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

 

EARLY STAGE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND CAREGIVING

Caregiving for the person in early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, is in some ways very different from the mid-stage and late stage caregiver role.

The early stage caregiver is in many ways a companion. A very alert and involved companion. A person who is proactive in preventing accidents. Looking at the confused person’s environment, while not changing the environment, (which would increase confusion) but modifying as needed for safety. Knowing the confused elder may no longer be that aware of tripping hazards, the danger of walking in busy parking lots, or handling hot food. So many areas in our, day to day lives, where our own personal safety awareness and good judgement keep us safe.

Helping the confused elder with communication difficulties. Giving the person that extra time they now need to get their thoughts in order. Not rushing the person as they are searching for words, and when providing those words, doing it in a way that is supportive not critical.

By offering frequent reminders of where the person is and what is going on. When the person has a concerned puzzled look on her face, the caregiver gently reminds her that she is at the mall, close to her home. Providing information to the date, time of year, temperature and most of all who people are in relation to the confused elder.

Keeping to a routine and familiar places gives the mildly confused person a sense of security. When that is not possible, as in the case of a change in residence. The caregiver needs to use less verbal directions and more walking a person through the new environment. Accessing that body memory through repetition, by doing something over and over, can re-create that routine and familiarity. Routine and familiarity bring comfort.

Taking time, while stepping back and trying to see what might increase confusion, and what the caregiver can provide to decrease that confusion.

The need that remains is always the same throughout the disease process, is for the the caregiver to be so very kind and understanding. Understanding of the struggles the person is facing to still be here. Support to still maintain their independence as much and as long as possible.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT – NOT ALWAYS EARLY DEMENTIA

“I think mom might have early Alzheimer’s disease” says the worried son. “I saw the other day that she had left the burner on the stove on, and walked into another room.” I wouldn’t worry too much about one incident the dementia specialist said, “sometimes I do things like that myself.”

The dementia specialist is over sixty-five herself, and knows she has a problem with distraction. As a person ages they begin to become more easily distracted. The classic story is always about walking into a room and forgetting what you are there for. If someone talked to you while you were going to get something, or you answered the phone on the way, you became distracted. I frequently remind people of times they might have forgotten where their car was parked.

The concerned son should keep his eyes open for other changes. How is his mom doing cooking? If she always was a great cook and made many things from memory, and still does, nothing to worry about there. If on the other hand she now has problems with things like measuring, getting confused with familiar recipes or putting together a meal, these could indicate a problem.

If his mom always followed the news, and now seems to be having trouble remembering news and recent events, this would indicate a problem. The problem comes when there is a change. If the person never was interested in the news, this is just in line with their personality.

If mom never was much for handling finances, then her lack of money sense is just her. However if mom always knew the price of everything on her shopping list, and now shows problems with handling money, it is time to take a close look.

If mom knows what day it is, doesn’t get lost in familiar places and recognizes people around her, and there are no other noticeable changes, then the stove incident was a simple lapse. Yes, a potentially safety issue, and mom should be as concerned as everyone else that she had this lapse. She should vocalize, that she will make an effort to focus more on what she is doing. But if there are indications in the kitchen that there have been other safety events. Such as burned cutting boards, charred pots, pans, cooking utensils, or possibly missing items because they were discarded after an incident. It is now time to closely monitor mom.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

DEMENTIA AND DELIRIUM INCREASE CHANCE OF FALLS

Confusion due to dementia and delirium are known risk factors for falls in healthcare. Researches have noted that persons with confusion have a risk of falling 1.8 times that of the elderly without dementia. Falls in the elderly are predictable when the elder has; balance problems, problems with dizziness or fainting, cardiac problems, arthritis, osteoporosis, vision problems, is weak from immobility or a recent infection, is taking numerous medications or a medication for anxiety, or depression.

But the risk of a fall increases to almost double the risk when the elderly have dementia or delirium as well as the other known risk factors.

Behavioral problems – the person with dementia or delirium will have decreased safety awareness and make poor decisions. The person with dementia or delirium are more likely to forget to use assistive devices such as canes and walkers, or stop and put on good safe footwear. If the person also experiences angry outbursts of a physical nature, this also greatly increases their risk of falling.

Dietary deficiency –  the person with dementia or delirium can suffer from a poor nutritional status due to bad food choices. Adequate protein, essential vitamins, and water are needed for good health.  And especially vitamin D and calcium are necessary for strong bones.

Vision changes – a person with dementia can experience a decline in the ability to sense where they are in space. This often results in sitting down and missing a chair. Added to that a decrease in visual accommodation to light and dark, glare intolerance, altered depth perception and possibly physical changes in eyes due to aging, increase the risk of falls to an even greater degree.

Chronic illness – arthritis causing stiffening of joints, osteoporosis and bone deterioration increases risk of injury related to a fall, stroke and Parkinson’s disease increase the risk of falls. These are known issues with aging, and the elder with dementia who has painful swollen joints from arthritis is at even more risk.

Acute illness – has been shown to be a factor in 10% to 20% of falls in the elderly. An acute infection will cause weakness, fatigue, even dizziness. But the person with dementia or delirium will have an increase in their confusion.

Continuous monitoring of the elder with dementia or delirium is necessary as well as monitoring for these increased risk factors.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

TALKING ABOUT DEMENTIA – AND THE GIFT OF LISTENING

There they were cruising the Caribbean as she said they had done so many times before. They were Ben and Dahlia from Texas. They looked like so many of the other aging couples on that cruise ship. But after the brief introductions at the large dining room table, Dahlia found the need to tell the table that Ben has dementia.

What was so much more obvious than Ben’s confusion was Dahlia’s need to talk about it. Even to a table full of strangers, for one short meal on a seven day cruise, she felt the need to tell.

This information wasn’t needed for their table companions. Ben was impeccably dressed, even to the white sweater tied by it’s sleeves over his shoulders and sun glasses perched on top of his head. It wasn’t because of Ben’s table manners, although slow, Ben needed no assistance cutting his food or eating. Yes, Ben was very quite, but so are many older men who just sit back and let their wives do the talking.

No, Dahlia needed to tell for herself. She told of their 28 year marriage, the trips they had taken, how life had been before dementia robbed her of the life she once knew. You could see how she needed to tell, as she frequently repeated the same phrase “You should have seen him, he was something.” The listener could tell she has repeated this so many times over these last nine years since his diagnosis. Just saying it gave her a moment to remember, as she was still picturing him as he had been.

When they parted, you could see that people were trying to say something understanding, supportive, and comforting to Dahlia. So just as you do when you see that young mother who is struggling with a baby and toddlers in tow. You smile and say “wow, you have your hands full, and your children look so great and happy,” and you see that smile break out on her weary face. Someone has recognized, how hard her life is, and she is doing it well.

So now you tell Dahlia what an amazing job she is doing. Ben looks so content, and well taken care of, she is surly doing the hardest job there is, that of a caregiver. Dahlia gives you that same smile that you receive from the recognized mom. As you walk away you take one last look back, at this stranger with the big problem and the quiet husband.

7 QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR PATIENT FOR GOOD DEMENTIA CARE

Yes, John has dementia but that really doesn’t tell a lot about the person of John. In order to take really good care of John, you will need a lot of information.

  1. How alert and aware is John? Does he know his name, does he recognize his family, does he know their names, does he know the name of his caregiver? Can he find his way around inside his home? Can he perform a simple task by himself? Can he follow one or two step directions? How does John respond to people?
  2. How is John’s communication? What language would John most likely speak and understand? Is John’s speech usually clear and easy to understand? Does he get words mixed up, or does he make sense when he speaks?
  3. How well does he function? Does John walk, how much support does he need walking? Does John wash himself? Brush his own teeth? Can John comb his hair, or wash his face? How much assistance does he need with these daily tasks? How does John respond to help with these tasks?
  4. Can John eat by himself or does he need help?  How is his appetite, is this a problem? How much help does he need? Can he use a fork and knife safely or does he eat with a spoon? Does he have any swallowing problems, with liquids or with solid food? Does he need a special diet or soft ground up foods?
  5. Does John go to the bathroom by himself? The activity of being able to go to the bathroom independently involves several steps.  You need to know if John is able to wipe himself after a bowel movement. Is John incontinent of bowel or bladder? If John was on timed toileting would he be continent, does he just not make it there in time? Does John always go to the bathroom in the appropriate place? Does he give signs that he needs to use the bathroom?
  6. What are the usual or possibly problematic behaviors you might encounter with John? Is John’s disposition usually happy, sad, does he get angry often or easily? If John does get angry, what if anything does he do, yelling, striking out, hitting, or grabbing? If he is inclined to negative outbursts what usually calms him down? Does John have inappropriate sexual behaviors?
  7. Is John a safety hazard? If John walks does he leave, has he gotten lost? Why, has he gotten lost was he looking for someone, or did he think that there is some place he needs to be? Has he ever harmed himself or anyone else?

Whether you are a paid caregiver or a member of the family, in order to take care of someone with a dementia for a short time or consistently you need information. Important information.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

DEMENTIA CARE – WHEN COMMUNICATION ISN’T ABOUT WHAT WE SAY

Attitude, facial expression, tone of voice, and especially body language many times are so much more important than the words, we actually speak. The nicest, and kindest words can sound mean and ugly, when used in a tone of voice that is sarcastic and demeaning. In order for those words to sound nice and kind they have to be accompanied by an equally kind facial expression and tone of voice.

The person with dementia is especially sensitive to these other ways of communication, when they have lost their words. When the person with dementia is no longer able to say a word, they no longer understand that word, when it is said to them. Saying something as simple as “Come with me,” now has to be accompanied by a smile, and gestures. By smiling and waving the person towards you, the caregiver indicates, come with me, more effectively than only using those three words.

Connecting to that inner actor in all of us, instead of just depending on words, provides great dementia care. Helping the person you care for through positive gestures such as a simple thumbs up, clapping, shaking a man’s hand, or a pat on the back. All gestures that demonstrate approval.

Concentrating and many times practicing positive body language will result in improved communication. Sitting or standing with arms crossed on your chest indicate judgment. Tapping your fingers, or shoes on a hard surface,  indicates impatience.

Instead practice open body language, having arms open, and even leaning forward slightly indicates interest and attention. The person with dementia will respond positively to someone he feels is showing him respect with their attention.

When providing dementia care for someone of another culture, make sure you know what gestures and body language are considered appropriate in their culture.

Add to these forms of non-verbal communication, some pleasant words that bless the elder, will always be beneficial for the caregiver as well.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

5 CRITICAL AREAS OF DEMENTIA CARE

Dementia care involves first and foremost, providing for the safety of the person with dementia. One of the major symptoms of dementia, is the loss of safety awareness. Hand in hand with that, is the loss of the ability to reason, or think your way out of a situation. A real problem, if the situation is dangerous.

Added to providing for safety, is having good dementia communication, knowing what a happy environment looks like for someone with dementia, providing for social and spiritual needs as well as addressing everything physical.

5 Critical Areas of Dementia Care:

  1. Safety – walking alone across a busy highway, putting something on a hot burner and walking away forgetting about it, going outside in sub-zero temperatures without a coat, and more. Protecting the confused elder without having him feel he is being controlled, is good dementia care.
  2. Communication – just having the most beautiful home, with the best security system, won’t lead to great dementia care. Especially if the caregiver doesn’t know how to effectively communicate with a confused person. Good communication involves the speaker and the listener. When the confused elder is no longer able to communicate well, the burden is on the caregiver. The caregiver must know how to communicate through touch, gestures, smiles, patience and kindness.
  3. Environment – the environment needs constant review, and may change over time. Thinking of the environment as a way to make the elder with dementia know where they are and what is expected, is great dementia care. Clutter needs to be eliminated as it contributes to confusion. A kitchen needs to be used for preparing and eating meals. Having a TV running at all times in a kitchen reduces the environmental cues, that are telling the confused person, where he is. Creating a happy environment involves using music, activities, creating enjoyable smells, like the smell of cookies baking.
  4. Social and spiritual needs – whether this means continuing in church attendance, or participating in social groups, these connections remain important.  When the elder can no longer play that card game they won at for years, continuing the activity, while changing the level of the game is what is important. Getting together with familiar people, playing a game, laughing together, watching a movie together, these are important parts of dementia care.
  5. Physical – involves really knowing the person physically. What are the physical problems the person is challenged with other than dementia? Does this person have a vision or hearing deficit? Also good dementia care means knowing when the confused person has had a physical change in condition, when they cannot tell you. Physical also literally means engaging in physical activity to keep the body strong.

Many of these areas crossover to other areas. The person with a hearing deficit, will have an added burden of communication, increasing their confusion. The person who may be diabetic, will no longer be able to understand, how unsafe it is to not follow their diet restrictions.

To provide over all wellness, only 5 areas of dementia care turns, into a very big job.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

TEMPORARY DEMENTIA – REVERSIBLE DEMENTIA REALLY?

Really, there are some conditions that cause temporary dementia and are reversible. While there are many diseases or physical conditions that can cause dementia, some are reversible. Seeking medical assistance as soon as possible may make the difference in preventing any permanent brain damage.

Delirium often times resembles dementia so much so, that someone who knows the elder is very necessary to give a history, of the recent state of confusion. Dementia from a disease process develops slowly over time. However delirium may develop within hours, in the elderly. Knowing what is normal for the elder and the speed at which he became confused, is a significant part of the diagnosis. Many things can cause delirium, frequently in the elderly it is an infection. As well as the elder who becomes confused every time they are in the hospital, due to anesthesia.

Medications , when looking for the cause of sudden confusion, referencing the list of medications that can cause delirium is a good place to start. As the liver and kidneys age they are less able to remove medications from the body and the elder gets a build up of toxins. Added to this may be declining health and the number of medications our elders are now taking, can set the elder up for developing delirium, and a diagnosis of dementia.

Brain Tumor, the first symptom of slow growing brain tumors in the elderly, very much resembles dementia. Brain tumors are know to cause changes in cognition and even personality changes.

Depression, some people with depression may complain of forgetfulness, they looks sad or worried, have trouble concentrating, and look depressed. The important thing to notice is was the person depressed and then became confused? Or was the person experiencing mental decline, and that is what caused the depression. If in fact the depression came first, the symptoms that followed can be reversed when the depression is addressed.

Vitamin B12 deficiency, or pernicious anemia will cause confusion, slowness, irritability and the person appears to have lost their get up and go. Even though vitamin B12 is plentiful in the American diet, this deficiency develops because the elder can no longer absorb the vitamin and requires injections.

Water on the brain, hydrocephalus, an excess of spinal fluid around the brain. This can be caused by a head trauma, but usually begin without an obvious cause in the elderly. The elder literally slows down, walking as if their feet are stuck to the floor. They will lose bladder control as well as become confused. If the condition is caught early and a shunt is put in place to drain the fluid, the person can return to previous level of function.

As always, early identification of changes as well as quick intervention is the answer to mental recovery.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing