Aging, Alzheimers, and Medicare

Much of my professional experience and continuing education, particularly in the past 10 years, has focused on the unique psychological issues associated with the aging process. We spend much of our lives growing, advancing, improving. Productivity, defined primarily by employment and/or raising a family, is the expectation. We strive to make a contribution. We 'take on the world'. In the process, hopefully, we appreciate the value of physical and mental health, putting effort into sustaining those qualities.

Retirement, a typically sought after aspect of aging, brings significant physical and emotional change. Properly planned, retirement can be a wonderful new life chapter. Sometimes retirees are surprised by their reaction to retirement, even let down. Many people underestimate how much their sense of value and contribution to the world is connected to their career. Sometimes we miss the social connection we maintained to others through our work. Retirement can bring financial change and new fears about financial security. Couples can sometimes have a difficult adjustment to being with each other more and the change in routine that retirement brings. All of these issues are normal adjustments that retirees make, but sometimes the adjustments lead to prolonged feelings of dissatisfaction, unhappiness or relationship strife. Counseling can be helpful in addressing these adjustments and adapting in a more healthy and satisfying way to them.

More challenging for most people are the physical changes that come with age. We typically spend our lives dealing with external challenges. We celebrate our independence. With advancing age there is often more internal challenges - our bodies need more maintanence or, unfortunately, begin to break down. Changes in visual skills, the ability to ambulate and in the balance system can conspire to cause falls and related injuries. Finding oneself 'feeling your age' can be unsettling, especially if that change occurs suddenly with illness or injury and results in a temporary or permanent loss of our former level of independence. Psychologically, the effect of these physical adjustments is often compounded by mood decline or clinical depression. Counseling can be helpful in reducing the compounding disability of mood decline or depression.

The single biggest issue of aging from a psychological perspective is dementia. We understandably fear the loss of our thinking and memory ability. The early stage of the illness brings a decline in cognitive function along with the awareness of that decline, a painful and frustrating recognition. With the progression of the illness, there is less awareness of what skills have been compromised or lost for the individual with the illness, but the impact on loved ones and caregivers increases. Dementia, meaning any decline in thinking or memory ability caused by a change in the brain, includes Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia (strokes or TIAs), Lewy Bodies Disease, Picks Disease and several other 'named' conditions. The psychological and behavioral impact of each of these dementias on the individual and their loved ones/caregivers is huge. It is very important that families dealing with a loved one with dementia have access to information and support. Whether it be in consultation and counseling with an experienced professional, attending support groups, independent reading with caution to confirm the validity of the source of the information, spiritual guidance or good friends, navigating the path of dementia for both the individual with the illness and their loved ones/caregivers should never be traveled alone. For the past ten years I have had the honor of working with families dealing with dementia, in my office, in facilities, and in community service with a support organization, and I know well the importance of having a strong support system in reaching the highest quality of life possible given the reality of the effects of this illness.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts you have about the Issues of Aging, Dementia and your Medicare coverage. I am a Medicare Provider. Your insurance can help offset or even fully cover the cost of any counseling you may need.

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