Olympia Dukakis Shares Her Family’s Alzheimer’s Journey

Sunrise Senior Living  |  August 7, 2020
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When a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, the journey can be long and emotional. The highs and lows often leave families wondering if they are providing their senior loved one with the best possible quality of care. While each family’s journey is unique, there are some concerns many families share. Too often, they don’t realize how common the issues they are struggling with really are.

The popular, Academy Award-winning actress, Olympia Dukakis, proves Alzheimer’s doesn’t care who you are or where you come from. The disease doesn’t discriminate. Her beloved mother lost her life to this progressive, neurodegenerative disease.

In discussing her powerful documentary, Olympia, Dukakis describes how looking back at life after her mother’s death helped her better understand the rewards and challenges of the journey. She believes the road behind her shaped her present and her future.

Denying There is a Problem

“It took my family a long time to realize that something was wrong. My brother and I were in complete denial; we loved our mother so much and we didn’t want to admit that her health was deteriorating,” Dukakis explained in an interview with the Alzheimer’s Association.

For many families, the journey with Alzheimer’s disease begins with a sense of denial similar to the Dukakis family’s or with the mistaken belief that memory loss is a normal part of aging. Symptoms are overlooked or chalked up to growing older. Unfortunately, this denial can cause a delay in the senior receiving the care they need.

Here are some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • forgetfulness and problems with memory
  • withdrawing from social clubs and favorite pastimes
  • struggling to manage bill paying and finances
  • becoming lost, even in once-familiar places
  • misplacing belongings or placing them in odd locations.

While these symptoms can be the sign of another health problem, such as an infection or vitamin deficiency, they can also be early indicators of Alzheimer’s that should be addressed with a physician.

Advice for Family Caregivers

Dukakis is generous with advice for families navigating the role of Alzheimer’s caregiver. She’s quick to admit that she and her “family did everything wrong. I thought that I could handle my mother’s situation by myself, but that is impossible. I was in such denial. I wasn’t educated about the disease, so I didn’t understand how bad things could get.”

She has specific suggestions for those who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s:

  • Be kind to your family member with regard to their perceived reality. It won’t work to try to change their mind about things. The disease prevents them from remembering or rationalizing like they used to do. Instead, agree with them.
  • Learn new ways to communicate. Because Alzheimer’s decreases verbal communication skills, Dukakis suggests singing or looking at old photos to stay connected. Be creative.
  • Find a doctor who understands the disease. It might take more time, but it’s an essential piece of a good caregiving plan.
  • Educate yourself on the disease and the challenges it creates. Don’t make decisions about memory care communities based on what looks good on paper. By being knowledgeable, you can make an informed decision.

The documentary showcases the vibrant personality of the actress whose film credits include memorable roles in Steel Magnolias, Moonstruck, Cloudburst, and more. You can watch it virtually through any of the cinemas listed here.

Memory Care at Sunrise Senior Living

Memory care at Sunrise communities focuses on treating each resident like the unique individual they are. We strive to create an environment that is both safe and stimulating so that residents enjoy their best quality of life. You can learn more by calling 888-434-4648 to speak with a team member today!


 


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