By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
For ten years, Gary LeBlanc of Spring Hill, Florida, was the caregiver for his father, who had Alzheimer's disease before passing away in 2009. The next year, his mother began experiencing vascular dementia, the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer's disease in people over 65.
In a telephone interview, 54-year-old LeBlanc said, “So it's been an 18-year journey for me. I've been involved with (dementia) non-stop. My mom is in hospice now and is dying of vascular dementia. It is what it is. It came out of her diabetes.” According to the National Institutes of Health, vascular dementia “is caused by a series of small strokes” and risk factors for getting it include diabetes, hardening of the arteries, smoking, high blood pressure, and stroke.
He said, “These two diseases, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, are completely different. Some things my father handled well and others my mother does well.” For example, he said “sundowning” was much more intense in his mother. He defined sundowning as “the intensification of agitation and confusion in the later hours of the day.” About two-thirds of people with dementia experience sundowning, which he believed occurs due to mental and physical exhaustion from fighting the disease. In being a proactive caregiver, LeBlanc said he and his mother often sit outside late afternoons to talk, an hour before her sundowning usually begins.
To help others experiencing dementia, LeBlanc two years ago founded the online group “Dementia Mentors,” which features people with dementia helping each other. Members can socialize through web cams sometimes hours a day, receive emotional support, and gather information from people with similar symptoms.
LeBlanc said, “I'm seeing people keeping their (dementia) symptoms at bay because of (interacting) with others in this group. Dementia Mentors is one of the best programs I have been involved with.” In addition, he emphasized the role of exercise, keeping bad cholesterol low, and perhaps participating in adult daycare to slow disease progression. Besides Dementia Mentors, LeBlanc founded the Alzheimer's/Dementia Wristband Project, which has been helping hospitals around the nation become more dementia friendly and knowledgeable.
On an aside, LeBlanc said many physicians fail to properly diagnose “mixed dementia,” which occurs when a person simultaneously has Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, for instance. He also added to the list of vascular dementia risk factors untreated sleep apnea, which can limit oxygen getting to the brain.
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