June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and DHEC is joining efforts to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and brain health. During June, the Alzheimer’s Association is inviting people to participate in The Longest Day® on June 21. The event is held annually on the summer solstice, and The Longest Day invites participants to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s by wearing purple, fundraising, and engaging in activities that raise awareness.
Alzheimer’s Disease Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age. Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, but up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s, which often develops when someone is in their 40s or 50s.
More than 90,000 residents in South Carolina experience Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. DHEC’s oversight of nursing homes and assisted living facilities includes support and protection for many of these residents, along with the agency’s partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association, and Eat Smart, Move More, SC, among others.
Brain Health While the importance of brain health is well known, there is still a great deal scientists and doctors don’t know about the brain. Fortunately, research is advancing, and evidence shows that people can reduce their chances of decreased brain function by adopting key heart-healthy lifestyle habits.
Here are some steps to take to support a healthy brain:
Fuel up Right and Break a Sweat! Participate in physical activity that raises your heart rate and increases your blood flow. Studies have found that physical activity reduces risk of cognitive decline.
Butt out. Quit Smoking! Smoking increases your risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce risk to levels similar to those who have not smoked.
Follow Your Heart! Risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes can negatively impact your cognitive health.
Protect Your Noggin! Wear a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike or motorcycle. Use seat belts or child restraint systems designed for the age of your child.
Click here to learn more about various types of brain conditions including the signs to watch for. The conditions include mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. In general, each of these conditions can include loss of memory and largely involve, but are not limited to, residents who are 65 or older.
Facts About Alzheimer’s:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for an estimated 60% to 80% of cases.
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By the year 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million people.
Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
1 in 3 Seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
1 in 9 people age 65 and older (11.3%) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Light the World in Teal is an annual observance held on Nov. 4. which highlights November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Members of DHEC’s Healthcare Quality staff wore teal Thursday, Nov. 4, to recognize Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
Teal is the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s awareness color. Persons around the world wear teal, and buildings and structures light up in teal to participate in the observance.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately 95,000 South Carolinians are currently living with Alzheimer’s, according to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report.
DHEC recognizes Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and encourages the public to learn more information about Alzheimer’s disease. You can do so by clicking here.
Long-term care facility residents and staff have represented about 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. At the same time, the year-long visitation restrictions also took a tremendous toll on residents, family members, caregivers, and facility staff, especially with residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
“Ongoing changes and restrictions related to COVID-19 impacted our most vulnerable population,” said JoMonica Taylor, Director of Residential Facilities Division in the Bureau of Community Care. “Amidst staffing shortages, increase in infection rates and lockdowns, facility’s staff remained a physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the residents, especially those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
DHEC worked with facilities over the past year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and find ways that facilities could still offer a connection between residents and loved ones, including tablets and other telecommunications, window visits, and isolation barrier visits.
Long-term care facilities in South Carolina are now required to allow visitation at all times for all residents in accordance with DHEC guidelines, including indoor visits, outdoor visits, compassionate care visits, and window visits. With long-term care facilities reopened and widespread vaccine availability, DHEC leaders that oversee these facilities express their appreciation to facility staff.
“DHEC would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the facilities and their staff for their commitment to taking care of and keeping safe one of our most precious populations during this past year of uncertainty and change,” said Angie Smith, Director of the Bureau of Community Care. “DHEC stands along with the facilities and their staff and their commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia population.”
As a reminder, DHEC continues to help administer CMS’s Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Reinvestment Program, which supports projects that benefit nursing home residents and improve their quality of life. Many of the projects are designed to help alleviate and comfort residents suffering with dementia.
More information on the program and how entities can apply for funds to support an eligible project are available on DHEC’s website here.
DHEC recognizes Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education Week by highlighting the importance of the training and education of the exceptional staff that care for patients all across South Carolina, including in nursing homes, community residential care facilities, and providers, such as in-home care providers and home health agencies. DHEC’s Healthcare Quality regulates 207 facilities that offer memory care services.
Providers and staff at Alzheimer’s care facilities are always learning as much as possible on how to both better prevent and improve treatments for dementias, but they have also been faced with the new challenge of educating themselves on COVID-19 infection control and prevention. These individuals have had to quickly adapt to evolving requirements and recommendations regarding physical contact, visitors, and daily routines for patients.
Changes to routines, use of unfamiliar personal protective equipment (PPE), and disruption to daily schedules are enough to confuse anyone, but Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are at an increased risk of depression and worsening behavioral changes, such as agitation, aggression, and wandering.
DHEC is proud of the amazing providers and staff at these facilities who have helped make these new transitions easier for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, while still prioritizing their treatments and care. We have witnessed families and caregivers working with providers and Alzheimer’s care facility staff to develop new ways to improve the mental health of their loved ones suffering from dementias as well as their physical health.
DHEC celebrates these individuals and strongly encourages the community to continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia in order to help improve lives.
Know the Signs
Besides celebrating the individuals that care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, DHEC’s Healthcare Quality wants you to know the onset signs of such healthcare concerns. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some signs and symptoms that could indicate the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s may include:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Challenges in planning or solving problems
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Confusion with time or place
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
New problems with words in speaking or writing
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
Decreased or poor judgment
Withdrawal from work or social activities
Changes in mood and personality
Upon receiving a diagnosis, caregivers and their loved ones are faced with a long list of questions. How long until the disease progresses? Can I afford long-term care for my loved one? How can I anticipate their needs?
Now facing the reality of living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, new concerns and fears start to emerge as well. It is due to the industrious efforts and ongoing education of providers and staff at Alzheimer’s care facilities and in the community that these patients can be cared for with the utmost respect, knowledge, and safety.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and DHEC recognizes the vital work that healthcare facilities, healthcare professionals, and caregivers do in providing treatment and improving the quality of life of those afflicted with brain trauma and disorders. There are currently over 95,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias (ADRD) in South Carolina. According to the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Disease Registry, 25% of the ADRD population in the state resides in a long-term care facility (LTCF), including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, while the remaining 75% live independently or with loved ones in the community.
It comes as no surprise that COVID-19 has been an unexpected hurdle in providing special care to each resident or patient afflicted with these diseases. The risk for persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias poses a unique challenge for caregivers, families, and facilities. Changes to routines, use of unfamiliar personal protective equipment (PPE), and disruption to daily schedules can lead to fear and anxiety resulting in increased depression and worsening behavioral changes, such as agitation, aggression, and wandering. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends specific guidance to facilities for infection control and prevention, it also recommends keeping environments and routines as consistent as possible for patients and residents suffering from ADRD and other brain disorders.
As facilities and caregivers continue to care for patients and residents, the following tips can help improve brain health for those afflicted with these diseases while preventing the spread of COVID-19:
Maintain the same environments and routines for the patients or residents while introducing frequent hand washing, social distancing, and use of cloth face coverings (if tolerated).
Introduce virtual games and activities for enrichment and memory care.
Use face coverings wisely. Face coverings should not be used for anyone with breathing issues or who is unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Keep staff consistent in memory care units at facilities.
Structured activities may need to occur in the resident’s or patient’s room, or be scheduled at staggered times throughout the day in order to maintain social distancing.
Provide safe ways to remain active, such as staff going on walks around the unit or outside with the patient or resident.
Limit the number of people in common areas while practicing social distancing.
Frequently clean often-touched surfaces, especially hallways and common areas.
Those suffering from ADRD may not be able to communicate that they are feeling ill. It is important to be informed and able to recognize symptoms in order to protect our most vulnerable from COVID-19. Early signs to recognize for a patient or resident who cannot communicate their symptoms are cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, or vomiting. Emergency warning signs are trouble breathing, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips or face.
Family and friends that would still like to visit loved ones in facilities are encouraged to use messaging systems such as emails, phone calls, cards and letters, recorded video messages, care packages, and even song and poem dedications through the facility intercom. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)’s Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Reinvestment Program is a great funding opportunity for facilities wishing to procure technical equipment for communication purposes. Nursing homes can also benefit from applying to CMS’ COVID-19 Communicative Technology grant that provides funding for residents to communicate with loved ones.
Lexington Medical Center (LMC) Extended Care recently took advantage of this COVID-19 grant opportunity and purchased two iPads and three iN2L tablets for the nursing home. Though the facility encourages families to make phone calls and chat with loved one outside of the facility’s windows, the technology procured through the grant allows more residents the opportunity to connect with loved ones and to do is in the most convenient, readily accessible, and intimate way. The facility already averages 700 calls per month, not including the calls made by residents with their personal devices. The use of the virtual technology for tele-videos, texts, calls, games, and a myriad of other activities connects loved ones together and helps augment the quality of life for these residents, especially those most vulnerable to brain dysfunction and memory loss.
“Without this COVID-19 communicative grant funding and the opportunity for communities to purchase needed devices, our residents might not have the opportunity to see their family nor would their family see them, which could be detrimental to everyone,” states Debbie Bouknight, Lexington’s Life Enrichment Director. “It is both heartwarming and sometimes heartwrenching, but so worth it to see the interactions happen. I feel we would see far more decline in our residents’ physical and emotional well-being if they did not have these video visit opportunities.”
More ideas of how you can connect with loved ones during COVID-19 are available here.
DHEC would like to express its gratitude to all facility staff and loved ones keeping our Alzheimer’s and other dementias population healthy during COVID-19. Residents and patients suffering from these diseases are not just physically vulnerable during this pandemic, but they are also highly susceptible to mental anguish and confusion due to the necessary changes being made at facilities for infection control and prevention. We recognize the extraordinary cooperation between facility staff and families in ensuring excellent care for the quality of life of those afflicted with ADRD, as well as adapting to new forms of communication that keep loved ones both connected and safe.