hemorrhage of doctors being cut from networks (although some plans showed a small bleed-off during the year). Plans showed benefit cuts but none were drastic considering there was less money to go around.

Medicare Advantage plans have a maximum allowable out-of-pocket of $6,700, which we are seeing pretty frequently — especially those plans with Part B premium give-backs. One plan achieved a five star rating, meaning it will have open enrollment beyond Dec. 7. This was not one of those tiny plans, either. That plan did focus on making its network very tight and monitored high performance, according to the way Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services scores.

Even better, CMS got rid of the side by side presentation showing regular Medicare from the year before compared to the Advantage plan because Medicare benefits for the current year are not released until the later part of open enrollment. Now you will see only the plan benefits and won’t have to look at last year’s Medicare.

Also the dreaded enrollment verification call has turned into an enrollment verification letter you will receive after you have enrolled in a plan. Often members would not answer or would hang up the telephone thinking this was a solicitation. Everyone is glad this practice is dying. But there still will be calls to confirm if an enrollee has a chronic illness for the purpose of disease management programs.

The bad: Instead of premium give-backs some plans now are charging premiums; you will see this more in PPO plans. This will be a bit of a shock for Floridians. We just are not used to paying premiums — unlike in other states where paying a premium for your Advantage plan is pretty common. Primary doctors saw slight co-pay changes but office visits went up all over for specialists.

Dental and vision benefits are growing slim or just going away. Ancillary benefits and discounts now are barred from the being part of the Medicare presentation according to CMS which wants to see the focus of the presentation to be a healthcare decision process.

And yes, there is no Santa Claus. The benefits are a little less than last year in most cases, so if you feel the water slowly boiling you might want to jump out and go to a Medicare supplement and stand-alone drug plan. A Medicare supplement is a choice with a premium, but it is not as variable as the yearly benefit changes of an Advantage plan.

Betsy Vipond is CEO of The Senior Health Advisor and has been in insurance for more than 38 years. She is a former board member of Tampa Bay Health Underwriters part of the National Association of Health Underwriters and specializes in Medicare products. Call her at (800) 603-0901.

LeBlanc: Adult day care respite program

Caring for someone who’s living with dementia is all about balance. For you the caregiver, you need to be able to dedicate yourself to all their needs, while at the same time try to find a way to keep yourself healthy and physically and emotionally rested.

As for your loved one, you need to discover a balance that keeps them in a daily routine and making sure they stay socially active. These two things are extremely important in keeping your loved one’s dementia at bay.

If you have an adult daycare program in your area (and I truly dislike using the word “daycare” when regarding adults) you would want to enroll them early, before they get too far advanced with their dementia. If you wait too long they may not be able to adapt.

Here in our area, Catholic Charities has a couple of great programs running in Hernando and Citrus counties.

I’ve personally sat in and watched their daily procedures and have to say I was remarkably impressed. I immediately sensed a joyful spirit and a good natured attitude throughout the room.

They started off their group with exercising, both their cognitive and physical abilities. Tossing around a beach ball that was covered with trivia questions to stimulate the mind. One of the queries for example was “Name some circus animals?” I listened to them shout answers for a deer to elephants. I didn’t know a deer was considered a performance animal, but the answer was accepted. However, what I heard the most of was laughter and comical wise cracks.

Catholic Charities has a small fee of $20 per session which is held between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. I don’t know of anywhere else you can find such a program for your loved one that cost only $5 an hour.

About a year ago, Gary Chapman, director of the program, asked me to come out and do a dementia care seminar for his volunteers. They have recently contacted me to do some additional training for them. I like the fact that they are dedicated to making sure that everyone working in the program is knowledgeable and updated on dementia care.

I know as a caregiver, those four hours of respite would have done me wonders. I could have run the errands I never had time for or could of just gone back home and crawled back into my bed for some much needed sleep.

Catholic Charities is affiliated with United Way and has run this respite program since 1999, which is open to the public regardless of what your religious preference is.

For more information on the program call (800) 242-9012.

For a decade, Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth.net. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.

‘Be a Santa’ for seniors

The magic of Christmas is often in the act of giving, especially to those who might otherwise be forgotten. And seniors living alone or in a community without a family close by might be among those not remembered with a gift at Christmas.

Home Instead Senior Care of Spring Hill is hoping no financially burdened or lonely senior is left out this holiday season as they launch their second annual Be a Santa to a Senior Program in Hernando County.

Similar to the Angel Tree program sponsored by the Salvation Army, Be a Santa to a Senior depends on generous participants who select an ornament tag from Christmas tree displays in various locations throughout the community. Gifts are then deposited at drop-off locations, unwrapped. They are picked up and brought to a wrapping party, then distributed to the recipients.

The program is already in the process of collecting the information on individuals who are determined in need of their support, submitted by various communities, churches, organizations and individuals who know a senior who would benefit.

Many of the recipients of the gifts will receive nothing else this holiday season, said Maureen Riser, owner of Home Instead Senior Care. And the requests are heartbreakingly simple: a pair of warm slippers, puzzle books or shaving cream.

Mona Herreid, sales leader at Forest Oaks Assisted Living Community, said some of her residents received seven or eight gifts last year. “The joy it brought to them, words couldn’t describe,” she said. “They made sure everyone had a gift to open.”

Those who benefited either had no family or were estranged, she added.

So many supporters turned out to make the program a success. And the wrapping party, which gathered volunteers and representatives from the various assisted-living communities at Notre Dame Interperochial School, had a blast wrapping hundreds of gifts. Businesses turned out with donations of cookies, candy and snacks to add some bonus trinkets.

“It was well organized,” said Herreid. And she encouraged anyone interested to help out a program that she said made a huge difference to her residents who realized someone cared.

Eileen Tenly, staff coordinator of Home Instead Senior Care, told a story of a senior who only wanted a year’s subscription to the newspaper. It was a little challenging setting it up, but his newspaper was delivered. “And he shares it with everyone!”

For information about how you can participate, contact Home Instead Senior Care at (352) 340-5900.

Community pulls together for cancer-stricken woman

Kevin Blair married his dream girl in 2012 and the two settled into the home they purchased in Spring Hill with plans for an amazing life together.

Five months later, Hannah, now 29, suffered deep abdominal pain that sent the couple to the ER. Within 24 hours, they were on a journey to save her life.
Daniel, 9, Kevin and Hannah Blair shown in a family photo
Daniel, 9, Kevin and Hannah Blair shown in a family photo. Photos courtesy of the Blair family

Hannah was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, a rare diagnosis for someone so young. “And it’s a rare form,” said Kevin, who, in just over a year, has become very focused on Hannah’s recovery. He has a grasp of her condition as if her life depended on it, because in many ways it does.

Kevin described the days that followed Hannah’s diagnosis, his fogged memories of first being told the tumor was probably benign. And then the horror of the biopsy results and the words “the cancer has spread to her liver.”

His mother, Betty, leaned in closer to her son, her eyes pooling with tears she didn’t try to hide. “We never expected it,” she said.

The two handle their emotion differently. Kevin clenches his jaw, maintaining composure. His mother is more free with her tears. But their visible compassion and respect for the other delivers the message that they are in this together. And they realized, as the community learned of Hannah’s story, they were far from alone.

At first, traditional chemotherapy appeared to be working and the family clung to hope. Hannah was reluctant to reach out for help, typical of her independent nature, Kevin said. But the tumor started growing. “She finally admitted she needed help,” he said.

They were told about a clinical trial in Europe with a 95-percent success rate. Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy, according to prrtinfo.org, is a form of molecular-targeted therapy performed by using a small peptide coupled with a radionuclide emitting beta radiation. It is used for the systematic treatment of metastasized neuroendocrine tumors.

Facing her only hope, the family began fundraising for help so Hannah could get the treatment. In the interim, they discovered that PRRT is under a clinical trial at the Excell Diagnostic & Nuclear Oncology Center in Houston.

Hannah would need four to six treatments at a cost of $10,000 each. It is not covered by insurance, and each treatment must be prepaid.

The community rallied behind the Blairs, learning about the treatment and finding inventive ways to help them raise the money needed. They passed out fliers, collected items for a drawing, created a Facebook page and encouraged everyone to share Hannah’s story.

Hannah’s family outside of Florida began a series of efforts to fund Hannah’s first treatment, which she completed last week. But she will need at least three more.

Rookies Sports Bar & Grill joined the fight and will hold a benefit for Hannah on Saturday at their U.S. 19 location, 1320 Commercial Way, from noon until 5 p.m.

The event will have vendors, live bands, raffle drawings, 50/50, and activities for the family, including a bounce house, face painting and appearances by Elsa from “Frozen.” Prizes available are golf certificates, river cruises, dinner shows, artwork and more.

The goal is to fund at least one treatment with money raised during Saturday’s Cancer Relief for Hannah.

To date, Hernando County sponsors include: Rookies Sports Bar & Grill 19, Sir Speedy Printing, Coney Island, Best Buy, Rita’s Ice, Tactical Supply, Little Caesar’s on Cortez, Rocco’s Pizza, Pizza Villa, Campitiello’s Pizza, Westshore Pizza, PJ’s Brick Oven Pizza, Boston Cooker, Sonny’s Bar-B-Q, Luigi’s, Home Depot, Shandi’s Sugar Shack, Spring Hill Lanes, CiCi’s Pizza, Guido’s Pizza, Office Depot, A-1 Hair Design, Artful Possibilities and Sherwood Forest Florist.

At the time of diagnosis, the Blairs wondered how they would get through the challenges. A very tightly bound family, they cling to their faith that Hannah will survive to finish raising her 9-year old son, Daniel.

While preparing for her first treatment last week, Hannah was tired, her body under tremendous stress.

She remembered a time when getting through the day was her most important thought. Now she cherishes every moment.

Knowing how the community is pulling for her was a gift she couldn’t repay. “I can’t believe how many people care about me,” she said.

Betty Blair admitted some days are better than others, but the support the family has received is testimony to the strength of their faith. “We thought we were alone,” she said. “But we’re not.”

“We aren’t beggars, but we are in begging mode,” Betty Blair said. “We have to save our little girl’s life.”

For more information, visit the website at healthforhannah.com and Health for Hannah on Facebook.

LeBlanc: Dealing with verbal abuse

When someone is cognitively impaired they likely will demonstrate a full spectrum of wrath and fury aimed toward his or her caregiver. This might include screaming accusations, throwing objects and spewing spiteful names.

If you are a caregiver and this happens to you, try not to take it too personally. Yes, it will be upsetting. But these rants of hostility are not specifically directed at you. On the contrary, they are set in motion by the overwhelming frustration of being stricken with Alzheimer’s or other dementia related diseases.

Studies reveal that most of this anger and frustration is due to anxiety. For instance, asking these patients to perform a task as simple as brushing their teeth may trigger a verbal confrontation. Unbeknownst to caregivers, it could be that this particular moment was already full of confusion and frustration for their loved ones. They may even hear a flat out “No!” Broaching the subject too soon again possibly could bring about another rage. It’s easier for them to respond this way than to acknowledge they cannot remember how. No one likes to feel foolish.

Try new approaches. Get into the habit of redirecting their thoughts, preferably to more blithesome ones. Try, “Remember the old days?” or, “I love the color of that sweater.” Train yourself to apply this technique during the many challenging situations you will encounter. With a little redirection, life just might flow a bit more smoothly.

I’ve never been one to push medications, but at this stage of the disease, they’re probably already consuming a bowlful each day anyway. Talk to attending physicians about this current behavior and ask them about possibly prescribing something for anxiety.

There is a lot of fear involved in being memory-impaired. I analyze it like this: If you went to the mall to do some shopping and, upon walking outside, you suddenly realized you had no idea where you parked your car, well, a wave of anxiety would wash over you. It’s terrifying and paralyzing. In a similar way, people with Alzheimer’s experience this all day long.

The good news is that, without any short-term memory, they quickly might forget being upset. Again, this is especially true if you train yourself to make redirection a standard response.

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth.net. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.

Pay attention to early symptoms of heart attacks

During a health education talk to seniors, I posed a couple of questions.

“What is the commonest symptom you feel in the early stage of a heart attack?” Most answered, “It’s chest pain, right?”

My next one, directed mainly to women in the audience, was, “What is the commonest cause of death among women in the U.S.?”

“Breast cancer,” said a few; some others felt it would be uterine or ovarian cancer. When I told them both answers were wrong they were surprised.

The number one cause of death in the United States is still heart disease — more specifically coronary heart disease (CHD) that results in heart attacks. Yes women, too, are far more likely to die of CHD than from any form of cancer. This despite all the recent advances including technologic innovations and new drugs to combat the disease.

Approximately 600,000 lives are lost every year from CHD. The sad part is that about 335,000 of them are sudden deaths, many of which could have been prevented if only the victims paid attention to early warning symptoms. Most of these sudden cardiac arrests happen at home, and almost 60 percent are witnessed, according to researchers. This means, if a relative or a friend who saw the event had the ability to give CPR, a life could have been saved. So it’s very important every one of us receive training in CPR.

During the early stage of a heart attack, most patients feel a degree of tightness in the mid chest, behind the sternum. There is a common myth that all heart attacks are manifested by severe chest pain. Some feel more of a suffocation and others may say, “I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest.” Many experience only nagging chest discomfort or a feeling of indigestion. Of course, crushing chest pains do occur and obviously should not be neglected. The symptoms of tightness or discomfort may radiate to the jaws, left shoulder or along the inside of the left arm and at times are accompanied by cold, drenching sweats. However, if the chest pains are more localized to the left side of the chest and sore to touch, they are likely to be non-cardiac in origin.

Symptoms are a bit different in women, so they do need to recognize this variation, as heart disease is becoming more and more prevalent among older women. Instead of the typical chest tightness, they might feel only a little discomfort, which often may radiate to the back instead of the left arm. Some only complain of indigestion and look for antacids. They could even have right arm pain and experience some shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and a feeling of light-headedness. One of my patients came to the office complaining of unusual fatigue for a day; the cardiogram showed the tell-tale signs of a heart attack which necessitated immediate hospitalization. According to a New York Presbyterian Hospital study, 50 percent of women were reluctant to call 911 even when they thought they were having a heart attack!

A few facts about the early stage of heart attacks should be kept in mind. Once the process of heart attack begins the heart muscle starts losing its blood supply fast and the heart can stop at any minute. Once that happens, the patient will lose consciousness in 10 seconds. This is when CPR is needed, so you have no time to lose. And brain damage can occur within three minutes after the heart stops pumping blood. Often a chaotic heart rhythm called ‘ventricular fibrillation’ or VF is the reason for cardiac arrest and this can be corrected by an electric shock given through a defibrillator machine. In recent years, small portable defibrillators called “AEDs” or automated external defibrillators have become available. Thanks to the American Heart Association, AEDs often are prominently displayed wherever large numbers of people congregate, such as at airports, convention centers, sports stadiums, auditoriums, health fitness facilities, etc.

The modern treatment of a heart attack in progress is totally different from what it used to be. “Time is muscle” is the golden principle in cardiology, and it means by opening the clogged artery immediately by angioplasty followed by a stent placement and restoring the blood flow the heart muscle damage can be contained and give the person a chance for near complete recovery. All our local hospitals have the capability to do emergency angioplasty.

Here is an important caveat: Should you ever suspect that what you feel may be the early symptom of a heart attack, please call 911. Never drive to the local hospital yourself or get your friend to take you there. Ambulance crews are equipped to deal with all emergencies during transportation and they will communicate with the emergency room about the progress. Pop a baby aspirin into the mouth and take a sublingual nitro pill if available. Reaching the hospital in time is critical so that doctors can give emergency treatment without delay. Many a person has fainted or even suffered a full cardiac arrest while driving.

All of us need to take the early symptoms of heart attacks seriously and take appropriate action. That literally would mean the difference between life and death.

M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a cardiologist at Crescent Community Clinic in Spring Hill. He is the author of “Stories From My Heart.”

Medicare open enrollment for 2015 approaching

Now that you have made yourself comfortable with your Medicare coverage it is time to check out any changes coming your way for 2015. Open enrollment 2015 starts Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7. Plan information will be available on the Medicare.gov site on Oct. 1, 2014.
Medicare-open-enrollment-for-2015-approaching

If you are a member of a Medicare Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan be on the lookout for your annual notice of change (ANOC). The notice should arrive by the end of September. This document will tell you the changes that are coming to your current plan for 2015. If you are on a drug plan your premium or co-pays can change. Also be sure to check if some of your medications are still on the plan’s formulary or drug list.

Medicare Advantage plans will need to be checked for new out-of-pocket maximums, increased doctor co-pays, and increased payments for outpatient services like diagnostics, physical therapy and especially whether outpatient surgeries will have a flat co-pay or if you will be responsible for a percentage. Hospital co-pays may increase significantly from year to year, a point you automatically will review. One item that gets frequently overlooked is care in a skilled nursing or rehab facility. Most Advantage plans limit coverage for a skilled nursing facility care. Medicare supplements carry a premium but can provide benefits for a skilled nursing facility and are worth investigating if you plan to use this benefit, Part B (medical) drug coverage like chemotherapy or physical therapy visits.

For those on Medicare supplements: These plans do not change benefits unless there is an act of Congress. They will follow the new changes in Medicare for the coming year. Those changes usually are not announced until November. Rate increases on Medicare supplements often occur at the end of the year depending on how quickly the State of Florida gives carriers their rating change approval.

Lastly, the Annual Notice of Coverage notifications can be confusing — you might want to get your hands on a 2015 sales kit that has the summary of benefits to get a better idea with less jargon if your plan is being continued into 2015. Don’t forget some Advantage or drug plans close down and terminate members so people can enroll in one of the new plans.

Betsy Vipond is CEO of The Senior Health Advisor and has been in insurance for over 38 years. She is a past board member of Tampa Bay Health Underwriters part of the National Association of Health Underwriters and specializes in Medicare products. You may contact her at (800) 603-0901.

LeBlanc: The denial of dementia

In my experience I have come across only one symptom of dementia that appears to be contagious, and that is mindset of “denial.”

It is quite common to find denial running rampant among the family members of people diagnosed with dementia, but even more often it is discovered coming right from the psychologically imbalanced themselves! “We all get a little forgetful once in a while,“ can often be heard coming from both groups. Beliefs like this can be dangerous. Allowing those with dementia behind the wheel or sanctioning their refusal to see a doctor can lead to disaster. It’s vital that we find a way to make reality sink in before it’s too late.

Understandably, most folks are afraid to go to their doctor and discuss what symptoms they’re experiencing. They’re terrified they might hear the word “Alzheimer’s.” If this sounds like someone you know, you must make it clear to them that something else could be going on. There could be a vitamin B deficiency or a thyroid problem. It may not necessarily be the “Big A.”

Family members and friends of those diagnosed need to provide as much support as possible. Educating the general public is crucial. Dementia is not necessarily a natural part of aging. Something in the human body — or a lack of something — is causing it. Yes we do get a little more forgetful when we get older; but that is not dementia.

Robert Stern, director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, states: “Dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s is the cause of the symptom. A good analogy to the term dementia is ‘fever.’ Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that the person is sick, but it does not touch on any information on what is causing the sickness.” So basically what he’s saying is that dementia is not the disease; it is one of the symptoms of the disease.

Dementia is an umbrella term for multiple symptoms such as cognitive impairment, faltering language skills, short attention span, poor decision-making and the deterioration of motor skills.

As human beings, we tend to use “denial” as a safety mechanism. It reminds me of the English metaphor of the elephant being in the room; if we don’t acknowledge it, it’s simply not there. Well it is there and we need to start talking about it openly! The more we discuss it, the more others will learn. Hopefully, when people are better educated, the denial will naturally start slipping away.

Fighting for the cause against dementia-related diseases includes educating the public to be aware of all the disabilities involved with the disease. This also means educating physicians and medical professionals.

With an early and proper diagnosis patients immediately can be prescribed the correct treatment or therapy, and they and their families can plan ahead, starting off on the right foot.

For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth.net. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.