Is it just us, or is the news filled with stories about aging and dementia in the past couple months? We’ve been reading stories and listening to podcasts about:
Different ways to deal with dementia
We heard a heart-warming podcast about aging and dementia last month. As part of the “First Person” podcast series, Lulu Garcia-Navarro interviewed artist Anne Basting about her strategy for engaging with people suffering from dementia.
Ms. Basting talked about her experience visiting seniors in nursing facilities. She learned that she could reach residents who had previously been unresponsive — by inviting them to make up their own stories. Singing turned out to be a major part of her system of contact.
You can visit Ms. Basting’s website to look at her toolkit. Perhaps you can use some of her techniques in dealing with your own family member enmeshed in aging and dementia.
Alternative housing for seniors
“Granny flats” have been around for years. Now they are “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) and there’s a surge of interest.
A recent New York Times article described the trend in California (big surprise), where housing costs are famously high. But “tiny house” developments have already popped up in Tucson — though the biggest iteration here is focused on the unhoused. It’s easy to see how the movement might be interesting to anyone thinking about moving an aging loved one into adjacent property, where they can maintain independence but still have family oversight.
The pervasiveness of “romance scams”
We see it all the time in our practice. It is not a new phenomenon. Unscrupulous thieves (we don’t mean to suggest that there might be scrupulous thieves) befriend victims well into the aging and dementia cycle. And then they steal money.
What’s new? The prevalence of romance elements. We have seen fake lottery scams (helpful hint: you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter and in fact never heard of before). We even wrote about holiday-themed scams over a decade ago. And many have experienced scams centered on invented dangers facing grandchildren or other family members. But the shift lately has been towards fake romances with seniors.
Now the AARP has offered a warning for vulnerable seniors and their family members. Your attempt to locate a romantic partner might be fraught with danger. Someone suffering from the effects of aging and dementia might not be able to initiate the online dating described by the AARP — but they can still be victimized if they are located by a thief or schemer.
Frontotemporal dementia — and Bruce Willis
Movie star Bruce Willis’ family announced last month that he has been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. The news was terrible, but there was a lot to love in the announcement. The country got a chance to learn about a particular type of dementia — and one that tends to affect younger patients (Willis is 67). And the sense of the announcement was that Willis would want his public to know, and to empathize.
But that doesn’t mean he should be subjected to badgering and harassment. In fact, a key part of his wife’s (and family’s) plan is to let him live a rich, full life, and to stay in the community. That’s much harder to do if he can’t be kept safe and he’s constantly pestered by people trying to get a photograph of a famous person dealing with aging and dementia.
So last week Willis’ wife Emma Hemming Willis went public with a request: please leave my husband alone in the community. We admire her for her style, her message and, above all, for focusing on her husband’s life and well-being. And we promise not to look at, much less buy, any pictures of him living the best life he can.
OK — this one surprised us. We know that there is a lot of concern about constipation among the elderly. “Stool softeners” generate a billion and a half dollars (or so) for their manufacturers each year — even though they tend to be mostly inexpensive drugs.
But now comes news that regular laxative use — and especially of “osmotic” laxatives — may actually increase the risk of dementia. What’s an osmotic laxative? It’s one that draws liquid into the stool — like MiraLax®, for example. It’s to be distinguished from a “bulk-forming” laxative like Metamucil.
Aging and dementia. What a combination. And now more in the news than ever before — and in more diverse ways!
After this article was finalized, but before it went “live”, we happened to attend the Arizona Theatre Company presentation of “Pru Payne,” a play about (you guessed it) aging and dementia. It was an excellent production of a very thought-provoking play. One of the characters is identified as suffering from Lewy Body dementia; it’s great to see public discussion of the different types of dementia, and how they might differently affect patients and family members. As we write this, the Pru Payne production has just one week to run in Tucson, and then moves to Phoenix for another three weeks. We commend the play, the venue and the theater company.