Family and friends learn about Alzheimer’s

Trinidadian-descent Wendell Greene transformed Aug. 8 into both a commemoration of his mother’s birthday and an opportunity to share information about Alzheimer’s disease.

Bensonhurst’s New Ruan’s Restaurant on 86th St. has been in business for 25 years and Jimmy Ruan met Wendell as a regular customer. He learned that in 2008, Wendell’s mom had died at the age of 81–having had Alzheimer’s for nine years, as well as his aunt who had also has passed away with the disease.

Wendell recounted that his mother was placed in a nursing home in Florida. “She was always trying to run away,” he recounted. “We visited her everyday.” Sadness, loss and pain are emotions he felt during those years.

Wendell has two more aunts struggling with Alzheimer’s and he told Ruan that he wanted to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I’m on board,” piped-up restaurateur Ruan, who partnered the family-run Chinese restaurant with Wendell. Wendell invited family members, friends and workmates to share a Chinese meal and learn more about the affliction that struck his mother and three aunts.

An information packet was set along with each plate setting. Its cover page offering the simple definition of Alzheimer’s: a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

“Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks,” it read. “Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, not a normal part of aging, worsens over time, and has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.”

The Alzheimer’s Association NYC Chapter can be a great support to caregivers and family members. For example, in Brooklyn, a free educational meeting, “Understanding Dementia” covers what you need to know and where to go. The next free meetings will be held Aug. 27 in East Flatbush and on Sept. 17, 57 Willoughby St., 4th Floor (registration required, 800-272-3900).

The Association offers a spectrum of meetings – also in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx–that provide much needed information on understanding the disease, services available, and practical concerns of nursing home care and legal concerns, such as guardianship. Its full calendar: www.alz.org/nyc/in_my_community_education.asp.

Pre-dinner, presenter Evans Kessler, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association NYC Chapter, serving the five New York boroughs, explained that he had been, in part, a caregiver for his grandmother. “It is of epidemic proportions,” he said, citing that 5.4 million Americans have it and there are 16 million caregivers.

“What is dementia?” he asked. “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. He pointed out that forgetting names and some forgetfulness is part of aging.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but not all with dementia have Alzheimer’s. Although some afflicted have it for years, the average length from diagnosis is eight to ten years. He underscored that Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia with symptoms usually progressively getting worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Warning signs he mentioned included memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, confusion with time or place. New problems with words in speaking or writing, decreased or poor judgment or lack of impulse control, social withdrawal, and mood or personality changes are also signs.

While there is nothing to prevent Alzheimer’s, one can still do things to keep the brain healthy, and that what’s good for the heart, eating healthy and exercise, and reading and staying mentally engaged is good for brain health, he said.

Kessler pointed out that the general population and frequently family doctors aren’t trained to recognize the symptoms and it’s important to be aware of the symptoms. The Alzheimer’s website also elaborates, in great detail, stages of the disease from no impairment to very severe impairment.

Following his presentation, attendees started off their meal with Chinese soup and later, broke out their checkbooks to support the Alzheimer Association. Jimmy Ruan wrote a check to the Alzheimer’s Association, presenting it to Wendell for check for $300.

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