Alzheimer’s Services to help Ascension Parish seniors

Gina Zanutto

According to recent population statistics, Ascension Parish has more than 1,100 individuals currently afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that typically affects memory.

“We have also identified several families in Ascension with multiple family members affected by the disease and need to serve them,” said Barbara Auten, Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Services. “Our mission is to make a significant difference in the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease in our community.”

Nearly a year ago, Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, originally located in Baton Rouge, opened an additional office in the Gonzales area.

“The parish and Gonzales government have been most welcoming,” Auten said. “The response was immediate when we asked for space. The business community has supported the Bourgeois Family Fundraiser, ‘A Time to Remember,’ and is more generous every year.”

The organization has been providing a number of services to Alzheimer’s patients, families and friends, including: telephone help-lines, caregiver meetings, educational classes, resource listings, health care professional training, identification programs, library services, legal advocacy and research with local affiliates like the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

“These programs empower caregivers with the knowledge to care for a dementia affected person while maintaining their own health and allowing the affected individual to remain at home,” Auten said. “Our training for professionals helps the patient in that it trains the healthcare professional in understanding the disease and how to deliver the proper care and management of the disease.”

According to the national Alzheimer’s Association 2009 report, preemptive educational programs and other support services serve as an effective mechanism in delaying institutional care. A delay of a single month saves an estimated $1.2 billion in health care costs annually.

“Our educational programs provide the information necessary to care for an Alzheimer’s affected individual at home and in long-term care facilities,” Auten said.

Auten credits increased Alzheimer’s awareness to the 60 million aging baby-boomers facing current statistics of one in eight over the age of 65 developing the disease as well as an average life expectancy of six to eight years after diagnosis. Auten also cites medical and technological advances, like brain scans, which provide clear diagnoses and more immediate information to patients.

“This represents a tsunami of affected individuals in the wave heading in this next 20 years,” Auten said. “It is a very expensive disease.”

Additionally, Alzheimer’s Services lists 10 signs of the disease: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, language problems, time and place disorientation, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing items, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality and loss of initiative.

“Memory loss is, of course, the one most associated with the disease,” Auten said.

A healthy life-style, which stipulates a balanced diet as well as regular physical and mental exercise, is recommended as the most effective preventative measure. Utilizing a variety of thinking skills, such as verbal and mathematical, is also advised. Early detection is equally essential.

“Ask for help, don’t wait,” Auten said. “Encourage the individual to see their doctor and rule out any other cause for the symptoms. Medical interventions and prescription drugs have the best results when the disease is in its earliest stages. Be compassionate, facing the disease is difficult, but when detected early, the quality of life can be maintained or improved with information and support.”

Alzheimer’s Services touts person-to-person contact and specialized attention as their signature features, and according to Auten, their central goals are both education and support in the Ascension Parish area.

“Creating an awareness in the community that we are the trusted resource to assist families from diagnosis to death and delivering on that promise is a priority,” Auten said. “My hope is to deepen our relationships, listen to the needs expressed by the community and act upon those needs to deliver those services and improve the quality of life for individuals affected and their caregivers, both family and professional.”