‘Most importantly, I would encourage people to have hope’: Living and traveling with Alzheimer’s

There are currently about 180,000 people in North Carolina living with the disease and about double that number of caretakers for those individua
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 8:18 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. Medical experts, along with the Alzheimer’s Association, have been working to not only raise awareness about this disease but also find more treatment options and ways to increase the quality of life for those suffering.

There are currently about 180,000 people in North Carolina living with the disease and about double that number for the amount of caretakers for those individuals.

As we get into summer, many families are thinking about vacations. Some people might cancel a trip after a recent dementia diagnosis, but Katherine Lambert with the Alzheimer’s Association says some trips are still doable, you’ll just need to make some changes for your loved one.

”This is not a case of you can never travel again, you know, my dreams of you know, XYZ trip is off the table, but it may mean you have to do it differently,” Lambert said.

For example, making a trip shorter, somewhere closer to home to limit travel time, and driving instead of going through the big, loud crowds in airports.

“So, it may mean instead of the, you know, 10-day trip where you change hotels every day and repack and unpack that maybe you look at a Mediterranean cruise. So you unpack once, but you still see these places, you know, there are ways and those are things that we can help [with],” Lambert said. “We can also help and strategize about those things. You know, I don’t love going through security at the airport, and I’m not living with dementia, you know, how do you get through that you’ve checked the bags, you get through maybe you say to your loved one living with dementia, ‘Wow, that really exhausted me. Maybe we sit here for a few minutes recollect my thoughts.’ It’s changing how you’re doing something. You might not create tight connections, I mean, but it doesn’t mean you give those things up, it means you do them differently. You may do holidays differently. It’s about creating coping mechanisms to really focus on those things you want to do because it is living with this disease.”

Most people think that once you get a diagnosis, everything is downhill from there, but Dr. Robert Wiggins, a neurologist at Novant Health, says that isn’t necessarily true. He says the key is to remain active.

”If we just sit at home and don’t interact with the people that we care about, don’t address our sleep issues, don’t address our chronic pain, don’t address our anxiety, then it will probably get worse. But if we address these things and try to make them better then I hope that people can at least feel a little bit better and have an increased quality of life,” Dr. Wiggins said. “If we work on optimizing, working on exercise, eating better, sleeping better, helping with some of the medicines, trying to reduce any conflicting medications, working on depression and anxiety, that kind of a thing, life can actually get a little bit better. And so I don’t like telling patients that it’s only going to get worse, you know, it’s only going to be a decline because that’s simply false.”

Dr. Wiggins says these are also things that people in their 20s and 30s can do to help reduce their risk of getting dementia later in life.

The mindset of those around a loved one with dementia is important too. He says it’s important to hold on to hope, even though he knows it can be hard some days.

“One of the stigmas that exists around dementia is that we just can’t do anything. And that’s false. There is a lot of research going on right now. There are a lot of new, very, very exciting things, even in the medication world that we hope will be approved in the very short term and paid for in the very short term. So there is a lot of excitement. And so I would try to shift our thinking from the stigma of, there’s nothing I can do.”

To get connected with the Alzheimer’s Association, click here.