Medically Reviewed by Jacque Parker, RN
If you're caring for elderly loved ones and find the task daunting, then you're in the same position that new author, Jacqueline Marcell, found herself. She gave up her life as a television executive, went through 40 caregivers and cried rivers for a year before she succeeded in solving the endless crisis, and tells how in her book, Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please! How To Survive Caring For Aging Parents (Impressive Press). Delivered with a humorous tone, she brings a taboo subject out in the open and relates how she fought through an unsympathetic medical system until she finally found help for her "Jekyll & Hyde" father who was starting to get dementia.
Education is the Key
Marcell points out that there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer's is just one form, and there is no stopping the progression nor is there a cure. There are three stages: Stage One typically lasts 2-4 years; Stage Two lasts 2-10 years (and usually requires full-time care); and Stage Three lasts 1-3 years. Statistically families (and many doctors who are not dementia specialists) wait 4 years, ignoring early warning signs before reaching out for help (through Stage One), because they incorrectly believe that these intermittently odd behaviors are just a normal part of aging and untreatable senility. Marcell says, "By the age of 65, one out of every ten persons has some form of dementia, and by the age of 85, one out of every two persons has it. Surprisingly, the fastest growing segment of our population is the 85+ group."
Marcell says her mission is to, "spread the word about the importance of early diagnosis to the 78 million baby boomers who are often in denial about eldercare until they are in a crisis." She wants everyone to know that with medication (Aricept, Exelon or Reminyl), dementia might be slowed down from progressing as fast as it would have otherwise by 2-4 years, keeping a loved one in Stage One longer, which is intermittent and mild. "Seeking help early can save families a lot of heartache and money, and save our society the burden of caring for so many elders who decline sooner than need be. It's really very simple: When your loved one does something that strikes you as illogical or irrational - it is! You don't need to be a Ph.D. to know something is wrong, you need an M.D. who can diagnose and treat it properly."
Where She Found Help
Marcell credits the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) for referring her to geriatric dementia specialists who uncovered her father's early stage Alzheimer's. (His regular doctors missed it completely.) They prescribed medication to slow the dementia down and improve his cognitive ability, and then treated the aggression and often-present depression. Then, after also balancing him with optimal nutrition, Marcell was able to start behavior modification, consisting of rewards & consequences (because his short-term memory was still fairly good), and succeeded in turning around his lifelong behavior pattern of screaming and yelling to get his way--the majority of the time. The final key was getting herself into a support group, and then getting both parents out of bed ("waiting to die"), and involved in daily activities and socialization at an Adult Day Health Care facility, which completely turned their lives around at 81 and 87.
Marcell adds, "75% of dementia patients are being cared for at home, and sadly, elder abuse is reaching epidemic proportions because families are so unprepared for the frustrations of caregiving their elders, who are living longer than ever. She believes that if people understood how to properly manage it, elder abuse would be reduced. She is pleased that the National Center on Elder Abuse recently published a very favorable review of "Elder Rage" in their national newsletter.
Getting the Word Out
AARP's Bulletin featured Marcell on their cover (circulation 22 million), putting "Elder Rage" on the fast track to becoming a bestseller. "I'm reaching frustrated adult children who are reading it like a novel, and finding hope and tangible solutions." The addendum by renowned dementia specialist, Dr. Rodman Shankle, "A Physicians Guide to Treating Aggression in Dementia" also helps doctors diagnose and treat this troubling aspect of dementia. The bottom line message of both author and doctor is that, "there can still be a good life after a diagnosis of dementia, if it is properly managed medically and behaviorally."
"Elder Rage" is also an extensive self-help book with answers to difficult "how to" questions like: getting loved ones to give up driving, accept a caregiver, see a different doctor, go to day care--and also includes a wealth of valuable resources, web sites and recommended reading.
Marcell emphasizes, "Dementia costs American business over $33 billion a year--79% from lost productivity and absenteeism of employees who must care for ailing family members. Everyone should know the warning signs of dementia and the importance of seeking help sooner than later." She says she learned caregiving the hard way, which is why she wrote her first book, "so that no one would ever have to go through what I did." Determined to make a difference, she says her mission is to, "get to Washington as quickly as possible and help change our eldercare laws." She laughs, "I have an ulterior motive--I don't have children, so I've got to help straighten things out before I get old!"
Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's
1. Recent memory loss that affects job skills
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation of time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative
Jacqueline Marcell speaks nationwide to families and professionals on eldercare awareness and reform. She replaced an ailing Maureen Reagan at the Governor's Conference for Women, presenting a caregiving seminar with California First Lady, Sharon Davis. CNN and NBC have interviewed her, she has been a frequent guest on talk radio/television, Prevention magazine published an article, and the University of Tennessee's Educational Psychology Department is using "Elder Rage" as a required text. Visit the author's web site at http://www.elderrage.com.