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Confront dementia early on

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Mom puts her shoes in the microwave. Dad asks what your name is. Again and again.

"They turn wacky on you. You're standing there going, 'What was that?' " said Jacqueline Marcell, 50, California-based author of "Elder Rage: or Take My Father, Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents." Marcell has been on CNN, NBC and attracted a national following from a glittering list of medical, educational and entertainment heavyweights.

When you see your parents in a pattern of bewildering behavior, Marcell has some advice.

"Don't get mad. Get glad," she said.

Celebrate your blossoming awareness — scary as it may be — that your parents' problems stem from Alzheimer's, or one of many forms of dementia similar to it.

"When we stop the denial — and accept that Dad's watch is in the sugar bowl because he suffers dementia — we can help improve their quality of life — and ours," Marcell said.

You and I may want to heed Marcell's odyssey into dementia's oddities and the mushroom cloud it can cast over families.

Chances are we'll deal with it.

One in 10 persons age 65 suffers dementia; by age 85, one in two. Over-85 is our fastest-growing population segment.

"Every seven seconds a baby boomer turns 50," Marcell said. "There are 76 million of us with aging parents."

Handling a once even-keeled parent, suddenly Ping-Ponging between depression and aggression can be the last straw draining resources from our sea of anxieties.

"Most of us are already fried out of our minds from normal life. Add a parent with dementia, and many people cross a line they never dreamed they could — elder abuse," Marcell said.

The antidote to such horror is confronting dementia in Stage 1, which lasts 2-4 years.

"Unfortunately, we wait an average of four years to admit our parents have dementia," Marcell said.

While there are no cures yet, medications and psychological tools can improve elderly lives and forestall Stages 2 and 3, marked by virtual shutdown of mental and physical functions.

Marcell's book is the story of both parents, 87 and 81, suffering dementia. Her dad was off-the-charts challenging. Orphaned at 10, one of 18 children of dirt-poor North Dakotans, he took his fourth-grade education and became a successful Northern California shipbuilder.

He also carried a raging temper.

"He was a nasty, screaming, throwing-things elderly person," Marcell said.

Along with meds, Marcell used tough love and rewards-consequences behavior modification to "turn around a lifetime of negative behavior."

She's not saying her way is the way. The key is consulting a geriatric dementia specialist to begin a protocol.

"If it can help my dad, it can help anyone," Marcell said.

A former college professor and TV exec, Marcell self-published her book that's sold 31,000 copies.

"I didn't aim to be an author — never wrote more than a postcard. I just wanted to spread the word," she said.

Good for her. Our family lived with an aging parent for a year and a half. Respiratory failure, oxygen tanks, heart disease, nearly blind. We tried hard, I believe. When Daisy lost bodily functions, needing hourly attention, we put her in a nursing home.

She died a few weeks later.

I wish there'd been a Jacqueline Marcell then spreading her gospel.

Look her up at www.elderrage.com.

She might make a believer of you, too.


E-mail: gtwyman@desnews.com