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To Overcome Fear of Alzheimer’s, Asian Families Learn Loving Touch

NichiBei Times, News Report, Heather Horiuchi Posted: Jun 23, 2009

CHICAGO — Think of five things you most enjoy doing in the morning — answers might include indulging in a cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, or going for a walk — and then imagine being told “you can’t do it because it’s inconvenient,” said Michael Cheang, an assistant professor of family and consumer services at the University of Hawai’i.

The startling example is in fact the reality for many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease who are being cared for by their family members. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease accounts for 50 to 70 percent of dementia cases.

“It happens every day,” Cheang said, of seniors’ independence being discounted.

Cheang was one of dozens of presenters at an AARP conference entitled “Diversity and Aging in the 21st Century: The Power of Inclusion” that was held June 8-10 in Chicago.

As the Japanese American community comes to terms with its rapidly aging population, caregivers are encouraged to reassess their approach to their relationship with their older loved ones.

There is an “imbalance” in the relationship — the perception that “I’m a giver, and you’re a receiver,” said Cheang, who previously worked at the University of Hawai’i’s Center on Aging.

Rather than focusing on the caregiver-receiver relationship, Cheang advocates perceiving the relationships younger adults have with their older loved ones as a partnership.

With family members often preoccupied by the challenge of caring for their loved ones — essentially a 24-7 job — Keiro Senior HealthCare, which serves the Nikkei community in Southern California, believes in anticipating the “needs of those they serve before they articulate” such, said Shawn Miyake, president/CEO of Keiro Senior HealthCare.

Those needs, of course, are immense. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s, and other dementias cost Medicare, Medicaid, and businesses” $148 billion dollars a year alone. Caregivers reduced work hours contributes to this figure.

Keiro states that one in five Japanese Americans is over age 65, which they add, is almost twice the national average.

Facing a prognosis of the lengthy disease for which there is no cure — individuals may live anywhere from three to 20 years with Alzheimer’s, the Association reports — can be both heartbreaking and overwhelming.

It is however, important not to assume that someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can’t be engaged.

As the condition progresses, there are simple yet meaningful things that can be done to express one’s love, and enjoy a shared moment. Cheang suggests preparing a loved one’s favorite dish — perhaps sushi — and serving it on a beautiful platter to encourage him or her to eat.

“Remember the things they liked to do before” the disease progressed, Cheang said. Because hearing is the last sense to go, he suggests playing songs from the senior’s generation.

“When verbal and visual communication no longer works, touch is very important,” he said. Acknowledging that this might go against instinct for some Asian Americans, Cheang suggests crawling into bed with a loved one.

It’s a “basic human element. We all love to be touched, hugged, to feel secure.”

Related Articles:

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