Guest Blogger: Paula Birney, CMA, CDP

Guest Blogger: Paula Birney, CMA, CDP

Paula Birney
Paula Birney, CMA, CDP

Paula grew up in a close-knit Italian family in New Jersey, just outside NYC, surrounded by extended family. She graduated with a BA from Drew University, Madison, N.J. After moving to Toledo in 1987 with her former husband, Paula graduated from The University of Toledo with a degree in Medical Assisting and has been working in healthcare in Toledo for over 25 years with the Toledo Clinic, ProMedica and now independently. As a child growing up in New Jersey, Paula’s great-grandfather lived with her family so they could care for him. As a young adult, she helped care for her grandmother. Paula’s mom Betty also moved to Toledo to be near her grandchildren. “Mom helped me raise my boys after my divorce.” Paula cared for her mother in her later years up until her death in 2013. “Caring has always been part of my life.”

In 2014, Paula and her husband Clayton, founded Arista Home Care Solutions, providing private duty in-home care for the elderly and disabled. Paula often speaks of Betty as a motivator in their decision to start their agency. “Families deserve to have reliable, loving care.” Offering personalized, quality home health care the growing company currently serves seniors in 4 counties with a staff of over 60 caregivers, nurses, and office support.

Life Under the Umbrella

Telling the difference between normal aging and signs and symptoms of brain changes may be challenging.

Difficulty doing activities we used to do does not always indicate the onset of dementia. People with memory problems that do not have a mental disorder have “age-associated memory impairment,” an issue that is common as people grow older. Age-related memory changes, while frustrating, are not cause for concern.

MCI or Mild Cognitive Impairment is noticeable by the person affected, family and close friends, but they are still able to function in their daily lives without relying on others.  Approximately 12-18% of people age 60 or older are living with MCI.  Some may plateau at a mild stage while others progress to Alzheimer’s disease.

There are many reasons for these changes; some are fixable, others manageable, and some indicate progressive and likely irreversible brain changes.

That is why it is so important to pay attention to your loved ones and consider what these changes might indicate. Do not hesitate to get a medical workup. Some might think “why bother?” since there is no cure, but the cause might be treatable.

Treatable conditions that might cause memory loss and mimic dementia include excessive alcohol use, vitamin deficiency, depression, medication complications, new medical conditions (diabetes), hypothyroid, and sensory changes with vision and hearing.

Even if it is not treatable, the cause may not necessarily be Alzheimer’s. There are over 100 diseases under the umbrella. The most common being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. Dementia is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms affecting memory, other cognitive abilities and behaviors that interfere with a person’s ability to maintain their activities of daily living.

Knowing the cause of the dementia can determine life expectancy. Those with dementia may live 5 to 12 years after onset of symptoms. Financial and legal decisions are better planned for while the person is still able to express their wishes. Treatments and care decisions differ depending on the diagnosis. Learn about programs and support services. Plan for your own future as their diagnosis will affect how you life your life in the coming years. Knowing what you are dealing with will enable you to prepare for what lies ahead. The diagnosis effects not only the person with dementia but everyone around them.

The condition is changing them, so we need to change our approach to their care. The caregiver’s approach needs to better match what the individual may still have left, not change them back to the person they were before. Let’s not consider what they have lost, but what they have left. Life under the umbrella is a challenge, but also rewarding as we work to create the best quality of life possible in the time that remains.

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