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Myths Surrounding Alzheimer's

There are a lot of misconceptions about Alzheimer's disease. Susan Bodnar, Director of Senior Services, discusses this disease and how if affects seniors.
Myths Surrounding Alzheimer's
Featuring:
Susan Bodnar, BS, M.A.
Susan Bodnar was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut and was the third of five daughters. She relocated to Ridgecrest in 1982, left in 1989, returned in 2004 and is happy to call Ridgecrest her home. Susan has worked in the human services field for most of her adult life. She is a graduate of Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska where she earned both her Bachelors and Master’s degree. She has worked for Ridgecrest Regional Hospital since 2011, where she began as the in-patient social worker, a position she truly enjoyed. In 2016, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital applied for a grant with the Kern County Department of Aging and when the grant was awarded Susan was offered the position of Director of Senior Services. "To be able to work with the senior population of Ridgecrest and the surrounding areas was something I could not pass up," said Susan. "Since working in this position my life has been blessed in numerous ways. I get the opportunity to meet the seniors in this community and to assist them with the later stages of their journey in life. I believe this position has been more of blessing for me than it has for the seniors, I get to meet such wonderful people who always give me such great advice and share such wonderful wisdom."

Susan is currently working on her certification to become a Certified Senior Advisor which will allow her to have a multidisciplinary focus of working with older adults. She is also the Kern County ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association, working to get legislation passed to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and to have better resources and assistance available to families who are fighting this disease. Susan not only sees the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on our community, but has lost two aunts, a grandmother and her mother to disease.

Susan is also the proud mom of two boys and two girls and has two grandsons and three granddaughters. In her free time she likes to travel, listen to music, read, and spend time with family and friends.
Transcription:

Prakash Chandran (Host): There’s lots of myths and misconceptions around Alzheimer’s Disease. What it is, who gets it and how it affects people who have it. Today, we’re going to clear all of that up. Let’s talk to Susan Bodnar, Director of Senior Services at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. This is Health Matters, the podcast from Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. I’m Prakash Chandran. So, Susan for those of us that don’t know, maybe let’s start by you telling us the basics around what Alzheimer’s Disease is.

Susan Bodnar, BS, MA (Guest): Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease that leads to memory loss, severe cognitive impairment and it is a fatal disease. You will eventually die from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Host: Correct me if I’m wrong, it is something where you are constantly forgetting how to do things, right? First it starts by forgetting who people are and then you forget bodily functions and that’s what actually causes death. I never quite understood that. Is that right?

Susan: Correct. Yes, you eventually forget how to eat, you are unable to get up and utilize the bathroom every day. And so, that’s what causes the fatal part of the disease.

Host: Okay, I got it. And how is Alzheimer’s different from dementia? Because my grandmother had dementia, but I thought she had Alzheimer’s. so, maybe kind of sort out that difference for us.

Susan: Well dementia is the general term for a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with your daily life. And then Alzheimer’s is actually a form of dementia. Dementia is kind of like the umbrella term and then under that we have all these different types of Alzheimer’s Disease or types of dementia that come from that.

Host: Okay, I see. So, Alzheimer’s is just kind of that more severe case of dementia then.

Susan: Right. Alzheimer’s is an actual disease while dementia is just a set of symptoms.

Host: Okay. And can you talk to us a little bit about how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed?

Susan: Well is should be done through your primary care physician. They would do a medical evaluation. As of 2017, Medicare now pays for medical examiners to do a mini mental exam each and every year. But also, our family and loved ones are usually our best first source to go to. They are the ones that will notice these declines, where just going to an annual physical our doctor is really not going to notice the difference. But it’s our family and our friends and our loved ones that are going to notice things like us when we say losing a set of keys, a lot of lose our keys all the time. But if you start finding your keys in the refrigerator or in the stove, in places that you’ve never put them before; that’s a sign to be concerned.

But also, don’t just automatically jump to I have Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s very important that yu see your primary care physician so that you can get tested for a myriad of other things that may be going on before you are actually diagnosed. Once your primary care physician feels like that might be where he’s going; he will then refer you over to a neurologist who will do further testing and then get an actual definite diagnosis of what’s going on.

Host: Okay, that’s really helpful. So, go to your primary care physician even if you are just a little forgetful. The time to start worrying is if you like you said, find your keys in your refrigerator but it’s always best to go to that primary care physician to make sure that your diagnosis and your family’s diagnosis is actually correct. Wouldn’t you say?

Susan: Absolutely. Just don’t make the assumption that you have it. And like I said, if you are over 65 years old, you should be getting a mini mental status exam, a cognitive exam each and every year from your doctor and then he can compare those years thereafter to see if there’s been any change in any of your cognitive behaviors.

Host: So, I would like to move to the most common things that people hear about Alzheimer’s and whether they are true or not. The first thing is that you can actually get passed Alzheimer’s generationally through your family. Is that true?

Susan: There are studies that do indicate that can be true. If you have a parent or a sibling that has Alzheimer’s, it does increase your risk of getting the disease. If you have two people in your immediate family who have Alzheimer’s Disease, then it is definitely an increase that there’s a possibility that you may get it.

Scientists continue to research that to see if there’s truth, but there is indication that it is a possibility.

Host: But when you say that there’s strong indications, have there been studies around this that show that this is actually the case?

Susan: When we actually look at some families as an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association; I mean there are family members who there is four or five siblings in the same family who have Alzheimer’s Disease. I currently have a girlfriend whose mom has it and she went and got testing done and there’s indications that there’s a 50% chance she may get the disease. So, just because a parent or a sibling has it; doesn’t mean you will get it, but it does mean there is an increased chance.

Host: Understood. So, can you talk about maybe the popular notion that Alzheimer’s only affects the elderly?

Susan: Oh, that’s so untrue. Currently in the United States, there’s over 200,000 people under the age of 65 who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We now call it younger onset Alzheimer’s and people as early as their 30s, 40s and 50s are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, as we age, the risk for getting it does increase but definitely it’s not just a disease for older people.

Host: Wow, I had no idea that it could come on so young at 30 or 40 years old. Is that, you know we talked a little bit about it being passed down, but what actually causes this to happen? Is it anything in our diet? Anything that we do to ourselves that causes Alzheimer’s to happen?

Susan: Scientists don’t really have a definite answer for that at this time and they are working on that diligently. But it does seem to be that things like diet, proper exercise, environmental factors are definitely something that they are looking at as being a cause of Alzheimer’s Disease at this time.

Host: Okay well what about I’ve heard talk that aluminum actually causes Alzheimer’s or exposure to aluminum. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Susan: Well back in the 1960s and 70s that was something that was definitely suspected. But since then, studies have failed to confirm that that’s true and research doesn’t believe that every day sources of aluminum pose any risk whatsoever.

Host: Okay, understood. And as far as I’ve heard, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but I do know some people including some of my friends that believe that there is even slow treatment for it. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Susan: As of today, there is no actual cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. There are some medications that people are given to slow down the progression of the disease, but it won’t stop it from happening. Again, I was just at a conference just last week where the big push again is that it’s a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. They are saying lead a heart healthy diet and it’s also going to make for a brain healthy diet. So, trying to get rid of all those excess sugars, eating a diet that’s high in fiber and vegetables and fruit is definitely the way to go.

Getting a lot of exercise and they don’t mean a lot where you don’t need to be going to the gym seven days a week but getting out and walking at least 30 minutes every single day is also a great thing to do. And as well as keeping up socialization. A lot of folks with Alzheimer’s Disease when they start to show signs and symptoms of it, they kind of withdraw from their social circles because they realize that this is going on and they are really afraid to put themselves out there. But it’s really important to keep yourself engaged and to keep your brain thinking.

Host: That’s really good to hear about especially a lot of those preventative measures that we can do for ourselves to not get Alzheimer’s especially that socialization aspect of it. But for the people that do have it, you talked a little bit about some of the treatments. Maybe go into what exactly that looks like for someone with Alzheimer’s. Like what exactly are they given over time?

Susan: A lot of them are just given a medication. There’s a variety of medications out there. I can say that for my own mother, she was given medication and it didn’t do anything to slow down the progression. And actually what had happened is that again, it’s a social thing so she wouldn’t take her medications. She would forget to take them. And so it didn’t really do her much good at all. And so that’s what they find with a lot of people. That the medications just they might slow down the progress a little bit, but they are not really making a change in the overall progression of the disease.

Host: Okay. So, this has all been really helpful. If people want to learn more or go somewhere online to get more information about Alzheimer’s, where might they go?

Susan: The Alzheimer’s website which is www.alz.org is a great resource. They have out there what’s called the ten symptoms which is where we should all start, something to review on an ongoing basis. Do we have any of these symptoms and should we be concerned? They also have online classes that they hold and usually in most communities, they do actually in person classes as well. So, they are an awesome resource.

Host: All right Susan. I really appreciate your time today. That’s Susan Bodnar, Director of Senior Services at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. Thanks for checking out this episode of Health Matters, and to find out more about RRH Senior Services, visit www.rrh.org and search senior services or like Susan said just visit www.alz.org.

If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the entire podcast library of topics of interest to you. Thanks so much again and we’ll see you next time.