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Facing Fears & Alzheimer’s Awareness

As many of us are celebrating Halloween, it’s a good time to ask: what scares you?

My dad recently noted that he described me as fearless when I was a child. Now that I’ve gotten older and have a child, I have more fears than ever. I spent the last week facing one of my fears head on — my fear of public speaking. I decided to confront my fear by enrolling in a speaker training program. It’s a fear I’m determined to overcome because I don’t want it to hinder my ability to help and support others. 

Much like my recent exploration of my own fears, my work is connected to the unsettling fears that surround Alzheimer’s and dementia — both the fear of developing these conditions and the fear that can manifest as a symptom. It’s important we acknowledge these fears and have the tools to face them.

The Fear of Getting It:

The fear of developing Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia is an experience shared by many. As Healthline points out, the fear goes beyond developing the disease to include:

  • fear of stigma
  • fear of the effect it may have on your family
  • fear of needing a caregiver
  • fear of losing a sense of purpose

To make matters worse, studies have shown that this increased anxiety can increase the likelihood of developing dementia. Knowledge is one of the best ways to mitigate this fear. Know your family history and get screened for the APOE4 gene. This gene is connected to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, but it is important to understand that not everyone with the gene develops the disease.

Research shows that early diagnosis and prevention can make a huge impact. It is part of my vision of a world without dementia, to prevent people from developing cognitive decline. It is why I work to create more education, and have created the Marama at Home course.

Fear as a Symptom:

Fear can manifest within those already living with cognitive decline. The cognitive changes and the gradual fading of familiar memories can induce fear, anxiety, and even depression. The National Institute of Aging recognizes hallucinations, delusions and paranoia as symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These fears can not only exacerbate the condition but also be incredibly distressing for caregivers and loved ones.

At Marama we focus on compassion and reduction of triggers by creating a calm, non-toxic, clutter-free environment, reducing stressors and external triggers, consistently ensuring the comfort of our residents, providing routine, exercise and daily Kirtan Kriya meditation. 

When faced with these fears in a loved one, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that you try these responses to alleviate the situation:

  • Listen to the frustration. 
  • Provide reassurance. Use calming phrases.
  • Involve the person in activities such as art or music to divert attention. 
  • Change the environment. 
  • Find outlets for the person’s energy.
  • Check yourself. Do not raise your voice, show alarm or offense, or corner, crowd, restrain, criticize, ignore or argue with the person. Take care not to make sudden movements out of the person’s view.
  • Consult with their doctor.

Empathy and understanding are our allies here. Professional help, including therapists and support groups, can assist in managing these emotions, enhancing the quality of life for both the individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their caregivers.

The fear associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia is real, but it need not haunt us relentlessly. Just as Halloween allows us to embrace our fears and celebrate the eerie unknown, we can approach this journey with courage, compassion, and the knowledge that we are not alone.

Dr. Heather Sandison

P.S. – Many of us share fears about aging in general and the end of life process. If you’re in the Los Angeles area November 16, I recommend joining me in person as I attend the End Well Symposium 2023. End Well isn’t just another conference; it’s a transformative movement reimagining aging and the end-of-life experience. We’re thrilled to converge at the heart of meaningful discussions on advanced aging, serious illness, death care, and grief. As one of my subscribers, you have access to discounted tickets and can enjoy a full day of insights, breakfast, lunch, networking sessions, and a cocktail reception to wrap up the day. I’ll be attending; click here to join me at the Skirball in Los Angeles, California on November 16.

P.P.S. – Chronic pain is another fear and experience shared by many. Educate yourself by registering for the last few days or encore weekend of the Fascia & Chronic Pain Rescue Summit and download your complimentary Becoming Pain-Free: Healing the Root Causes of Chronic Pain eBook. This eBook examines the surprisingly common world of chronic pain and shares a wide range of support strategies – including psychological-based treatments, traditional medicine, physical manipulation, diet and supplements – to help you work toward living pain-free.