EARLY SIGN OF DEMENTIA – GRANDPA WEARS SWEAT SUIT TO HOLIDAY DINNER

Where is grand-pa? All the family were comparing notes, before dinner, on Thanksgiving. “Did you talk to Dad?” “Did he seem to understand where to go and what time?”  And so the conversation went, while the sisters were getting ready to put the dinner on the table. Then right before dinner time, there was the door bell, and the sound of Grandpa letting himself in.

There was Grandpa, smiling, joking and also sporting his old grey sweat suit. On closer inspection he hadn’t shaved, his hair looked greasy, and he was covered in dog hair. When asked by one of his son-in-laws why he was wearing a sweat suit for Thanksgiving, he gave his now customary response. “This is so comfortable,” “This is so warm,” and ” I am afraid of catching cold.”

When asked why he didn’t go to church that morning, it became clear that it was just too hard to get out of that sweat suit, too much trouble. Once again it is just too comfortable, and warm.

Once dressed the confused elder has a sense of security, feeling put together. And more mentally together as well, as the favorite outfit now becomes a security blanket. And what could be more secure than the feel of  fleece, the feel of a sweat suit. So the confused elder then begins to resist bathing, getting into pajamas or even changing that sweat suit for a clean one.

This chosen outfit is then worn everyday, to eat in, sleep in, work in, relax in, for every season, and on every occasion. Grand-pa doesn’t know that he is wearing his confusion out there, for everyone to see.

So for this family as well as for many families during the holidays, the private conversations turn to “how bad is Dad?” “Should we be doing something?” “Is it time for him to go to a nursing home?”

No, its not time yet. Grand-pa drove himself over, seems to only drive with-in a few miles of his home, and has had no accidents. He is able to monitor his gas, and maintain his very old car. He appears well fed, so he must still be able to get his own food.

What can be done now, is to keep in close touch with him. Get in the habit of calling frequently, asking what he has eaten, where he has gone, and what he is doing. Make sure that he is able to use his telephone and that it is user friendly. Go to his house and make sure he has an adequate amount of fire alarms, especially one in the kitchen and by the clothes drier. Get in a schedule of checking the batteries for those alarms. Look at his kitchen items for any signs of burning.

Look carefully around the house for tripping hazards and move furniture to create clear walk ways. If clutter is beginning to be a problem, ask for some of the things instead of suggesting throwing things away.

Get more people involved. Start having food delivered, especially grocery staples. Start having a cleaning service come in  on a regular schedule. The important thing is to start these services, so the confused elder gets used to having these people around. Then, over time, these services can be increased as needed.

As annoying as the Thanksgiving sweat suit can be, it is really just a sign of things to come, and a sign it is time to plan.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

EXERCISE FOR PARKINSON’S DISEASE AND THE BRAIN – CROSSING THE MID-LINE

Boxing and Parkinson’s Disease

I recently saw a news show on television that highlighted the benefits of boxing, for persons with Parkinson’s disease. While everyone interviewed identified positive results, all the way from; moving better, to being motivated and at times being pushed to participate.  Those who strongly recommended boxing never really hit the nail on the head, and told us why this sport would work so well.

Boxing and Crossing the Mid-line

Picture an imaginary line from your head to your feet cutting your body in half. Every time you do something with your right hand and arm, swinging to your left and therefore crossing your mid-line you also increase the right-left connection in your brain. Watching the show and seeing the participants either hitting a punching bag, or in a ring hitting an instructor, you can easily see the therapy involved. When they punched with their right hand they frequently crossed over their body and hit the opponent on the right side of his body.

The brains two sides coordinate with their opposite side of the body. All of the connections happen in the middle of the brain called the limbic system. Exercises that cross the mid-line, reinforce and support  the connections in the limbic system. The limbic system is also the site of emotional intelligence, explaining why people feel happy after exercise.

Creating exercises that cross the mid-line

A simple balance exercise turned into a brain exercise can include swinging arms across the body. Kicking a leg across the mid-line while holding on to a chair is a simple brain movement. Bouncing a ball in front of you, with your right hand and then switching to your left hand, crosses the mid-line. Starting with a larger bouncing ball and then scaling down to a smaller and smaller ball also improves balance.

Great games with small children such as a bean bag toss when done crossing the mid-line, is a fun way to exercise the brain. Older children enjoy playing catch, and can start by just bouncing a large ball back and forth. Till they then can catch a ball in midair and switch up to a smaller ball.

Take that even further by hitting a tennis ball, volley ball, anything that provides that movement of crossing the body. Especially so for the confused elder who enjoys just throwing a beach ball around the family circle, or maybe a wild game of balloon toss. The easiest mid-line exercise for just about everyone, is to cross your arms and give yourself a big hug. The limbic system, is why that feels so good!

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

DEMENTIA 101 – DISEASES THAT CAUSE DEMENTIA

Dementia is not a disease. The word dementia refers to a number of symptoms such as a decline in the ability to reason, remember, and even focus and think. There are many diseases that cause dementia and because each disease affects the brain in different ways, the word “dementia” is a broad term.

The most prominent disease is Alzheimer’s because it affects so many more people than Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, even stroke. Not only do the diseases resulting in dementia, affect the brain in many different ways, the cause and rate at which the dementia progresses is also variable.

In Alzheimer’s disease the outer layers of the brain are most affected resulting in the loss of memory and language. Other diseases such as Parkinson’s, and Hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), affect the inner parts of the brain. This results in a decrease in the speed of thinking and an inability to initiate movement. Many times a person with Parkinson’s will actually get “stuck” in place while walking. They had a sudden inability to move and need to take a step backwards before they can once again go forward.

Dementia can also be the result of a severe trauma to the brain. Head injury resulting in blood clots can cause dementia. Brain tumors, a Vitamin B-12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, and of course multiple strokes may result in dementia.

As in all conditions what you are looking for is a change. If a person never could remember names, and they run into someone at the mall that they haven’t seen for years, and don’t know their name, it doesn’t mean they have Alzheimer’s disease. But when something is different and unusual for the person, especially if it has come on quickly, that requires a visit to the doctor for testing. Testing to rule out infection, drug interactions, depression, nutritional deficiencies, all of those things that can make a person appear to have Alzheimer’s disease.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

Dementia 101 – The First Case of Alzheimer’s Disease

Auguste Deter was born in 1850, and met Dr. Alzheimer in 1901 at the Institute for the Mentally Ill, Frankfurt, Germany. Dr Alzheimer was a psychiatrist and neuropathologist at the institute. This is Auguste’s story.

Auguste was married to Karl Deter, and was a housewife.  At the time Karl sought help at the institute, Auguste; had no sense of time/or place, and she wasn’t sleeping at night. During the day she was dragging sheets all over the house, she was very paranoid and was constantly accusing Karl of having affairs. She was having trouble with language and writing, as well as having signs of anxiety, mistrust and withdrawal, and oh yes, Auguste would also scream for hours.

Auguste was a danger to herself, especially in the kitchen using knives. She was recorded as saying repeatedly “I have lost myself.” Even though the institute was a scary place, known to the locals as the “Castle of the Insane,” her husband had no choice but to bring her there.  Karl was a middle aged man who had to work and no one else was able to care for her.

For thousands of years when the elderly had symptoms of memory loss doctors thought this was just normal aging.  Auguste Deter on the other hand wasn’t elderly, she was only 51 when she first met Dr. Alzheimer. He worked with her documenting her behaviors, memory problems, lose of her words, anger issues and constant paranoia. And later when he left the institute he requested that on her death Auguste’s brain be sent to him.

Auguste died at the age of 55, and her brain was sent to Dr. Alzheimer. Dr. Alzheimer had a very famous friend at that time, Carl Zeiss who had just invented the first distortion free microscope. Dr. Alzheimer took Auguste’s brain tissue, froze it and then sliced and stained the tissue. Putting it under the microscope, magnified 100’s of times he saw for the first time the plaques and tangles later to be known as Alzheimer’s disease.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Restorative Nursing and Gerontology

DEMENTIA CARE – NORMAL DAY TO DAY ACTIVITIES FOR THE ELDER

Many people only think of activities in the large sense. Activities like; painting a great picture, a trip to the circus, working with clay, throwing a party or seeing live entertainment. All of these things are great, but day to day activities are just that, normal things you do every day. These activities are called “normalization activities,” and these are the activities of good dementia care.

Normalization activities help the confused elder with dementia feel that they are participating in daily life.  Participating in normal chores; dusting, setting the table, folding wash, gardening, washing dishes, raking, vacuuming, all of these are everyday activities. Activities that take the elder back in time are especially good. Instead of using the dish washer, let the elder wash dishes by hand. Polishing and shining shoes is a great activity for a man, especially if he served in the armed services.

Normalization activities give purpose to the elder’s life. Many years ago when the destitute elderly were housed in “poor houses” or “poor farms,” they were given jobs to “earn their keep.”  And as always seems to be the case, the pendulum swung much too far in fixing that issue. In today’s nursing home communities, it is very much frowned upon to “make residents work.” And so residents of nursing communities are to be cared for and occasionally entertained.

Normalization activities give the elder in the home, or the nursing home, an opportunity to have social interaction with others. They can have that special feeling of satisfaction doing a job together, and being part of something. Normalization activities provide a routine to the day, opportunities for pleasure, improved self-esteem and improved quality of life.

Some time ago I asked the activity staff of a nursing home, what gave them work related stress. One brave young woman said she felt that she wasn’t doing her job, if she wasn’t providing a three ring circus all the time. Three ring circuses aren’t the stuff of everyday life, washing dishes is, and washing dishes can also be, just great.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUGAR CRAVINGS AND THE ELDER WITH DEMENTIA

Please, please can’t you open the ice cream parlor now?” the elderly woman begged the activity aide. Once again the young activity aide explained to Hannah, that it was 8 o’clock in the morning, and they don’t open the ice cream parlor till 2 in the afternoon.

The pain was easy to see in the elderly woman as she was turned away. Anyone who has experienced cravings can understand how she felt. Sugar craving is nothing new to millions of people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

The craving for sugar is physical and so mental. For the elder with dementia and sugar cravings the time of day doesn’t matter. The fact that she had just had breakfast doesn’t matter. The fact that this tiny old lady just couldn’t be physically hungry doesn’t matter.

Hannah doesn’t remember that breakfast she just had. She will clearly tell you that no body feeds her at the nursing home. Because she believes it. Hannah knows what it feels like to be hungry and right now she is craving some ice cream and so she must be hungry.

For persons like Hannah it might have been the toast loaded with “sugar free” jam that triggered this craving. Or the large bowl of corn cereal she had with the toast. Maybe the 5 packets of sugar substitute she insists on putting in her morning coffee.

Loading up on a breakfast with empty carbs and sugar free products – served up by kind hearted nursing assistants, wanting to make all those Hannah’s happy is her problem.

Would she go back to her unit in the nursing home angry? Of course she did.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

DEMENTIA CARE – DRESSING FOR CAREGIVING, USING COLOR

The traditional color for healthcare workers has been white. There are good reasons for this. Many times when I have walked into a bedroom of an elderly confused person to check on them, if the elder wakes they immediately say “nurse”. I would reassure them that everything was alright, but that white uniform said much more.

White of course reflects and stands out in a dark room making the caregiver easier to see. White is connected in everyone’s brain with good, pure, heavenly, and clean. This perception doesn’t change when a person gets old or confused.

On the other hand when an athletic team wants to intimidate their opponent they will wear black. A team dressed in all black will look larger and more dangerous. Add a little red to that athletic uniform and red adds the message stay away, danger.

Any clothing in very dark, almost black, colors might be difficult for a confused elder to see, and they may only see black. Happy colors are in the yellow family. Also light green is considered a color that improves mental functioning. Green has been shown to improve test results with students, and light blue is shown to be a stay-awake color. The combination of white with yellow, light green or light blue is the perfect combination for caregiving.

Archive pictures show Florence Nightingale in her familiar uniform of long black dress. But that dress was softened by her white lace collar and lacy cap. Even pictures in her old age showed her in the same combination with the addition of a white lace shawl. However, for many years the color of healthcare has been white.

Every time research is conducted on what profession people think is the most trustworthy, nursing rises to the top. So dress the part, especially if you provide care at night, wear white and you will hear your elder say “nurse.”

Virginia Garberding RN
Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing