The Daily Gamecock

Professor discusses Alzheimer’s care

In light of the ongoing Alzheimer's Awareness Month, Jan Merling of USC's Office for the Study of Aging in the Arnold School of Public Health spoke with The Daily Gamecock about how to care for loved ones who have the disease.

It is estimated that 5.2 million people in the United States currently live with Alzheimer's disease, and this number is expected to grow over the next several years. Merling trains people on how to care for individuals with this disease and other types of dementia through a program called Dementia Dialogues.
"Bottom line, I travel around the state and go to nursing homes, assisted living centers, churches – anyone who asks me – and train people who are caregivers of individuals with dementia," Merling said.

Merling first launched Dementia Dialogues as a way to train workers in nursing home facilities, and over the past 10 years, she has visited 350 locations in South Carolina and has trained more than 15,000 people.

She said her favorite people to talk to are family members, for they often struggle with the situation and Merling helps them understand and cope with the disease.

"My job is to help people be more comfortable with it," she said. "My philosophy, in a nutshell, is that it's not so much what [people with Alzheimer's] do, but a lot more about what we do."

Are we providing a safe, appropriate and helpful environment? Are we communicating in a way they can understand? These are some of the questions Merling thinks people should consider when caring for an individual with Alzheimer's.

The challenging behaviors associated with Alzheimer's disease can often be a person's way of communicating, Merling said, and it is important for caregivers to listen and try to understand.

For students who are traveling home for Thanksgiving and may be visiting relatives with Alzheimer's disease, Merling listed several suggestions of things to keep in mind:

1. Don't argue with your loved one and don't try to get them to understand reality.
2. Help them out as much as possible by giving visual and verbal cues.
3. Don't be alarmed if they don't recognize you. Try not to take it personally, as it is just part of the disease.
4. Understand it's not your fault.
5. If another family member is the primary caregiver, try to give them a break.