Holistic care delivered with compassion - supporting families with Dementia

HIV, AIDS and the Link to Dementia

HIV, AIDS and the link to Dementia

Photo Credit: NIAID

Marking World AIDS Day this month, the AIDS Vancouver group launched its “Undetectable” campaign to highlight “a new way of talking about HIV”. We’ve seen how in recent years, anti-retroviral treatment has made headway in lessening the chance of new infections to spread the disease. That’s good news – and on the front lines of dementia care in British Columbia, we’ve also seen how this new treatment is helping lower incidence of dementia.

What’s the Link Between HIV and Dementia?

While the public is more aware today of the connection between HIV and AIDS and associated symptoms, many people don’t know that the HIV can impair cognitive ability.

The HIV virus attacks the human central nervous system and can get into your brain and spinal cord tissues. Doctors can’t fully detect how this happens, but HIV-associated dementia is a well-recognized condition, adding one more layer of disability to an already-vulnerable population. In the early days of the US’ HIV/AIDS epidemic, roughly half of the people living with HIV/AIDS were experiencing dementia.

The good news? Since antiretroviral therapy has been introduced, we’ve seen a major drop in HIV-associated dementia. A recent medical study in the UK appeared to show that those suffering from HIV who had gotten anti-retroviral treatment had the same rate of dementia as for the general population. In related news, we’re seeing new research into ways of harnessing ‘big data’ to help understand how HIV damages the brain – an essential step on the way to a cure.

We’re glad to see new resources and research devoted to this important cause. In the meantime, we are here to help families and patients who are already experiencing dementia – whatever the cause.

5 Ways for the Caregiver to Get Through this Holiday Season

Caring for the Caregiver over the Holidays

Photo Credit: Bruce McKay

The holiday season is a time for making and sharing great memories. But for families dealing with the effects of dementia, this season can be bittersweet. For the dementia patient, the festivities can be overwhelming; meanwhile, the family caregiver who is already struggling to maintain a normal social life can never fully relax, knowing they have someone who depends on them so much for the most basic of functions.

Does this sound familiar to you? Then here are 5 ways to get through the holiday season and help those dealing with dementia to truly enjoy this time of the year.

Arrange Shorter Visits. You want them to feel like they belong and let the rest of the family show they care – but having too many people around can make those affected by dementia anxious. Don’t bring all 15 members of the extended family into one room that’s centered around this person; instead, bring them in one-or-two at a time, over shorter intervals, so they can engage one on one with their loved ones.

Use a White Board to Communicate. Those experiencing memory loss quite naturally have difficulty keeping a schedule and can get anxious not knowing what’s happening next. Use a white board or simple marker-on-paper messages like “Tom will be back at 2 pm”. The caregiver can’t help them all the time, so when it’s time to take a break, you’re still leaving them with reassurance through cue cards that they have the support they need nearby.

Give Gifts that Spark Memories. George was in the early stages of memory loss. Since he’d been a child living in England, he loved anything associated with the British royal family. For the holidays, he got a subscription to Hello magazine and a picture book on the royals, which he avidly flipped through as soon as he got it. He looks forward to the next issue of Hello – and it’s something that instantly cheers him up, whatever else is going on.

Use Technology. A caregiver recently created a playlist on YouTube for their patient, giving them hours of fun watching videos on the topics they loved (in this case, gardening) on their iPad. Another family makes use of Skype during the holidays to make sure that their grandmother gets to see all of the kids and ‘place a face to the name’. A few minutes’ effort in setting it up is absolutely worth the connection that seeing their loved ones can create.

Treat Yourself. The caregiver is only human – you need a break during the holidays, too! Get a massage, or just take a 15-minute break with a cup of tea (or, since it’s the holiday season, egg nog). If you’re feeling like the pressure is too much, take a time-out – you’re just going to spread anxiety if you’re too stressed out!

Are you a stressed-out family caregiver? Get help for your family member living with dementia