Health Care

Fe Vorderlandwehr: Even with dementia, people are still people

Dementia is an illness that affects the brain and eventually causes a person to lose the ability to perform daily self care. All areas of daily living are affected over the course of the disease. Over time, a person with dementia loses the ability to learn new information, make decisions and plan the future. Communication with other people becomes difficult. People with dementia ultimately lose the ability to perform daily tasks and to recognize the world around them.

Over 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and 51,000 of those people are from Kansas. Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Nearly 150,000 caregivers in Kansas go unpaid each year providing care for their loved ones.

Caregiving for someone with dementia can be a difficult thing. By using creativity and caregiving skills, caregivers can adapt routines and activities as needs change. Structured and pleasant activities can help with improving mood and agitation that occurs with dementia. Planning activities for a person works best when you continually explore, experiment and adjust.

When caring for someone with dementia, caregivers need to know the person’s likes, dislikes, strengths, abilities and interests. Caregivers need to understand their structure, what time of day they function better, how they react to bath time or meals, and regular times they will wake up or go to bed.

Each stage of dementia is different.

We break down the process into three stages: early stage, middle stage and late stage.

Early stage refers to people, irrespective of age, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders and are in the beginning stages of the disease. A person in the early stages may experience mild changes in the ability to think and learn, but he or she continues to participate in daily activities and give-and-take dialogues. To others, the person may not appear to have dementia. The early stages of Alzheimer’s can last for years.

During the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, damage to the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks. Friends and family may notice the person with Alzheimer’s jumbling words, having trouble dressing, getting frustrated or angry, or acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe.

As the disease advances, the needs of the person living with Alzheimer’s will change and deepen. A person with late-stage Alzheimer’s usually has difficulty eating and swallowing, needs assistance walking, needs full-time help with personal care and loses the ability to communicate with words.

Always remember that the person with the dementia, is still a person. For example, Alice is still Alice, not just Alice who has dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association, the world leader in Alzheimer’s research, care and support, is dedicated to its mission to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide care and support to all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.

The Central and Western Kansas Chapter provides programs and services through a 68-county service area, including support groups; local resources, respite care scholarships; education and youth outreach; the Roth Project (iPod therapy program); Memories in the Making; and a 24/7 Helpline, 1-800-272-3900, staffed by trained professionals.

For more information go to, or call the local office at 316-267-7333.

Fe Vorderlandwehr is the executive director of Alzheimer’s Association Central and Western Kansas Chapter.