Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

Senior Lifestyles

Alzheimer's &"Playbook": The best defense is a good offense

It’s September again, and for me that means college football time. Soon, local Los Altos alumni and fans will be donning their Cardinal Red, Cal Blue and Gold and dozens of other colors symbolizing their alliances with their alma maters. They will gear up for another season with hopes and dreams of greatness.

As a young boy growing up in Texas, my favorite memories with my dad were watching college football on Saturdays.

One of the great coaches of that era was Frank Broyles, an icon who led the University of Arkansas to seven conference championships and a national title. For 33 years, Broyles served as athletic director at Arkansas, but in 2001 his storybook life as a coach was shaken when his high school sweetheart and longtime wife, Barbara, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 43 percent of seniors 85 and older will develop the disease – a startling statistic. And with approximately 1,000 Los Altos seniors 85 and over, it is probable that at least 400 of our fellow Los Altos residents are currently suffering from the disease.

For Coach Broyles, Alzheimer’s was an unfamiliar opponent. But as a lifelong coach, teacher and public figure, he knew he could heighten awareness of the disease and provide practical insights on how his family dealt with the condition.

Broyles created “Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers: A Practical Tips Guide” (University of Arkansas, 2006). He used a sports playbook framework and team-based approach that he knew would strike a chord with his fans. The book focuses on practical ways to understand and apply care techniques, and its underlying message is that no primary caregiver should go it alone. Everyone I’ve introduced to the “Playbook” has found it very useful.

The “Playbook” separates the disease into three stages: early, middle and late. For each stage it incorporates key sections that use football analogies, including:

• Pre-Game Planning. The Alzheimer’s seasons are long, so planning is crucial. This section provides a framework and encompasses “early stage” disease information and “getting to know your opponent.”

• Coaches and Special Teams. Putting together a reliable team is perhaps the most important step. From the outset, it’s important to have the right doctors in place, with family members and friends playing their specific roles. Leveraging community resources such as local Alzheimer’s and church support groups is a helpful suggestion. Being proactive in this area means that players know their roles as the disease progresses.

• Playing Offense. Perhaps the most important metaphor in the “Playbook” is “protecting the quarterback,” which means the primary caregiver. The quarterback cannot win a football game alone – he or she must rely on delegation to other team members like sons, daughters, siblings, cousins and friends to contribute to a winning outcome. This section also covers necessary legal, financial and health-care planning recommendations such as a living will and durable power of attorney.

• Playing Defense. A necessary part of Alzheimer’s care is being defensively prepared. Inevitably, challenging situations will arise that can confuse and frustrate caregivers and patients. It’s important to anticipate such obstacles and be prepared with tips that will help everyone on the team. This section also deals with home safety.

• Training Table. Physical capabilities will change as the disease progresses. This portion deals with understanding and anticipating the changes and offers tips that ease transitions to maintain nutritional and physical health.

There are many books on Alzheimer’s, but I’ve found Coach Broyles’ “Playbook” to be the most practical, hands-on guide to help families successfully care for their loved ones – particularly for husbands who provide care for their wives. The football analogy can help them understand the primary need to work as a team.

For a free copy of the “Playbook,” stop by the Homecare California office at 885 N. San Antonio, Suite R, Los Altos. To download a copy online, visit www.homecare-california.com/playbook.

Greg Hartwell, managing director of Homecare California, is a frequent guest speaker on eldercare issues. For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 324-2600.

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