MEDICATION MISTAKES AND THE ELDERLY

Jerry was in the middle of a medical emergency, an emergency of his own making. He had noticed that he was having excessive bruising. Yet, it wasn’t until he went to his chiropractor and the doctor asked him why he had so many bruises, did he think there was a problem. Still, he didn’t act until the next morning when he went to the bathroom and instead of urine in the toilet, there seemed only to be blood.

After an emergency admission to the hospital did the facts emerge.

Jerry had not been in to see his cardiologist for over six months. In those months he continued to take his blood thinner, yet he did not go in for any labs. He said he, “kept forgetting.” Also during those months he had been very active reading up on supplements for weight loss. And that start him on a path of self medication without consulting any healthcare professional.

Jerry is 73, lives alone and has a history of falls. Falls that have resulted in his having to have plastic surgery, to correct the results of those falls on his face. Yet, for a person with a significant medical history, he didn’t realize that his lack of follow through with his healthcare professionals had put himself at risk.

This entire episode could have been avoided with just following a few hard and fast rules:

  • Scheduling regular appointments with your healthcare practitioner. I have often heard people as they age, lament that all they do is visit their doctors. However, when you are on medications that require on-going monitoring these visits are necessary.
  • Have regular follow up lab testing for all medications requiring monitoring. Many medications require routine lab test to make sure they are performing as intended.  As in Jerry’s case his body was giving him signals that all was not well, yet he felt fine, so he didn’t follow up on those signals.
  • Maintain a complete list of all vitamins and supplements you take. Up date this list every time you visit your health practitioner and bring the list to your appointment.
  • The pharmacist is another great source to check with on medication interactions. The elderly should review the side effects of medication routinely with their pharmacist. Even those medications they have been taking for years, and the elder takes for granted need review.

This time things turned out for Jerry, after a couple of days in the hospital he could go home and pick up his life where he left it before his emergency. Does he now realize that good healthcare requires the cooperation and compliance of the patient?  Only time, will tell.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

5 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR CONFUSED ELDER WARM OUTSIDE IN THE COLD

When winter is upon us it is so important to protect our confused elderly from the the effects of cold and even frostbite. The elder who is confused may no longer know how to dress for the season or temperature.  Helping someone confused, dress for the cold, can be as simple as knowing how to put together those items the elder already owns. And often, more effective than buying something new. There is comfort in the familiar, even a familiar piece of clothing.

Dressing for the cold:

  • Every one recommends wearing layers of clothes in the cold but equally important is what kind of layers those are.
    • The layer closest to the body should be a fabric that can wick away moisture due to possible perspiration
    • The middle layer is where your insulation comes in – wool only if the elder has no allergy to wool, a quilted fabric or something with synthetic pile to it.
    • The outer layer is there as a wind breaker, and needs to be water repellent as well.
  • Keep the elder’s head covered as well as hands and in some cases the face as well. Mittens are warmer than gloves but don’t allow for the free use of your fingers as well as gloves. So depending on the activity, you may want gloves or to even put mittens over a pair of gloves.
  • Keep your elder’s feet dry, it is hard to feel warm if your feet are wet and cold. Use the same system of layering to keep warm, by putting on two pairs of socks. Boots or rubber covers for shoes also provide for better traction on slippery surfaces.
  • An empty stomach will make anyone feel colder, eat before you go out. If you know the elder will be out in the cold for awhile, bring along a snack, trail mix or an energy bar with some protein.
  • Stay hydrated with soup, tea, water but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Every winter season brings stories on the news of the elder who made a bad decision and was found out in the cold. Close monitoring of a confused elder’s activities and where bouts during bad weather can be a simple as a routine “good night”phone call.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

HOW THE NURSING HOME PREVENTS FALLS

Every year the average nursing home will have between 100 to 200 patient falls. The people who fall the most often are men, and patients who are confused. Men fall almost twice as often as women because they are less likely to call for assistance, because it is more difficult for them to admit needing help. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia fall frequently, because they no longer have safety awareness.  Statistics tell us that 35% of those patients who fall are unable to walk, yet they try.

Most patient falls happen in the patient’s room, when the person is attempting something without assistance. Few falls happen in places like a dining room or at a nurses station where many staff members are available to monitor for unsafe behaviors. The majority of those falls in patient rooms have to do with needing to go to the bathroom. Being incontinent of urine, having diarrhea, and having to urinate frequently at night all contribute to the high number of falls.

Added risk factors are poor vision, going bare foot, clutter on the floor, poor lighting and possible a slippery/wet floor from the patient becoming incontinent. As well as the patient forgetting to reach for their cane or walker in their rush to the bathroom.

A nursing home fall prevention program includes assessing each and every patient for their fall risk. All of the above mentioned problems are identified. A plan of care is developed and all staff members are informed of the plan. Safety devices are put in place, most of those devices are in the form of alarms. A good web site for safety devices is -www.Rehabmart.com. Their site is very user friendly and they have a large selection of safety alarms.

Looking at the environment, follows the assessment. Are the grab bars placed correctly? If the patinet is getting out of bed, is the bed in a low position, with an alarm? Is the lighting adequate, are there motion sensors in place? Is the patient on a regular toileting schedule before bed? How often does the staff check on them during the night?

A big deterrent for falls is a busy, engaged patient, a patient who has activities to go to that they enjoy. A patient who is really tired when it is time for bed, that they enjoy a good nights sleep.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Restorative Nursing and Gerontology

MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT AND REASONING

Dorothy is 80 years old and anyone would say she looks just great. Today she is volunteering at her local nursing home, as she has done for the last 15 years. Her hair looks perfect, her clothes always matching and becoming. She has her usual great smile and good humor for all of the residents.

However there had been a particularly bad snow and ice storm the night before. A nurse seeing Dorothy remarked that she was surprised to see her out on such a bad day. Dorothy seemed unfazed by the weather. “Aren’t you afraid of falling?” the nurse asked. Oh no, Dorothy assured her she never falls. Looking down at Dorothy’s feet the nurse commented on the dress shoes with 2 inch heels,  Dorothy was wearing. Pointing to all of the snow and ice patches still on the driveway, the nurse asked why she was going out in those shoes. As the conversation continued it was clear that Dorothy was not connecting the dots between safety, caution, weather, common sense and those very pretty and impractical shoes. In fact, Dorothy showed signs of losing her good humor, if pressed on the subject.

Mild cognitive impairment is considered a condition that might indicate that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease will be next. It is considered a condition that really doesn’t interfere with normal life or activities. Mild cognitive impairment may improve, stay the same or progress. Mild cognitive impairment involves issues like searching for words, losing your train of thought in a conversation, mild forgetfulness, feeling sad or overwhelmed. Many things can account for these such as poor diet, anxiety, depression and especially loss of sleep can cause many of these problems in the elderly.

But the decline in reasoning and judgement are particularly worrisome. Reason involves thinking through a problem and coming up with a solution. It involves higher thinking abilities such as applying logic, verifying facts and making sense of a situation. When the loss of judgement or reasoning skills is lost, this now does interfere with normal life and activities. The loss of reason can have consequences, like Dorothy in her pretty shoes sliding around on ice.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

FALLS, SENIORS AND NURSING HOMES

Phil lives alone unless you count his dog, Clare. Phil now is seventy-three and most people would have considered him in better than average shape. He is not one for exercise but he always has watched what he eats, and was blessed with good genes. However, Phil made some very bad decisions.

It happened on a very nasty night in the Midwest. There was a ugly ice-sleet storm raging outside when Clare needed to go out. Phil did his usual thing at night he took Clare out into the backyard. Too bad his usual thing was to walk Clare in his underwear. So when Phil fell, he was too embarrassed to call out to his neighbors for help.  So there he lay with an injured leg, shoulder and arm, out there on the ice.

Because Phil didn’t want to call for help it took him two and a half hours in the cold, on the ice, to pull himself to his back door and drag himself in.   This experience caused Phil to be hospitalized for five days and is now in a nursing home due to the pneumonia that set in while hospitalized.

What seniors can do to protect against falls:

  • if you live alone (and are even if in very good condition like Phil) wear an alert button
  • think ahead, make good decisions and be proactive – is it really a good idea in any weather to be outside in your underwear
  • prepare for the weather – when in snow, ice, sleet – carry a small bag of salt, sand or gravel to throw out in front of yourself as you walk
  • for those who have to go out in all weather – consider rubber ice cleats that easily attach to the bottom of any shoe or boot – they are easy to put on and off and very in expensive

It really didn’t seem like it would be Phil who would be in a nursing home, at least not until a very old age. Bad weather got him there, and a fall, but more than that it was bad choices.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

CREATING ENVIRONMENTS AS PART OF DEMENTIA CARE

Some elements in the environment can cause unwanted behaviors in persons with dementia. Unsettling noises, unpleasant people, being constantly directed or told “no,” all of these things can cause agitation in a person with dementia. Thinking about what is pleasant, and comfortable, this is when the term “homey” comes to mind. Everyone knows when a home feels homey.

The feeling of homey can mean pleasant smells. Smells like bread baking, apple or pumpkin pie, roast beef, cookies baking, all of these words can trigger memories of those comforting smells. Having certain smells over the course of a day can help cue a confused person as to what is happening. Greeting an elder in the morning with “good morning” while the smells of bacon frying and fresh brewed coffee are coming from the kitchen helps the elder know it is morning.

Create a homey room with furniture in limited patterns and choosing colors that are warm. Select seating that is comfortable and looks like an invitation to sit and spend some time. Many colors and patterns can make a room look “busy.” Use basic solid color carpet that is a contrasting color from the furniture so the elder can see where the furniture ends and the carpet begins. Reduce clutter on all surfaces, but include familiar items for the comfort they bring.

Throw rugs will become tripping hazards as are small glass tables. Anything that causes a glare or is difficult to see the edges of, are potential safety hazards. This includes shiny dark flooring. Lighting that is too low or creates especially dark areas of the room, can cause paranoia as well as be unsafe.

A safe secure outdoor space that is accessible to the confused elder to use independently is a very positive activity, as well as good dementia care. Giving the elder the chance of more options by choosing to be inside or outside maintains self-esteem and independence. The elder can enjoy safe interaction with nature while rocking in that homey old rocker, and maybe another one of those cookies.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

FALL PREVENTION GUIDELINES FOR SENIORS IN WINTER WEATHER

Of course the elderly and seniors are afraid of falling, but Beth was only 31 when she fell on ice in a parking lot. Beth was late for work and walking much too fast for the slippery conditions in the parking lot that day. And the parking lot as slick as it was, made her fall even harder, resulting in a fractured wrist.

Walking in winter weather calls for extra diligence in:

  • Taking care of your body, for it to function as limber and flexible as possible. Warm up your legs, feet and knees before you go out in snow and possibly slippery conditions. A great way to warm up feet is with a warm water soak in Epsom salts. Difficulty walking can be due to inflammation which will make tissue painful, tight and stiff. Knees, legs and feet can be especially vulnerable to inflammation, and that inflammation can be tracked back to poor food choices. Avoid inflammatory foods; sugar, white flour, white potatoes, white rice, and pretty much anything that is white.
  • Exercising – to improve strength and balance. Maintain a regular exercise routine and on days when the elderly cannot get out, it is even more important to exercise. Stretch before going out, stretching improves circulation and limbers the joints and muscles.
  • Careful, but appropriate use of pain medications. Just as a person in a healthcare situation would take a pain medication before going to therapy, so also medicating before walking outside maybe just as appropriate. Arnica gel is a great topical for pain, swelling and stiffness. There are new reports all the time on the benefits of Ibuprofen medications for inflammatory pain relief.
  • Dressing for the weather. Now that you have those legs, knees and feet warmed up, keep them that way. Three light layers of clothes are preferred to one heavy layer. Be aware of any clothing that might be too restrictive, and actually decrease the ability to move. I personally love the new warm light weight fabrics – long underwear anyone?
  • If the elderly use a cane or walker they should also use that walking device, in winter weather. However caution needs to be taken when rubber tips on canes/crutches become wet – they can be extremely slippery on a hard surface indoor floor.

Many elderly people become isolated in winter and suffer from depression. Going outdoors, enjoying fresh air, nature and socializing is so necessary to protect against depression in winter.

Virginia Garberding RN
Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing