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Aid and advances in coping with and avoiding Alzheimer’s

“The biggest thing I learned was to go into my mother’s reality and not argue. If someone insists that it’s Wednesday, agree that it’s Wednesday.” Kristen Cusato

NORTH CANAAN — Geer Village Senior Community sponsored a talk on advances in detection, treatment and current Alzheimer’s disease research on Tuesday, Aug. 24, on Zoom.

The talk precedes the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 19, beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Lime Rock Park.

Tina Hogan, Community Outreach Specialist for Geer Village, said this year, for the first time, bicyclists will be welcome to ride around the track if they prefer. 

“We are encouraging people to register early,” Hogan said. For information, Hogan’s phone is 860-824-3819, or email her at thogan@geercares.org. To register for the walk online, go to www.alz.org/walk.

More than six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., said guest speaker Kristen Cusato, who serves as director of communications for the state’s chapter of the national Alzheimer’s Association. 

Indications of cognitive decline can be reversed, recent studies have shown, by changing behavior.  

For example, Cusato said, lifestyle changes can make a difference, including changes in cardiovascular health, sleep patterns, social or cognitive engagement and education as well as increased activity. People who use more than one language are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline, Cusato noted.

Research is ongoing and getting results. In Connecticut, the state chapter has awarded more than $2 million in funding to Yale University and UCONN Health, where studies are being conducted in brain imaging and development of an early blood test as an indicator of risk for Alzheimer’s. As a policy, all researchers are bound to share their data with other researchers.

Presently being studied is a correlation between air pollutants and risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Already indicated is that as air quality improves, risk declines, Cusato said.

Also being studied are the negative effects of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic leading to long-term cognitive decline.

Should people wish to participate in such research studies, the Alzheimer’s organization invites them to go to www.alz.org/trialmatch to be notified of ongoing studies in their area. Cusato said she herself has participated as part of the healthy control group, also a necessary part of research.

Cusato explained how her interest in Alzheimer’s arose. Her late mother suffered from the disease beginning at an unusually young age. Over the years of living with her mother’s decline, Cusato said she developed a series of coping strategies that proved useful to her.

“The biggest thing I learned was to go into my mother’s reality and not argue,” Cusato said.

“If someone insists that it’s Wednesday, agree that it’s Wednesday.” 

The important thing, Cusato advised, is to reduce agitation if the person is upset. Assure her often that she is safe where she is.

The Alzheimer’s Association maintains a 24/7 help line as a free service for caregivers, Cusato said. An expert on the line can offer advice on the spot for an ongoing dementia situation that needs to be dealt with immediately. Often, it’s a matter of advice about what words to say to calm things down or return to normal. That help line number is 800-272-3900.

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