SUDDEN CONFUSION – GO TO EMERGENCY ROOM

While it is easily seen when a person has a dramatic change in consciousness and they are in a stupor or coma, delirium is not that easy to identify. The emergency department is usually the point of entry into the hospital for the confused elder. The ER runs at a high speed and it is necessary for an accurate diagnosis for the patient’s family or friends to give a good history.

Patients in a deep sleep or stupor, who can only be aroused with extreme physical stimulation are in a medical emergency. The emergency room personnel assume that the person is not always so difficult to arouse, and they recognize the emergency. However identifying changes in a patient with delirium is much more difficult because the hospital staff do not know how the patient usually is. This puts the burden of communicating the emergency situation on the accompanying family member.

It is estimated that ER physicians miss the diagnosis of delirium in 57 to 83% of cases. This wastes valuable time for the patient, time that they need for early intervention. This missed diagnosis can be due to the fact that the elder themselves do not know why they have come to the hospital. Or if the elderly person is agitated they may even be admitted to the psychiatric ward, without a good assessment.

Giving a good mental history:

  • when did you first notice a change in mental function?
  • do these changes seem to come and go – get worse or better over time
  • does the person have problems paying attention – give an example of what is normal for this person and how they are now not acting normally – having difficulty carrying on a conversation – getting distracted and changing the subject
  • patients who are inattentive may actually fall asleep when they are not engaged in conversation, this change in sleep/awake patterns needs to be stated
  • the patient now has rambling thoughts and disorganized thinking
  • if the patient has had any recent falls, this is a very important piece of information and will help the physician in their physical examination – looking for possible head trauma
  • maintain an accurate list of all of the elder’s medications as well as any over the counter medications they are taking – maintaining this list will make it much easier in an emergency situation
  • share with the emergency staff if the elder has a history of alcohol abuse or use of sedatives
  • has the elder ever experienced an episode like this in the past?

Being prepared and ready with this pertinent information is impressive and will more likely get the attention of the emergency personnel than saying “He is just not acting right.”

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

IS DEMENTIA THE SAME AS MENTAL ILLNESS?

Mental illness is a broad term for disorders that affect thinking and behaviors. That, at first glance, can sound like dementia. However, there are known causes for many forms of mental illnesses. Also, strong effective treatment programs will include cognitive behavioral therapy, which is not used for persons with dementia.

Mental illnesses range from mood disorders; major depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, to psychiatric disorders; anti-social, narcissistic, schizophrenic, and so many more.  These conditions are traceable to poor parenting practices, childhood trauma, bereavement, unemployment conditions, social stresses including cultural stresses, as well as abuses; drug abuse, cannabis, and alcohol abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves helping the individual in identifying their distressing thoughts, while seeing how realistic these thought patterns really are. This therapy, stresses working on distorted thinking, and coming up with positive problem solving techniques. Consistently focusing on how valid the person’s thoughts are, as well as examining how useful this thinking is to the individual. Cognitive behavioral therapy when successful will change troubling behaviors.

In order to be successful with this therapy the person has to possess the ability to reason. Loss of reason and judgement are early signs of dementia. As well as loss of the ability to focus, persons with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, are very easily distracted.  Persons with dementia, due to Alzheimer’s disease, will have short term and eventually long term memory loss.  Memory loss not a symptom of mental illness.

Above all, despite the changes seen in the individual with a dementing illness, he is not really distressed by his losses. For the most part his frustration is due to misunderstanding the environment and cooping with the loss of communication skills.  In contrast, persons with mental illness are very much distressed by their thoughts and behaviors.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

8 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN CAREGIVING FOR THE PERSON WITH DEMENTIA AND DIFFICULT BEHAVIORS

The person with dementia no longer reacts the way they used to, many times resulting in problem behaviors. When you have identified a problem behavior, which can be anything from the elder spitting, to striking out at a caregiver, or even becoming sexually inappropriate, start with identifying exactly what is happening.

8 Steps to understanding difficult behaviors in the person with dementia:

  1. Identify the problem or behavior. Make sure you are clear as to what the problem is, and whose problem is it. In the case of the elder with dementia who spits; it is embarrassing, someone has to clean it up, and many times it is hard to find a caregiver for the elder.
  2. Identify when this behavior occurs. Does this behavior only happen during times of direct care? Such as the elder who strikes out during times of dressing, bathing, or brushing teeth.
  3. Identify how often this behavior happens. Does this behavior only happen occasionally, as during a large holiday get together? Does this behavior happen only later in the day when the elder is tired?
  4. Identify how long the behavior lasts. Is this behavior of short duration, and once the incident is over it is quickly forgotten by the elder?
  5. Identify what is going on in the environment when the behavior happens. Is the environment understandable to the elder? Remember the elder with dementia needs a time of transition between activities. He can no longer just switch from one conversation to another, or do several things at the same time such as eating and watching TV.
  6. Identify who is present when the behavior happens. Does someone present tend to startle or surprise the elder? Does someone seem to not know how to approach the elder? Is someone asking a lot of questions the elder is no longer able to understand? Does someone have expectations of the elder that they are no longer able to meet? Does someone present seem to be critical of the elder.
  7. Identify how intense the behavior is. Is this behavior of such intensity that is scares the elder as well as all who are present?
  8. Identify if there is more than one thing contributing to the problem. Especially if the elder has been having trouble sleeping and may be suffering from sleep deprivation. If the elder’s behavior becomes more difficult in the late afternoon, see if the elder has an problem with oxygen deprivation. Many elders who are more agitated later in the day may benefit from a sleep study.

Finding out what happened right before, or what is happening during the behavior, is of the most importance, when care giving for the person with dementia.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

EXERCISE LIKE YOU ARE IN GRADE SCHOOL AND YOU WILL HAVE BETTER BRAIN FUNCTION

Remember when you were in grade school and you went out for recess three times a day? Well research now tells us that having those short bursts of exercise will support brain health. Over 25% of the oxygen in your body is in the brain. Increasing the percent of oxygen to the brain increases alertness, supports increased focus, is calming, and will even regulate behaviors.

When children are going out for recess, people will frequently say, “Its good for them, gives them a chance to run off their energy.” What those children are really doing, instead of running something off, they are taking in more oxygen through exercise. All the while improving their oxygen supply to the brain. Short bursts of exercise have been shown to be beneficial for brain function in all age groups. Everyone is able to benefit from increased oxygen through exercise.

There are very positive effects to periodic physical activity.  Short bursts of exercise have been shown to especially bring more oxygen to the frontal areas of the brain. Increasing oxygen to the frontal lobe of the brain helps with increased self control and emotional control. The ability to self regulate behavior is important whether in a social, academic, or religious setting, as well as just sitting on the couch at home.

Finding those opportunities for oxygen promoting exercise throughout the day are so necessary. Whether just stepping outside for a quick walk around the parking lot at work, opening a window while you vacuum for 15 minutes,  or popping in a short exercise video, whatever, call it your “recess.”

For the student studying, the restless child on a long car trip, or the elderly person with dementia who is getting agitated. Everyone it seems can benefit from a regular recess.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

5 REASONS THE PERSON WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE CAN HAVE BAD BEHAVIORS

When life begins to be a mystery and the person with Alzheimer’s disease no longer understands what people say, the meaning of words, and he no longer understands the environment, he can react with anger. That anger can lead to his being restless or even combative. Sometimes striking out at caregivers, strangers and even those he loves.

What causes bad behaviors in Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. His short term memory is affected, so no he doesn’t remember what he just had for lunch. And furthermore all of those questions, about things he can’t remember are getting on his nerves.
  2. He has poor judgement, so even though he has always been a cautious person he now is very impulsive. Even possibly having inappropriate social behavior, because he no longer exercises good judgement in actions or what he says.
  3.  He now is making poor decisions, due to Alzheimer’s disease and no longer understanding the environment. Spontaneously walking outside alone, to take a walk in winter without coat, hat gloves, etc.
  4. He now has an obvious short attention span, becoming impatient, fidgeting, having difficulty sitting still, becoming easily distracted or easily bored.
  5. He is losing verbal skills and having difficulty expressing wants and needs. So becomes angry when people do not meet those needs because of poor communication.

It turns out not to be such a mystery as to why the person with Alzheimer’s disease can have bad behaviors. The person with with Alzheimer’s disease is living in on ongoing mystery.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE WITH A PERSON WITH DEMENTIA OR DELUSIONS

The elderly person with dementia, who has a persistent fixed incorrect idea or delusion, is literally unable to change their mind. The idea might be harmless, as in the case of the elderly woman who insisted she was always on a train. Or it might be dangerous as the person who is insisting he has to leave and go to work, when he hasn’t worked for many years. Harmless or not, these ideas frighten the family or caregiver because it demonstrates irrational thinking.  Using rational explanations or arguing doesn’t work when the person is unable to change their mind.

5 ways to address delusions without arguing:

  1. Let it go if at all possible. If the idea is not dangerous, doesn’t bother the person or others, let it go.
  2. If the idea or delusion is frightening, such as the woman who thought people were living on her patio, give reassuring , comforting words. “I am here and will stay with you,” while you use a distracting activity.
  3. A delusion might be an expression of some fear. Look to the environment. Are there shadows, do you need more light, are curtain or shades open at night creating reflections on a window?
  4. Support the feelings the person expresses, not the delusion.
  5. Ask the person to show you what they see. The shadow on a wall, when reality is distorted, may become a ghost to the confused.

Many delusions are just plain hurtful, as with the spouse who is no longer recognized and is accused of being an impostor. Some delusions are very embarrassing for the family, and require understanding and the education of others.  Well meaning friends and acquaintances may intercede and begin arguing the irrational  idea or delusion. Look at this as an opportunity to educate other people, so that they may support you, in creating your plan of care for this person.

When caring for the individual with irrational ideas, you never argue these thoughts away.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

WHAT DO THE ELDERLY AND TEENAGERS HAVE IN COMMON – MAKING BAD DECISIONS

They were clearly elderly, possibly in late 70’s. He walked with a four leg quad cane, very slowly as though he was chronically stiff in the joints. He probably had been about 5’9″ at one time, but now he was so stooped over, that he was the same height as his wife, who appeared to be about 5’2″. Yet, as they left the grocery store they were walking to a brand new, bright red, SUV in the parking lot.

In passing I remarked,  “boy, that car is very pretty, but looks hard to get into.” The wife sadly smiled at me and said “yes, but it is a little better since we got the running boards.”, Wow, a car with running boards at their age. Sure enough as she opened the door, she stepped up on the shiny chrome running board, as she tried to steady herself to slide onto the car seat.

I just knew this car was not her choice, yet there she was perched way up in the air as they crept out of the parking lot. I thought, what is going to happen to her when there is snow on the ground, or that running board is slick from rain or slush.

The frontal lobe of the brain, is where reason, judgement and decision making is located. As the frontal lobe of their brain begins to shrink and die, the elderly begin to make poor decisions. A newborn baby’s brain begins to develop fully from the back, neck area, going forward. A teenager’s brain hasn’t fully developed in their frontal lobe, which results in risky choices or bad decisions. The end result is in both cases a frontal lobe that isn’t very functional. Driving and safety turn out to be frequent concerns and conversations in families, for both generations.

Is buying a SUV, a red flag when it is clearly dangerous for you to enter and exit the vehicle? Yes, that is a red flag, even more so is this elderly man’s disregard for his wife and her safety. The first troubling sign families notice when the elderly have frontal lobe shrinkage, is the apparent disregard for others.

Would this be dementia? Yes, shrinkage in the frontal lobes of the brain are a form of dementia. Frontal-temporal dementia is probably the least diagnosed form of dementia. Families know that there is something wrong with the elder, that he is difficult to get along with, easy to anger, unable to change behaviors, decrease in personal hygiene, etc., but few use the word dementia.

Cars, driving, and bad decision making, whether very young or very old, a bad combination.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

STRANGE AND EMBARRASSING BEHAVIORS IN THE ELDERLY – FRONTOTEMPORAL DEMENTIA

Urinating in public, touching strangers, angry outbursts, running stop lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, shoplifting, indecent exposure, and so many more behaviors that those very elders would have found shockingly inappropriate in the past.

However for families the most troubling and strange behavior that is first noticed is the disregard for other people. Fran first noticed this in Charles when he traded in his sedan for a huge truck. A vehicle that she would never be able to get into. This purchase demonstrated a disregard for his wife’s arthritic condition which she had struggled with for the past 20 years. A disregard for her height, as she is a very petite woman. A disregard for her age, basically a disregard for Fran.

Now, whenever the couple went anywhere together, they had to use Fran’s car. This meant that now Charles was very involved every time Fran bought a new car. If Fran liked a car, no Charles needed more leg room, you can’t get that car. Instead of driving a car she liked, Fran now had to drive a large sedan, more to Charles’s liking.

Fran now was paying for a more expensive vehicle than she needed. Her up keep on the car was more expensive, as it always was a gas guzzler that Charles insisted upon. And no, Charles felt no need to contribute in any way, as he continually showed no regard for Fran.

With frontotemporal dementia, as these areas of the brain shrink, the person you once knew changes into another person. A person with increasingly strange and often embarrassing behaviors.

The frontal lobe of the brain is where reason, judgement, safety awareness, organization, planning, all of a person’s higher functions are located. Once this form of dementia, this disease progresses, those higher functioning abilities are diminished.

So now as Fran can see that Charles is showing little regard for societies norms, while he drives on the opposite side of the road because as he says “whats the problem, no one is coming!” She remember years ago when he started showing no regard for her, when buying his truck.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

WHEN THE PERSON WITH DEMENTIA HITS, PUSHES, OR GRABS

When a person with dementia strikes out, it is upsetting for all involved. Whether it is hitting, shoving, grabbing or whatever physically aggressive episode, finding out the cause is most important.

Start keeping a journal of these outbursts. Include the time the incident happened, the date and most important what was happening right before the outburst. Who was with the elder during the outburst, and what worked to change the situation.

Every caregiver needs to know the elder’s routine and realize how important it is to stay with the routine. Approach is all important. Always approach a person with dementia from the front, in a calm and caring manner. Quick movements or coming from behind the person can be perceived as a threat to the person due to his dementia.

Make direct eye contact with the elder, use his chosen name, and explain what you will be doing step by step. Do not overwhelm the elder with too much information too fast. When giving directions, make them easy to understand, one step at a time and wait at least 10 seconds for a response. Persons with dementia have slower reaction time and need more time to process directions.

When the elder attempts to hit, or act aggressively, step back, making direct eye contact assure him of his safety. Using his name, state his inappropriateness, and tell him that you are leaving the room. Return in 5-10 minutes acting as if nothing has happened and start fresh.  Do not turn your back on an angry confused person, and stay at least 2-3 feet away, out of arms reach.

If the elder is doing something dangerous to himself of others, in a very firm voice say “”No” or “Stop.” Once the outburst is over assure the elder that he is safe, this incident upset him as much as everyone else involved.

Keeping track of outbursts by writing them down will help in identifying triggers. Is the elder over stimulated, tired, hungry, thirsty, are there too many people and the environment too stimulating? Is the task you are doing with the elder too difficult?

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

 

SENIOR WITH ALZHEIMER’S DEMENTIA CHANGES TRYING TO COMMUNICATE

Of all of the changes the family sees in their loved one with Alzheimer’s dementia, the most frightening is personality and behavioral changes.  When the senior with dementia acts childish, irrational, stubborn, suspicious, paranoid, or becomes physically combative, the caregiver can be frightened.  The caregiver can feel that the relationship is over, this person is now a stranger.

These behaviors are not only frightening for the caregiver but even more so for the person with dementia.  Preventing behaviors is always the goal, and so much easier that dealing with a full burst of anger.

Preventing bad behaviors:

  • be alert and aware to what is going on in the environment – if the last time Grandpa became angry were there too many people, too much talking, too much noise, just too much stimulation?
  • arguing with a person with dementia never works, the person just doesn’t have the reasoning skills any longer to engage in finding solutions – divert attention and head off any confrontations
  • respect and protect the elder’s dignity , there is a real reason why bathing is such a hard task for someone with dementia – being undressed is a huge loss of control
  • make every task as simple as possible – breakdown the task into one step at a time – even though this slows progress – slow and happy is much better than fast and unhappy
  • reassure, and reassure again and again – the elder is very afraid of being abandoned – even the most demanding elder is basically afraid of abandonment

The elder with dementia doesn’t mean to be difficult. Difficult behaviors are a means of communication by the elder. The elder knows that they are missing something everyone else understands. The changes the elder feels they are no longer able to communicate with words. So the elder will try to gain control over their environment through – behaviors.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing