Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Dealing with a Diagnosis of Dementia

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Dealing with a Diagnosis of Dementia

Article excerpt

Pam Polowski has been working with dementia patients in Sarasota for years, and she's full of stories -- like the time she visited a woman who had "nothing in her refrigerator but two big heads of lettuce, wrapped in sweaters." The woman also had quite a few offerings from Meals on Wheels lined up on her kitchen counter, untouched.

The point of this anecdote was that dementia patients often suffer from malnutrition -- and it can even be the main cause of extreme symptoms for an older person who merely has some mild cognitive impairment and forgets to eat.

Polowski, former program specialist for the Alzheimer's Association in Sarasota County and now a certified dementia practitioner with Infinity Home Care, led a workshop recently on Alzheimer's disease for JFCS, Jewish Children's and Family Services of Sarasota-Manatee.

One of her messages to caregivers in the audience: They know their loved one better than anybody else, and should trust their instincts when it comes to seeking a diagnosis. But, she added, they should realize how tempting it can be to deny what is happening.

"There is a fear on the part of that loved one as well," she said, meaning the caregiver. "This means a huge transition for their life. A real diagnosis is probably the last thing they want to hear."

She cited a Longboat Key couple she visited, where the wife insisted that her husband could still function at home. For example, the wife said, every morning her husband completed the crossword puzzle in his newspaper.

Polowski was skeptical, and asked her to check his puzzle the next day, and give her a call. To her surprise, the wife did call. "I hope you're not going to be smug about this," Polowski said the wife told her. "I did look at the puzzle, and in all of the blocks there was a big zero."

Polowski stressed that every dementia patient is unique, with uneven strengths and weaknesses. "When we say people are demented, it doesn't mean that they're crazy," she said. "They have deficits. …

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