Living with the Effects of Dementia/Alzheimer's

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Mona Lee Nesseth’s 85-year-old mother, Martha Nesseth, grew up in San Juan Capistrano, where she attended school at Mission San Juan Capistrano and Costa Mesa. In the 1950s, she obtained her cosmetology degree and was recruited by a well-known Lido Island beauty salon before moving to Toluca Lake, where her clients were entertainment celebrities and industry executives. Marrying Robert Myers in 1971, they were together for 40 years before he succumbed to cancer in 2011.

“I often wonder if severe grief sparked the dawn of my mother’s Dementia/Alzheimer’s,” Mona says. “Suddenly, she couldn’t remember where she parked the car and was getting lost on daily jaunts to and from the grocery store.”

A visit with Martha’s doctor confirmed that she was diabetic and was already being prescribed a memory-enhancing drug. She ate sweets all the time and upon learning she was being prescribed a drug for Dementia/Alzheimer’s, she angrily discarded the bottle of pills, exclaiming she didn’t have “old timers.”

The doctor forbade her to drive and suggested she move closer to Mona for emergency reasons. Mona moved her mother into her home, where she successfully changed her diet, and she on longer needed medications for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Moving into a condominium in Laguna Woods, close to Mona, it soon became clear Martha was back to her old ways sneaking sweets, but now she was withdrawing thousands of dollars from the bank and not knowing where it went.

At this point, Mona asked her friend Joanna Richardson-Jones, CEO of Alzheimer’s Family Center in Huntington Beach, for guidance.

“When Joanna met my mother, she recommended she see local primary care doctors and neurologists and encouraged me to personally enroll in AFC classes to learn about aspects related to a loved one’s journey with Dementia/Alzheimer’s and the impact on caregivers, family and friends. She shared that depression, anxiety and stress can contribute to the development of dementias.”

Mona attended an AFC-hosted Donor Appreciation dinner featuring Dr. William Shankle, Medical Director of Shankle Clinic and Program Director for Memory and Cognitive Disorders of the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag Memorial Hospital, where she learned that positive lifestyle changes can be beneficial for the brain: food, exercise and even moderate consumption of red wine. She was also informed that dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, can be, in some cases, hereditary but the progressive mental decline can be slowed and the disease can be manageable if detected early. He recommended everyone over 50 should have a cognitive health/memory test assessment. AFC offers complimentary memory check-ups by appointment at four locations and recommends they be done annually.

Mona enrolled her mother in AFC’s adult daycare for memory-impaired seniors and moved her to a memory care facility for 24/7 care.

Her mother went through periods of bizarre and aggressive behavior before being prescribed an anti-depressant, and her mood and behavior markedly improved.

“Her memory continues to fade,” Mona says. “Sometimes she recognizes me and sometimes she doesn’t have a clue. Going through this with her has demonstrated the importance of diet, medications, along with mental, spiritual and physical stimulation, encouraging interactions, personal engagements, affection, and love. Regardless of whether or not the person can remember or acknowledge the past or present daily life experiences or retain thoughts, the recurrent moments of happiness and pleasure have a cumulative effect on the overall well being.”

Mona credits Richardson-Jones and Alzheimer’s Family Center of Hoag Hospital as beacons of hope for those living with the heartaches of Dementia/Alzheimer’s. She is very supportive of Chef Masters, a culinary-driven fundraising event in October benefiting AFC.

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