Panel focuses on hope and joy for Alzheimer’s patients at La Jolla event

Hope can be found if you know where to look for it. That was the prevailing message at a two-part panel discussion exploring where and how families and patients can find hope after receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Four experts presented their views and took audience questions April 26 and May 1 at the La Jolla Community Center, during the discussions hosted by Monarch Cottage, a senior living center on Fay Avenue.

The panel consisted of Jamie Tyron, founder of the nonprofit BABES (Beating Alzheimer’s by Embracing Science); Scott Tarde, CEO of Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers; Dr. Steve Koh, director of community psychiatry at UCSD; and Scott Mitchell, pastor at La Jolla Presbyterian Church. The event was open to the public, with about 35 people in attendance.

Monarch Senior Living, which has been in business for 35 years and is the parent company of Monarch Cottage, has a tradition of providing educational resources to the communities in which it operates. According to business development director Sam Baum: “Events like these help people find answers, guidance and direction to navigate life after a dementia diagnosis.”

The discussions started with each panel member explaining their connection to the disease.

In a study she participated in eight years ago, Tyrone was found to be in the 91st percentile for getting Alzheimer’s later in life. She said she decided to take action by doing research and participating in every study about Alzheimer’s she could and described herself as a “lab rat” by design.“It’s helped me to gain control,” she explained. “I have my fingers on the pulse, so I get all the latest news on what research is out there and what I can volunteer for. I’m blessed, and I was given this information for a reason.” She added that her hopes are for new breakthroughs that will come in time to help her.

Tarde said he’s been taking care of Alzheimer’s patients since he was 19 years old. He talked about the importance of affordable respite day programs, including the newest of the Glenner centers, Town Square, which will soon open in Chula Vista — ’50s-style urban village. “When it comes to Town Square, the goal is to create an experience. We know that people make their strongest memories between the ages of 10 and 30. What we’re trying to do is take them back to a time where they feel most comfortable.” This form of treatment is called Reminiscence Therapy, and has shown to reduce agitation, elevate mood and improve sleep quality.

Dr. Koh said he went into medicine because his grandfather got cancer and then dementia, and there were not many resources to help deal with the disease in the Korean community where he grew up. “My grandfather was passive once the diagnosis was given,” Koh explained. “That was it. There’s no cure for it, nothing to look forward to.” He pointed out that giving patients a sense of hope is critical. “This is not finality,” he said. “You can still move forward and have an open mind, so that’s a very big interest of mine.”

Pastor Mitchell said that as a facilitator of the Grief Share Program at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, he helps families deal with their loss or the decline of a loved one. He spoke of the importance of having “touchstones of reality” for Alzheimer’s patients — something that connects them to their past — like a song or The Lord’s Prayer. “I look for these habits, things that brought folks joy, to help them keep their eyes on their purpose in life,” he said.

Then he talked about the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness between family members and those with Alzheimer’s: “Give them permission to talk about the issues they have with family or any regrets.”

Questions from the audience sparked discussion about staying brain healthy as a deterrent to Alzheimer’s, and Dr. Koh pointed out: “This is the first time in human history when the food we’re taking in is not controlled by our natural habitat ... studies show that what’s happening in our gut, or GI tract, can actually affect what’s happening in our brain.”

La Jolla Light will report on the second panel discussion, “Finding Joy in the Journey,” in the May 10 issue.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

It’s an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with the disease (those with the late-onset type) symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs between a person’s 30s and mid-60s and is very rare. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. —National Institute on Aging