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Need to Know

Battling Alzheimer’s with Friends

When diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, patients are often told what they should not be doing.

While lifestyle alterations by people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s must be made, this doesn’t completely limit their ability to do normal everyday activities.

Especially while the disease is still in its earlier stages, it’s important to continue doing the things you enjoy most – it can help to increase memory and brain function.

Often because patients are diagnosed with a disease that will eventually hinder their ability to live independently, this prematurely leads to decreased activity and isolation from the normal hustle and bustle of an active lifestyle.

Rather than limiting what Alzheimer’s patients can do, the Alzheimer’s Association has created social groups within which patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s can interact. Director of early stage initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, Monica Moreno, said, “We started realizing that people in the early stages are still active and engaged, and they have specific needs and challenges.” This program can help diagnosed patients resolve problems of isolation from society, family, and normal everyday activities.

In addition to gatherings hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association, there are many independent organizations that offer programs for Alzheimer’s patients. Events like The Meet Me at MoMa program allows for early-stage and moderate patients and their caregivers to meet at the Museum of Modern Art for communal admiration of modern art. Even entrepreneurs have recognized the need for spaces in which Alzheimer’s patients can meet and interact. Several Alzheimer’s cafes have popped up in the past several years, with 65 such programs existing in the United States alone. Thus there has been an increased recognition that early-stage and moderate Alzheimer’s patients are still able to participate in everyday activities. Such programs challenge the current perception that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are unable to take a proactive role in utilizing their cognitive ability.

What remains a recurrent theme within these emerging programs is a need to restore some sense of normalcy to the lives of patients. According to Jytte Lokvig, an Alzheimer’s specialist, the goal of organizing monthly get-togethers for Alzheimer’s patients is a “shared positive experience” for patients and home caregivers that is not focused on the illness but rather on what the patient is still able to do. Loving states that it is important to pay attention to the social connections between patients and others in order to provide support and celebrate who the person is.

While Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that often leaves patients feeling powerless to stop the development of the illness, support groups and social gatherings for Alzheimer’s patients provide an alternative perspective on life after being diagnosed. Rather than hindering patients from performing the activities they had enjoyed before being diagnosed, Alzheimer’s monthly gatherings and early-stage programs can provide not only a supportive network of other patients and professionals but also engage Alzheimer’s patients in their communities.

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