Tag Archive | dementia

Choose Your Battles – Effects of Dementia on the Family

MP900442315 By Cindy Sproles
Entering the “golden years” of life should be a joyful and exciting time. For most, the years when retirement becomes a reality and life grows less stressful, is a wonderful time. If aging parents have planned well, their homes are paid for, expenses are overall less, and this season of life, by all due rights, should be a time to relax and enjoy. But what happens when the hopes and dreams of a well-planned retirement shifts?

According to the Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention, there over “5 million individuals with age-related dementias.” One in six women, and one in ten men over the age of 55 will be affected by some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Thanks to cutting edge research, new methods of treatment, including medications, cognitive skills tasks, and physical activity are being developed to help manage dementia.

In an article from Helpguide.org, dementia includes a various assortment of symptoms from memory loss, personality changes, to impaired intellectual functions. Along with the decrease in memory, impaired judgment, faulty reasoning, inappropriate behaviors, loss of communication skills, and disorientation accompany the disease. All of these symptoms mean frustration for the affected parent and the family members.

It is still a mystery as to why our affected aging parents become obstinate to those they love the most, but the key to dealing with any form of dementia is learning to pick your battles. Frequently, well-meaning family members find themselves continually correcting facts with  their seniors who deal with memory loss. For example, a senior may say, “Isn’t that yellow couch pillow beautiful?” The pillow is actually blue.  There’s no need to correct the loved one, when the color of the pillow really doesn’t matter. The instinct to help the loved one remember the color blue comes with good intentions. However, correcting a senior over something this simple is frustrating and leads to agitation.

It’s important to understand, depending on the severity of the dementia, your aging parent is aware their memory is not serving them efficiently. They grow frustrated and irritable when they cannot control the thoughts they once managed successfully.  There comes a time when  therapeutic fiblets  are considered not only appropriate, but necessary. Therapeutic fiblets are those necessary lies that allow affected seniors to maintain a high quality of life over a life of anger, frustration, and feelings of disrespect. Our nature pushes us to tell only the truth to our aging seniors. Never lie to your elders. But when the world of reality for your aging parent is thirty years prior and not today, forcing current facts on them sends them into a state of chaos.  Should your parent think they are living with their spouse, who in reality passed away twenty years earlier, is forced into current reality, they are put at risk. One of two things can happen: 1) they will accept the news and begin the mourning process over  2) the parent will adamantly deny the truth. Therapeutic fiblets become a necessary fact in dealing with dementia.

Diagnosis for dementia and Alzheimer’s can be a slow process especially in the early, milder phases.  Memory slips are easily hidden or brushed to the side, but as the disease progresses and loved ones drift forward and back in time, what becomes most important is their quality of life. It is vital family members understand dementia is a progression. Though simple word games, and reading are good ways to help exercise and maintain the brain, they are not fixes. Dementia does not improve, rather it only leads to eventual decline. Learning to choose the important battles are important.  Providing a stress free environment becomes the primary goal so patients are relaxed and comfortable. Debating the day of the week or the color of a couch become less important and allowing a good quality of life takes the lead.

As loved ones slip deeper into themselves, recognition fades, names seem to go to the wayside, but the love that is felt by a caring family never leaves. Dementia is difficult at best, but holding tight to the joys of that wonderful parent are precious.

*Develop good habits and routines early on, i.e. putting the keys in the same bowl by the door every time, using post-it notes for reminders, securing a personal emergency response button.
*Simplify choices by paring down clothing in closets or lessening dishes and kitchen utensils. Rid the home of clutter. The fewer decisions that must be made for your loved one, the better.
*Have an on-the-road driving evaluation made to assure operating a vehicle is still a good choice.
*Chat with family and friends. This keeps the mind alert. Social interaction is vital to help maintain memory skills.
*Emphasize the joy in life.

Visit https://www.alz.org/ (Alzheimer’s Association) for additional information on caring for family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Just a Nibble – Nutrition and the Elderly

A decline in appetite and nutrition is a serious problem especially when seen in the elderly. Regardless the adage “they’ll wither and die” seniors do not have to wither before they die.  Age doesn’t matter. As humans we require good nutrition to function. The body still needs energy and without the energy obtained from food, malnutrition happens.

There are a number of reasons seniors eat less and when families or caregivers see these signs, it’s important they address them immediately.

        • Dental Issues–  Ill-fitting dentures make gums tender and sore. A quick trip to the dentist for regular visits (especially to have dentures and partials checked) is important. Sores, blisters and even serious infection can occur in the mouth and though a parent may have dentures, dental hygiene is still important for healthy gums and bad breath.
        • Loneliness and depression – Depression and loneliness are major contributors in malnutrition for seniors. Their desire to live slips away and “the nothing left to live for” syndrome creeps in. A caregiver or regular visits and phone calls help with this issue. It’s not fun to eat alone and  adding calls or visits at mealtime boots moral and the sense of being needed or loved. If depression seems evident, contact a physician for additional help and care.
        • Bodily functions slow – As the body ages, the stomach empties slower, digests slower and the senses of taste and smell lessen. The body doesn’t crave to be fed but it still needs to be fed. Adding bright colored foods and “stick to your ribs” meals, helps. Bright colored fruit and steamed vegetables (steamed to a soft chew) are more enticing. Their consistency is softer and the availability is much easier for snacking. Baked sweet potatoes, oatmeal with a spoon of powdered milk added, thickens to an easier consistency to aid the swallow reflex. Adding cinnamon, thyme, and other flavorful and aroma filled spices to warm cereals and hot teas aid in stimulating hunger.
        • Dementia – Varied types of dementia lead seniors to simply forget how to prepare foods or even how to or when to eat. As dementia progresses foods must be pureed to a consistency that can be sipped through a straw or from a spoon. Careful monitoring is required at this stage as the body will forget how to swallow and choking is a hazard.
        • Preparing meals is too cumbersome – Seniors are more apt to skip meals when they feel cooking is too much for one person.  Adding easy to cook meals is a great answer. Though frozen meals are not high on the nutrition list, something is better than nothing. So add easy one-step meals to the freezer and look for meals which offer more vegetables and higher proteins. Rather than purchasing the single serve meals, purchase the middle size (2-3 serving size) this will allow for left overs that can be reheated for another meal. Prepare casseroles that can be broken into single or double size meals and frozen. Small fresh servings of salad, coleslaw and cut-up vegetables can be placed in zip-loc bags for easy access.
        • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – A great investment for aging parents  – a water cooler. Companies will deliver and change the water bottles to prevent seniors from lifting and tugging. Coolers are available with hot and cold water making it possible for hot soup mixes, coffees and even some one-step meals to be prepared by simply adding hot water. Keep cups or plastic glasses in the places seniors frequent most. If it is there, they will usually sip.

Yes, loss of appetite is a sign of aging. But it is not the norm. When seniors skip meals or weight loss occurs, seek the guidance of a physician and a nutritionist. Remember, eating is essential to good health…regardless of the age.

Be and “Elder” Elf


By Cindy Sproles

The holidays have arrived. Christmas trees, decorations, parties, a flurry of friends and family, keep us filled with joy and fun. However, the fun does not always resonate with our seniors. There are a number of things that “put a damper” on such a festive season. It’s important to become sensitive to those things that may trigger hardship or sadness for our elders.

Despite the stumbling blocks the holidays bring, we challenge you to put on an elf hat and become an “Elder” Elf. What does an Elder Elf do? It’s simple. Make visits, calls, visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Make yourself available to those seniors who may be lonely or forgotten for the holidays.

Be aware of the following things and take action:

*Loneliness is a major source of depression – The holidays spur times of deep reflection for everyone. Fond memories of loved ones past swirl in our minds as we pull out the Christmas decorations. For aging parents, the loss of a spouse or even children, surface and the longing for times past rise. Be mindful of those elders who have lost their spouse. Invite them to spend time with you, call, visit, include them in your holiday activities.

*Take note of the things that cause stress – For some aging parents, the festive hoopla is confusing, i.e. Alzheimer’s patients, those with dementia. Festivities sometimes cause confusion and stress. Simply be mindful of those needs and adjust visits and interaction to fit their needs.

*Give seniors permission to NOT purchase Christmas gifts – It sounds a little harsh, but the truth is, many seniors will overspend their already slim budget, in order to purchase gifts for grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those gifts can sometimes number in the 50’s depending on the number of children. Be sensitive to the small retirement budget of elder parents and give them permission to stop the Christmas spending. Initiate a “name drawing” or a dirty Santa Christmas where only one gift is purchased rather than buying for every family member. It’s a hard habit to break but one that will relieve enormous stress from your aging parents.

*Note holiday safety – Scams will be on the rise, opportunity for robberies and even identity theft – Take the necessary precautions to firm up security for your aging parents. Be sure deadbolts are in place, windows and less used doors are locked. Encourage seniors to never give their social security or bank information to anyone over the phone. Place charge cards and debit cards in a secure location. Keep an eye on bills and if your aging parent has difficulty getting to the street for their mail, check with the Postal Service about adding a mailbox at the door of a parent’s resident. Safety is always first.

One other suggestion. If your aging parents have since passed, adopt a senior at a nursing home or hospital. Look in your church at seniors who may be alone and make them part of your Christmas season. Assisted living and nursing home facilities maintain a list of those who have no family. Make Christmas stockings by gathering items such as toothpaste, skid-free socks, lap blankets, short devotional books, fragrance free sensitive skin lotions, close-heeled house shoes, soft cookies to deliver to nursing homes. Something so small can make such a wonderful difference.

This Christmas, be an Elder Elf. It’s our job to care for our aging parents and friends. Put on the elf ears and become a senior’s special elf.

Life is Normal

When families become caregivers life is anything but normal. Daily routines which once flowed with great ease suddenly become chaotic. Schedules are wrecked and life becomes a true balancing act—balancing being the key word.

Taking on the role of caregiver is a great responsibility for those who are up to the challenge and it’s important that the remaining family members become aware of the stress and work involved. Not only does the designated caregiver work to maintain normalcy for their immediate family but they’re in charge of juggling the schedules for those they are caring for.

Changes in routine are difficult enough for our families, but to our parents it means more than difficulty – it means confusion and disorientation. So how do we help manage our elder’s lives and keep them on track? Follow these steps to make the transition from independence to dependence as smooth as possible.

Maintain a time schedule—remember that our elderly are accustomed to a strict routine. After years of retirement, they’ve managed to set their internal clocks to alarm the same time each morning. Keep in mind, especially if your parent deals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, that repetitive routine is the balance for these individuals. If keeping the morning wake-up schedule is impossible, then ease the change in by adding 5-10 minutes to their morning. For instance, a caregiver might say, “Mother, you wake up at 6 a.m. I’ll be here at 6:10 a.m.” Then show up on time. Small fragments of time are easier to manage change for our elderly. So add slowly.

Be responsible and call—If you can’t make a pre-designated time, be responsible. Call. Let loved ones know that you are running late. Give them a time frame and then stick to it. If the schedule continues to change continue to call. Is it convenient? No. But calling will save both the caregiver and the parent frustration and confusion. Again, maintaining the fine line of balance is vital.

Be joyful—even when you don’t feel like it. Self-esteem for our aging parents is fragile at best. It’s enough for a parent to give up their independence but when they must suffer the guilt of being an inconvenience, depression and hurt build to enormous levels. Elders will not ask for basic needs when they feel as though they are a problem and many times they will do without vital things to their health, such medications.

As difficult as it is to maintain normalcy. Make the effort. It requires dedication and effort but mostly it requires love.

Anger and Dementia: Both Sides of the Coin

Time can be the enemy

By Cindy Sproles

The clock of dementia holds a pendulum that swings both directions. Not only does the backlash affect the patient but it affects the family as well. An otherwise docile adult may become violent at the simplest change. Words become their arrows of hurt and anger burns in each one that pierces the heart.

 For families, the difficulty comes in understanding why a loved one would be so brutal especially when family members are making every effort to please the patient. The first step in grasping hold of incoming flares of anger is accepting the lash outs are not personal. It’s the disease speaking and acting, not the person we love.

 While patients may experience a vast array of behavioral changes from wandering, hallucinations, insomnia, and even aggression—their behaviors can be worsened by their environment and their own inability to deal with stress and frustration. Imagine yourself in the patient’s position, unable to articulate needs, handle normally simple tasks or even remember their next sentence.  Finding the trigger for sudden outbursts takes time but once family members hone in on the cause, they are able to take steps to avoid or alleviate “hot” spots.

Though family members cannot always control their loved one they can, many times, control the situation and environment that trigger outbursts. By locating the agitations or points of disorientation in their loved one, family members can help manage a comforting and caring place for their parent. Lessening loud noises, dim lighting and even certain  television programs, family members can ease some of the outside environmental triggers and reduce sudden stresses.

Remaining claim as a family member or caregiver is important. This is where the pendulum swings in the other direction. Not only do patients experience anger but family members or extended caregivers suffer this same frustration.  Continued repetitive questions from patients, frustration in trying to understand a need or repeated scares from wandering parents raise the stress levels to a new high for family members.

According to medical professionals and in-home caregiver companies, families, on average, have one adult child who maintains the bulk of parental care. The burden, even when done with great love, is taxing. Family caregivers normally have their own personal family to care for as well and by adding the additional weight of parental care, it isn’t long before anger and resentment rises.

So, how do families manage this dilemma? First and foremost, they remind themselves daily, this is a disease not a personal attack. Lash outs are not a sign parents do not love or care for their families. Secondly, provide a weekly break for the family caregiver away from the patient. Everyone needs time to rest and the job of caregiver is a demanding job.  Hire professional caregivers to assist in the care of your loved one. Companies such as Comfort Keepers can provide that needed respite for family caregivers.

Communication is imperative—continued dialogue with siblings, physicians and therapists helps manage the onset of anger.

As the holidays approach, remember the mixed emotions that trail in the wake. The holidays, though overall a joyful time, also drudge up past losses of spouses or children as well the hustle of shopping, change and unexpected visitors. Prepare your loved one, maintain as normal an environment as possible and remember, roll with the flow.

The disease takes its toll. Cling to the joyful memories of parents when care was easy and take time away from the situation to let emotions ease.

Anger is part of the disease but dealing with it in an effective and loving way is possible. Seek further information on anger and dementia for both parents and families from the Alzheimer’s Association at http://www.alzfdn.org .