Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November is Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

November is Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. 

Many people do not truly understand the symptoms and causes of this disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's is "a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior".  It is a form of dementia, which is the term used for loss in memory and difficulties with one's daily life resulting from loss of intellectual abilities.  In fact, Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50 - 70% of the cases. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

As the "baby boomer" generation becomes older, it is important for the next generation to understand this difficult and often heartbreaking disease, so that we can provide care for our parents, grandparents and work to prevent and treat this disease as we age.

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is a condition that occurs when the cells in the brain lose their ability to work properly and eventually die, causing damage and changes in the brain. There are two structures, called "plaques" and "tangles" that have a role in causing this damage.  It is normal for most people to develop some of these structures as they age, but in those with Alzheimer's Disease, they develop far more. This damage causes the memory and personality changes as well as difficulties making  decisions and carrying out daily activities.

Alzheimer's disease is scary and heartbreaking for both the older adult, as well as their family. Early intervention is an important key to slowing the progression of the disease.  There are also many erroneous belief about Alzheimer's. A few are:

1. "I forgot where I put my car keys, I must be getting Alzheimer's" - Just because someone is having memory problems, does NOT mean that have Alzheimer's. In fact, there are many different types of memory loss, and many different causes.  A doctor can help rule out other types of memory loss.

2. "My father is 78, is he going to get Alzheimer's?" - It is important to know that Alzheimer's is NOT a normal part of aging. In spite of the fact that the majority of people who suffer from Alzheimer's are over 65 (early onset Alzheimer's can develop as early as someone in their 40s or 50s), it is not inevitable. (and by the way, it's not contagious!).

3. "I want to cure my mother's Alzheimer's Disease" - At the present time, there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease. It is a progressive disease, and symptoms generally become worse over the years. The length of survival can be between 3 to 20 years, but the average is 8 years from the time their symptoms become noticeable to others.  There are treatments that can temporarily slow the progression of symptoms, such as a medication called Aricept.

The Alzheimer's Association's website discusses 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's (adapted from

1. Memory problems that affect daily functioning.

2. Difficulty with problem solving skills and concentration.

3. Problems with completing simple, familiar tasks, such as driving to the store or playing a game.

4. Losing track of times and places.

5. Trouble with distance, reading or other visual problems.

6. Difficulty following a conversation or remembering a word (or calling something by the wrong name).

7. Losing items and having difficulty locating them. Sometimes, they may accuse others of taking their belongings.

8. Poor judgement or difficulty with decision making.

9. Avoiding social situations or having trouble keeping up (not remembering who won the Eagle's game, for example).

10. Mood and personality changes, as well as depression, confusion or anxiety.

If you or a loved one is suffering from memory loss, and you suspect Alzheimer's, ASK YOUR DOCTOR OR ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST. Help is available and you do not need to suffer alone.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Social Networking for Dummies, AKA How to stay safe and protect your family in the Internet age

In my roles as both a psychologist and as a parent, I am often faced with the difficult question of "to facebook or not to facebook".  I am one of the brave ones. I have many many co-workers, colleagues and friends who are parents, who say "No way...I'm not putting MY business out there for anyone to read".  They have a point... but the Internet is a reality, and it's not going away. I am here to tell you, SO FAR SO GOOD. To date, this experiment has not blown up in my face, and you are now reading this blog because I took the risk.

As a 40-something, Generation X-er who did not grow up texting, and did not have my first 286 IBM compatible computer with Prodigy Internet (with a dial-up modem) until I was out of high school, the world of texting, Internet and, now, social networking, was initially a scary and ominous place.  Coupled with being a professional (teacher, doctor, psychologist, therapist, etc), needing to have a professional life with clear boundaries for my patients, but also having family and friends scattered across the globe, this created quite a dilemma for me.  So, I decided to plunge headfirst into the world of the "Interwebs" and the first thing to do my father taught me: arm yourself with education and knowledge.

The most important thing to remember when you turn on your computer and link to the Internet is that anything you put out there is really OUT THERE. You cannot delete things from the Internet.  Pictures, posts, video... no turning back.  If you Google yourself (go ahead, try it) you might be surprised about what you find already out there without your even trying. Imagine if you made a REAL effort to get your name out there? The possibilities are limitless. From a marketing point of view, the Web is brilliant.  Personally, it comes with a great deal of responsibility.

Here are some important things to consider when you, or your family members use social networking sites:

  • a social networking site that was originally created for college students
  • minimum age for joining Facebook is 14 without parental permission (in fact there is a law prohibiting the collection of personal information for children under 13 without parental permission!)
  • 500 million users worldwide
  • users can choose privacy options, but many have trouble finding these or setting them properly (if you have trouble with this, as someone who knows, it is critical to safeguard pictures and personal information)
  • facebook has had some difficulties with privacy practices and breaches have been reported in the news
  • Pictures, notes, and other posts can be read by anyone with access
  • 140 character "tweets" can be sent that give brief information
  • not as popular as facebook, but can give "real time" updates and let people know your whereabouts
You Tube
  • users can post video, especially risky for teens who post themselves
  • content can be removed or protected, but is still at risk for copying and exploitation
  • Social networking site used a great deal for musical groups
  • Minimum age is 14 without parental consent
  • Any one under the age of 18 is automatically set to a "private" setting, where their "friend" must know them and their email address to link with them
  • Pictures, posts and "bulletins" can be send to everyone in their network
Just remember, all of these sites can be great ways to stay in touch, but they also come with a great deal of responsibility.  I know that some parents out there will disagree with me about this, and the decision to use or not use these sites is one you must make with your family individually.  In addition, there are social networking sites that specifically target children and are kid-friendly.  If you choose to use social media, here are some tips for parents:

1.  Set the ground rules for texting, computer use, and social networking - clear guidelines and consequences for infractions will let your kids know up front what the expectations are, and what will happen if they break the rules.

2. Friend your kid - if they are on facebook, you are on facebook. Doesn't mean you have to publicly comment on everything they say, just be present and keep your eyes open. This can help detect any strangers who your child does not know personally, or can be aware of any cyberbullying that is occurring.  You can also stay on top of what pictures and information they are sharing. 

3. Be a good role model - If you have social networking accounts, use good judgement so your kids can see what it "should" look like. Do not post personal information, cursing or lewd jokes, or inappropriate pictures.

4. If you sense something is wrong, ask questions and LISTEN TO YOUR KID! - The first thing many parents do it say "That's it, no more facebook." or "I am taking your phone".  To a teenager, this feels like social isolation. The best thing to do is develop open lines of communication and use these situations as a teaching opportunity.  I am not saying that there should not be consequences - just "respond" instead of "react".

Arming yourself with knowledge and learning how these sites work is the best defense. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I know that I only scratched the surface in this blog. And please remember, help is always available if you or your child is struggling. ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to help your kids deal with bullies...the REAL deal

When 17 year old Jesse Buchsbaum from Boyertown Area Senior High took his own life, it ignited a firestorm of debate, criticism and discussion. Could this tragedy have been prevented? Was Jesse being bullied? Who was responsible to protect him? We have been watching stories in the national headlines for months about other teens who have been teased, bullied and humiliated. This time, it hit too close to home and a young life was lost.

The truth is, despite many, many parents saying that THEIR child is also the victim of bullies, it is still a phenomenon that few truly understand, and even fewer know how to address.  In this blog, I hope to give some clear facts about bullying, and some concrete tips for both parents and kids to deal with bullies.

In short, bullying occurs when someone intentionally hurts or intimidates another person, and the person has a hard time defending his or herself.   Most of the time, bullying occurs over and over, and can include:
  • physical aggression, such as pushing, hitting or throwing things at a person
  • teasing or taunting someone
  • spreading rumors about someone
  • encouraging a group of kids to gang up on someone
  • purposely excluding a certain person from a group, just to be mean
  • spreading rumors, photos or other hurtful posting through electronic media (texting, social media such as facebook, emails, or posting video without someones permission)

So, now you know WHAT a bully does, but why do they engage in this mean and vicious behavior?  There are several reasons that kids become bullies:
  • it makes them feel better, smarter, or stronger than the person they are bullying
  • they see other kids doing it
  • they want to fit in with a certain group
  • it's easier than becoming the target of the bullies

Here are some concrete, ACTION-ORIENTED tips for how to help your child if they are the victim of bullies:

  • the first, and most important thing you can do as a parent is to LISTEN to your child with an open mind and open heart.
  • gather information about the situation, including the time, place and people involved
  • find out if there are witnesses to the incidents - other children, adults or teachers
  • contact school officials, especially if the bullying is occurring in school or on the bus.
  • expect the school to respond and to address the problem
  • do not tell your child to "just ignore it" as this may send the message that you do not take it seriously or minimize the situation
  • do not blame your child and say "what did you do to provoke it".  Bullying is never provoked, and is never acceptable
  • do not call the parents of the other child, this will often make matters worse
  • do not encourage your child to "just hit them back", as this may cause the situation to escalate, cause your child to get hurt, or cause him/her to be disciplined or expelled
  • do not react and retaliate against the bully, this will role model poor behavior for your child
Bullying is a community problem, and needs to be addressed at all levels: home, bus-stop, school, playground, and community. It takes a village to raise a child, and takes a strong, consistent message to combat bullying.  Most importantly, help is available.  If you need help, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!

This is a helpful website with lots of resources for parents, educators and other helpers to deal with the bullying problem including Tip Sheets and Fact Sheet that are printable resources.


Share |