Posts Tagged ‘Caregiver’

The Joys of Visiting People With Alzheimer’s

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

After retiring last Spring I’d decided to volunteer to visit a few people at a local memory care facility. I got the idea from my dogs’ veterinarian, Ann McHugh, DVM, who volunteers to visit people in a hospice care facility.

Ann told me it was rewarding, and I’d heard the same thing from other friends and acquaintances. I never believed them. I could understand how the residents could benefit from my visits but not that I would benefit even more.

So it was a surprise to learn it’s true. No matter what mood I’m in when I arrive I always feel better when I leave. I truly do receive so much more than I give.

Carolyn, my first lady to see, was sitting in the lobby with three other residents. I went up to her, introduced myself, and told her I was there to visit her.

“Me?” she asked, smiling and sounding pleasantly surprised.

“Yes, you,” I answered promptly.

She was delighted to have a visitor even if she had no earthly idea who I was or why I was there to see her. We went to her room, where I gave her a small gift.

She said, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you.”

To help her save face I pointed out that she had some cookies on her table.

“Sure,” she said, laughing. “Take as many as you want.”

Despite her shaky memory, Carolyn’s social skills were so good you would have thought she was volunteering to visit me! And those cookies were some of the best I ever had.

Another one of my favorite ladies is Ruth. She once told me, “You’re the only person around here I can have an intelligent conversation with.”

She and I always have great visits filled with laughter. Ruth has an outstanding sense of humor that Alzheimer’s hasn’t robbed her of. I hope it never will. When it’s time for me to leave we’re both sorry.

Every week I look forward to Thursday’s visits, wondering what my ladies are going to say or do next.

 

 

Man With Alzheimer’s Shows That Chivalry Isn’t Dead

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Ed, my beloved life partner of 30 years, had been charming and chivalrous for as long as I had known him. One might have expected these qualities to disappear once he developed Alzheimer’s, but the opposite occurred. He became even more charismatic than before.

I was deeply touched one day when out of the blue he announced, “Since I became in such high admiration of you, other beauties didn’t exist.”

I was amazed that this man living with dementia could still express love so poetically.

But although I was his main “lady,” he flirted with others. Whenever any staff woman was preparing to leave his room he would kiss her hand and tell her how beautiful she was. You can imagine how happy they were if they had to go to his room for something or other! Many of them thanked me repeatedly for bringing him there.

And he kissed the hands of his lady visitors. Furthermore, he did the same when he was out and about in the Center. He consistently kissed the cook’s hand until one day she asked, “Where were you when I was looking for a husband?”

I discovered the clearest sign of his chivalry, however, one evening when I was checking out at the front desk. Betty, the receptionist on duty, said, “I’ll bet that Edward was a real lady’s man in his day. Every time he comes up here he tells me `how beautiful I am. And that he really means it from his heart. That it’s not just words from his lips.”

One day when I went to visit, the cleaning lady was there silently mopping his floor. When he saw me he turned to her and said, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

The next day he passed away.

Yes. Ed was a true gentleman and lady’s man to the very end.

 

 

The Profound Innate Joy in Human Life – Alzheimer’s or Not

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

After a pleasant drive to the Alois Center on a crisp fall day, I arrived and walked down the hall to Ed’s room, wondering what type of mood he was in that day.

When he first saw me his eyes lit up and he said “Oh, it’s you! Oh, I am so happy to see you! You are an angel! I am overwhelmed to see you! Oh, I am overwhelmed!”

He took my hand and kissed it several times, continuing to say he was overwhelmed and didn’t have words to say how happy he was to see me.  His eyes were shining, his face was full of joy, and he held my hand, kissing it again from time to time. That was so typical of Ed – ever the quintessential European gentleman.

He was so happy that he was near tears. Now I don’t have words to describe how his joy and his being near tears both at the same time combined to make a unique emotional experience for me. He was so happy that he almost cried.   While we were sitting on the sofa I picked up The Little Yellow One, one of his beloved stuffed animals, and handed it to him. He reacted joyfully and as though he had never seen it before.

“Oh, the little one. I love him so much!” (He referred to all of his stuffed animals as ‘him.’)

His eyes lit up again and he petted the little animal with loving strokes and then kissed it several times on the top of the head with an affectionate expression on his face.   His extreme joy to see me and his intense love for the little stuffed animal affected me to my core and I realized that some people with Alzheimer’s have the innate capacity to experience joy that can’t be put into words by a normal writer like me.

I was so happy to see Ed in that wonderful state of being, and I felt warm inside all the way home.   If only we all could feel such joy from a simple visit from a friend.

Does anyone else have stories to share about joy with your loved one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Excellent Resource for You – The Alzheimer’s Association Website

Monday, August 25th, 2014

The Alzheimer’s Association website is an excellent resource for caregivers. To access the caregiver resources, click on “Life with Alzheimer’s” at the top of the page and then click on “Caregiver Center.” There you’ll find several major links. To get an idea of the breadth and depth of information provided, click on each one of these and take a look at the sub-links and their sub-links.

For example, “Daily Care” has sections on Behaviors, Communication, Activities, Respite Care, Memory Loss, Personal Care and Medical Care. Click on these titles to see what is included in each. Under Personal Care you’ll find information and advice about issues such as Incontinence, Bathing, Dressing, Grooming, and Dental Care, just to name a few.

Under “Get Support” you’ll find sub-sections on Finding Your Local Chapter, Message Boards, Support Groups, Your Health, and Care Training. There are Message Boards for Caregivers, Spouses’ or Partners’ Caregivers and Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias. The section on Support Groups includes information on how to find one locally. There are also online Support Groups operated by the Association.

If you click on “Planning for the Future” you’ll see topics such as Legal Matters, Care Options, Pay for Care, Safety, Dementia and Driving, as well as detailed explanations of Medicare, Medicare Part D, Medicaid, Insurance, and other related issues.

The section for “Kids and Teens” is especially helpful for families having young people affected by the Alzheimer’s disease of a grandparent or other close elderly person. It includes introductory information, videos, an explanation of how Alzheimer’s affects the brain, and stories for different age groups.

There is also an impressive list of 101 activities kids and teens can do with a person who has Alzheimer’s. In addition, there are resources for parents, including advice on how to talk to children and teens about Alzheimer’s disease. Finally there is a link to purchase Maria Shriver’s book, “What’s Happening to Grandpa?”

The Community Resource Finder section can help you find local resources, including your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, various types of facilities, geriatric care managers, day care programs, elder law attorneys, home care professionals, support groups, hospices and transportation.

The Other Side of the Coin: When Lack of Inhibition Is a Wondrous Thing

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Lack of inhibition is a trait of many people living with Alzheimer’s. It can lead to unwanted behaviors, as I discussed in my previous article on the topic. However, as with many things to do with Alzheimer’s, there is the other side of the coin. In my personal experience, lack of inhibition can be just as positive and beautiful as it can be negative.

Here are some wonderful examples of lack of inhibition from Ed.

Although before developing dementia Ed was rather reserved when it came to expressing physical affection, when he had dementia, he changed. For example he usually held the hands of his visitors – even the men – often all the way through their visit.

He also displayed physical affection to other residents – also including the men. One day a few weeks after Ed moved to the Center, I arrived to find him sitting on the sofa beside a resident named John. I was surprised to notice they were holding hands.

When I entered the room they smiled broadly and took turns telling me they were best friends and they moreover, they had been best friends for years. It was very touching.

Another example occurred one day when I was visiting and all of a sudden Angel, who I thought was the most beautiful aide in the entire place, came in just to ask him if he needed anything.

He said he didn’t but patted the empty space next to him on the sofa, inviting her to sit down. She did and the three of us engaged in pleasant conversation. After a while, Ed reached up and began to gently stroke her golden hair. She smiled and put her arm around his shoulder. It was a lovely and natural gesture that warmed my heart.

Does anyone else have any positive stories about their loved one’s lack of inhibition?

 

When Lack of Inhibition Leads to Negative Behaviors

Monday, August 11th, 2014

According to an article published on Caring.com, “as dementia slowly robs self-awareness, the person becomes less inhibited, losing both the memory of how he or she once behaved as well as a sense of social norms. It’s as if an internal filter on what’s polite behavior or not is turned off.”

What Happens: Loss of inhibition is not uncommon in people living with dementia. Some of the classic resulting behaviors, listed on an article entitled, “Symptom Guide,” published on the Dementia Guide website, are: Makes comments that are mean or hurtful, Curses and uses foul language, Makes sexually suggestive comments or advances, Lacks modesty (e.g., changes in front of people, urinates in public), Tells jokes that are offensive.

What to Do About It: The Caring.com article lists several suggestions as to what you can do about negative behaviors resulting from a reduction in inhibition. These include, among others:

  • Know that some behaviors aren’t what they look like. People with dementia who are losing language skills often express themselves with actions. For example, someone who unzips his pants may need to use the restroom. A person who disrobes may be hot. Someone who hurls a stream of foul language may feel stressed.
  • Notice what else is going on when a behavior occurs; something about the environment may be triggering a reaction in the form of this inappropriate behavior. Pay attention to the noise level, who’s present, the time of day, whether the person has eaten or used the bathroom. Jot down this information if an odd behavior happens more than once.
  • Ignore these behaviors where possible. Reacting to them — especially with outrage or disapproval — may only egg on or upset the person.
  • React with calm reassurance. The person may be acting out because he or she feels uncomfortable, insecure, or overwhelmed by noise (such as in a public place).

People With Alzheimer’s May Yearn to Be Touched

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Research has consistently shown that touch can be beneficial to people living with Alzheimer’s. For example, scientists at UCLA studied the physiologic effect of touch. They concluded that touch can dampen symptoms of the disease. Specifically, they found that it decreases stress, increases the relaxation response and decreases anxiety.

An article by D. L. Wood and M. Diamond, published in the journal, Biological Research Nursing, discusses a study in which subjects with Alzheimer’s received treatment with therapeutic touch for five to seven minutes twice a day for three days. There was a significant decrease in overall agitated behavior and in two specific behaviors – vocalization and pacing or walking – during treatment and 11 days of a post-treatment period.

Another article, by Rand L. Griffin and Evelyn Vitro, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, presented results of an observational study conducted at the Alzheimer’s Resource Center of Connecticut.

The study found that “following treatments of therapeutic touch, patients demonstrated visible signs of well-being and relaxation – often leading to sleep. Staff also found therapeutic touch a way to positively forge emotional connections with patients who are verbally uncommunicative and who suffer from varying degrees of dementia.”

So if you aren’t regularly expressing affection by touching your loved one with Alzheimer’s, try it the next time you are with him or her. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response you get.

 

 

 

Could Your Family Benefit From Family Therapy?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Conflicts can arise when a family member has Alzheimer’s. Carole Larkin, a geriatric care manager in the Dallas area, says that 30% of her family clients experience conflict. And she says that is doubled for blended families. Most conflict centers around what type of care should be provided to the person with Alzheimer’s. Other arguments typically involve money and facility placement.

According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, family therapy is “a type of psychological counseling done to help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.”

The Mayo Clinic article states, “Family therapy can be useful in any family situation that causes stress, grief, anger or conflict.” Having a family member with Alzheimer’s usually causes all of those.

The article continues, “It can help you and your family members understand one another better and bring you closer together. Family therapy sessions can teach you skills to deepen family connections and get through stressful times, even after you’re done going to therapy sessions.”

Conflict is to be expected even in the best of families, and this can increase if one member has a serious disease, such as Alzheimer’s, that requires extensive caregiving.

So how do you know if professional counseling could be needed for your family? I would suggest you consider it if at least one family member’s mental health and daily functioning are being seriously affected by the strife.

Another sign – and an important one – that outside help is needed would be if the constant bickering is negatively impacting the quality of care being provided to the person with Alzheimer’s.

What If Some Family Members Refuse to Participate? Don’t be surprised if some family members flat out refuse to take part. And don’t be surprised if it’s the one(s) considered by others to be the source of much of the conflict.

You might try having their primary care provider, clergy person, or lawyer speak to them about it. Sometimes people pay more attention to someone outside the family.

If they still refuse, the other family members can go ahead without them. The therapy may still be helpful to the ones who do go, and it may help them better cope with the one who won’t attend the sessions.

Could a Therapist Help You? When to Consider Getting Professional Help

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Some Indications You Might Benefit From Seeing a Therapist: There are several situations in which people can benefit from therapy. Two important ones for Alzheimer’s caregivers are:  When you feel overwhelmed by your stress or  when you are seriously depressed.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Stress: The Alzheimer’s Association lists the following as symptoms of caregiver stress:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Social withdrawal
  4. Anxiety
  5. Depression
  6. Exhaustion
  7. Sleeplessness
  8. Irritability
  9. Lack of concentration
  10. Health problems

Depression: Some of the symptoms of depression are the same as those for stress. The Alzheimer’s Association lists the following symptoms of depression:

  1. Becoming easily agitated or frustrated
  2. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  3. Feelings of hopelessness
  4. Thought of death, dying or suicide
  5. Disturbed sleep
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  8. Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  9. Changes in appetite or weight
  10. Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain.

Everyone knows that Alzheimer’s caregiving is almost always stressful and depressing. Virtually EVERY caregiver has more than one of the above symptoms. So how do you know if you could benefit from professional help? I would suggest you consider it whenever you have one or more of the above symptoms, they are significantly interfering with your daily life, and nothing else has helped (such as a support group, group therapy, respite care, pastoral counseling, etc.)

Some Examples of Specific Ways a Therapist Can Help You: Therapists can help people in many ways. Three important ones for Alzheimer’s caregivers are:

  1. Help you overcome your denial and come to terms with your situation
  2. Help you manage your depression better (if you are depressed)
  3. Help you improve your stress management techniques

 

How You Can Help Someone Who Is an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Monday, July 21st, 2014

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15 million people are serving as caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s, providing over 1.7 billion hours of unpaid care every year. Carrying out their duties has a negative effect on their physical and mental health.

With so many people being Alzheimer’s caregivers, chances are good that you know one – either a friend, relative or neighbor. And chances are that you’d like to help, but simply don’t know how.

If you really want to be of service, instead of just saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” you may need to figure it out yourself and volunteer for a specific task(s).

Here are but a few things you can select from:

  1. Help clean the house
  2. Take over extras from a meal you’ve cooked for your family
  3. Do the laundry
  4. Do the grocery shopping
  5. Pick up medicines from the pharmacy
  6. Volunteer to run other specific errands
  7. Mow the lawn and/or do other yard work (assuming the person doesn’t use a lawn service)
  8. Visit and just let the person talk about feelings
  9. Drive the person with Alzheimer’s to their daycare center (if they’re going to daycare)
  10. Take the person with Alzheimer’s to the doctor
  11. Take the person with Alzheimer’s out for a drive
  12. Look after the person with Alzheimer’s in your home for a few hours

Whatever you select, try to be specific and try to volunteer to do it on an ongoing basis. Make sure you will be able to continue your help before you make a commitment.