Manchester University
Oak Leaves

March 3, 2017

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Tasha Williams


Alumna 'Reminds' MU of Effects of Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia

Jensen Lassiter

Manchester alum Tasha Williams, who now works at Fort Wayne’s Neurological Center, led the Alzheimer's and Related Dementias: Considerations for Professionals and Family, which addressed the difficult topics of the care that patients need and their caregivers. 

Williams began by first asking the audience why it was important to discuss dementia and Alzheimer's disease. She explained that it is important because nearly one in every nine people over the age of 65 are affected and it is the sixth leading cause of death. 

Many questions about dementia were asked, but one of the most profound was the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. "Dementia has many categories, such as Alzheimer's disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and other related Dementias. It is essentially an umbrella," Williams said. Williams also discussed how it is common to see two different forms of dementia grouped together in patients. The most common was Alzheimer's and Vascular Dementia.

Alzheimer's was later defined to include key features such as increasing memory loss, difficulties with complex tasks, judgement changes, dyspraxia, personality changes, disorientation and decreased initiative. 
Williams broached many difficult topics, such as when to seek help, and several options for treatment. Williams used a PowerPoint presentation to assist her in teaching the stages of the brain affected by dementia. Brain atrophy was shown in three stages. The first stage had no atrophy, and was essentially a healthy brain, the second was moderate with slight brain atrophy and the third was severe with high volumes of brain atrophy. Many audience members shared stories of their loved ones and discussed how their memories had changed over time, essentially relating back to brain atrophy.

"Short term memory is typically the first to leave. Memories that are stored long term will still be accessible, which is why you'll see patients with Alzheimer's and dementia repeating stories from twenty and thirty years ago with perfect clarity, often times down to the minute detail," Williams said. "Those memories are still accessible because the brain has had a long time to store them. But it will go too, not at first, but it will go." Williams encouraged the audience to just listen and enjoy the stories, even if they have been repeated countless times. She challenged us not to give up and get frustrated, but to be calm and understanding. 

Several participants shared personal stories related to the disease. "It's extremely important for the family and caregivers to receive help, just as much as it's important for the patients themselves," Williams said. "Caregivers can care for themselves in a multitude of ways, but it's important that they do so." Of the many ways, it is important to seek help by joining support groups, maintain regular interaction with others other than the patient or family member and to schedule regular physical and mental examinations. Williams also suggested that caregivers be realistic and to note changes in relationships with both family and the patient. She stressed that it was important for the caregiver to seek help when needed. 

Naturally, education was brought up in specifics to prevent brain atrophy. "The more education, the more learning, the more you're going to protect yourself and your brain," Williams said. She said that students should be aware of Alzheimer's and how it affects people. We should see the signs and know their significance. "When people want to know what's normal, it is like walking into a room to get something, but you forget what you're looking for. So you walk back out. That's normal," Williams said. "Dementia does the same thing. However, when we go back, we remember that we were looking. They go back and forget they were ever looking. And they often times repeat that same step over and over again."

While there are medications to help Alzheimer's and dementia patients, research is still being conducted as there is no cure readily available.