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Senior Planning Services Provides Special Care for Alzheimer’s Patients

The organization provides a range of services and referrals to help clients and their families

News item: The body of an 84-year-old woman, who suffered from dementia, was found near Hope Ranch several weeks after she wandered away from her home. Experts on the subject of dementia say tragedies like this can be prevented with more comprehensive care, including using electronic tracking devices that locate patients immediately.

An estimated 5.3 million cases of the disease have been reported in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, California Central Coast chapter.

Senior Planning Services of Santa Barbara provides care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and aids their family members throughout Santa Barbara County. Many parents of baby-boomers face health and cognitive impairments that prevent them from living independently in their homes and managing their finances

SPS is a unique company that provides a wide range of elder-care services that fit the needs of seniors with very diverse challenges and resources, said Suzanne McNeely, who founded the private company in 1989 and has served thousands of clients since then.

Doctors say if the patient is to be treated effectively, it is vital to detect Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible. However, the many problems and issues associated with caring for Alzheimer’s patients are complex.

“Every case gets a comprehensive, personalized assessment,” McNeely said. “It’s as much about the impact upon (the family members) as it is about the parent. We let them know what all the options are and guide them in considering what best fits their circumstances.”

Alzheimer’s symptoms are mainly the loss of short-term memory, but may also be accompanied by mood swings, anxiety and changes in personality. The distorted perceptions and memory lapses can make it difficult for relatives of an Alzheimer’s patient.

McNeely said SPS caregivers are trained to work with clients who have impaired memory and must understand how to reassure them and validate the memories that have defined who they are. “It’s important to have the knack of knowing when to listen, when to use humor and when to compassionately direct situations where the person with dementia is at risk or no longer able to exercise good judgment,” she said.

The collective experience and the range of services and referrals provided by SPS is unlike any other company around, said McNeely, who employs more than a dozen specialists at SPS.

One of those specialists is SPS Eldercare coordinator Lenda Smith, who has 23 years of experience in administering areas of home care, ranging from providing high-tech home health-care services to the screening, selection, training and supervision of in-home caregivers and companions.

Smith said Alzheimer’s patient caregivers must make sure they provide the services that are effective in their client’s living situation. “To meet the client’s needs, they must see what works best with their environment and personality,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease results in nerve cells in the brain slowly dying. This damages the memory. A usual symptom of Alzheimer’s is that the short-term memory starts to fail. With the right medication, this development may be slowed down and the symptoms controlled to some extent.

Alzheimer’s disease has a slowly progressing onset. It may take up to two years before a doctor can actually diagnose it. When the nerve cells in the brain dies, the affected functions are usually the “executive abilities” such as the memory and concentration required for managing finances, problem solving and judgment. Later, personal hygiene and language are affected with the eventual break down of organ functioning.

SPS provides elder-care solutions tailored to the unique needs of each person’s situation; a comprehensive array of services that allows them to remain safely and securely at home for as long as possible; and certified geriatric care managers and trained home care professionals.

McNeely was a medical social worker in hospitals, rehabilitation and home health care for many years. She had a growing concern for the elderly and disabled who lacked family to advocate for them in the fragmented, impersonal systems that they were dependent upon for treatment and care.

McNeely said her experience with nonprofits, insurance and publicly funded programs convinced her the only way she would be able see that all the elders’ needs were addressed comprehensively was to offer herself as a privately hired professional “rent-a-daughter,” without the limits of those environments and funding sources.

She decided to put together and coordinate the services needed to assure clients’ quality of life, safety and dignity.

“There is just not another organization in Santa Barbara or perhaps in the country that brings together the services and expertise of Senior Planning Services,” McNeely said.

Click here for more information about Senior Planning Services.

— Barbara Burger is a media specialist for Senior Planning Services.

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