When people joke about forgetting things because they are old, it often can be a sign of something much more troubling.
Memory loss and difficulty performing familiar tasks or locating familiar places like a bedroom or bathroom are early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors die with the disease and more than five million Americans suffer from it.
November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Enrie Morales, the owner of the Bronx’s senior in-home care company Right at Home, recently spoke with the Bronx Times about detecting signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia and how families can cope and interact with their loved ones.
“In general terms, it [Alzheimer’s] is the decline in mental ability,” she explained. “The person with Alzheimer’s needs help.”
Morales, 63, was an international banker for more than three decades. Her retirement proved to be the perfect opportunity to open up Right at Home.
She became a caregiver at 26 when her father, Pedro Morales, had a stroke. He never returned to work and lived until he was 81.
But she also chose her new career because her mother, Flor, has Alzheimer’s and is bed bound at home for 24 hours.
Since running an agency where most of her clients have Alzheimer’s, she has learned a lot about the disease.
Morales underwent a special certification to better understand a client with cognitive decline or dementia, to assess his or her abilities and to adjust their interaction in the most beneficial way.
“I understand what the disease is all about,” she said. “Ninety percent of my clients have some sort of dementia.”
She explained to the Bronx Times that treating someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is extremely difficult. The patient will often ask the same questions over and over, but will vividly remember something from several years ago.
Her employees do their best to get to know their clients and suit their needs. For example, if the patient is a Frank Sinatra fan they would try to have his music playing often.
“It’s hard all the way from the top to the bottom,” Morales explained. “My caregivers get very attached. When we choose our caregivers we need to know that they’re going to do this job with lots of love and care.”
According to Morales, the disease isn’t just about forgetting facts but as it gets worse, the nervous system doesn’t remember to do basic functions like go to the bathroom or shower.
While there is still no cure, people need to look for warning signs such as family members having difficulty locating things or memory loss.
Some people get Alzheimer’s when they are just in their 50s, while most will get it later in life. People can live up to 12 to 15 years after they are diagnosed, but it’s a very hard road to travel on for the patient, their family and caregivers.
Morales stressed that one person should not care for someone with Alzheimer’s alone. They should lean on family and friends, talk to medical professionals and reach out to organizations.
“We need to educate ourselves and seek assistance,” she said. “Now there’s many things we can do to make things easier.”