Q: Dear Ms Posvar, my gramps has been living in my home for over 20 years and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. He often gets upset and tells us he wants to “go home.” I am just not sure how to deal with this as he will ask for Grams too and she passed in 2013. I miss her terribly. They both lived with me and she did most of the care with Gramps. My parents are abroad so this leaves myself and my three siblings. We all help each other with Gramps, and we just do not know what to say to him when he asks all the time. Would you please give us a tip?
A: I am sorry about your Grams.
Understand that all your efforts are good and what works today may not work tomorrow. Continue with creativity. The home he is referring to is probably one he grew up in, or one that has a stronger memory of feeling safe and comfortable. Try saying to him, “You must really like home” or “what do you like or miss about home? What do you miss about Grams?” Listen for the emotion behind the statements or questions and then address it. Try not to reason or explain the reality of the situation. It will either make him sad or angry. This will lead to anxiety in either situation. Another tip would be to agree with him and then distract him. You could say “ That’s a good idea, do you want to go after I finish cleaning?” Do not get upset if it does not work the first time as distraction takes skill and practice. Remain calm. After you agree lead him to something that will take his mind off going home. You could say something like, “OK, let’s get your hat” or something he needs to leave the house with and while along the way you could say, “Let’s have a cup of tea first” or something to drink that he likes. Then engage him in another routine activity. Remember that you are the key to the quality of his life and you are doing a great job.
Q: Dear Nurse Posvar, my dad met with my husband, myself and siblings last month and told us that the doctor says my mum has dementia. We all know that it is related to memory, but we really do not know what this really means. My mum seems fine for the most part. My mum is only 56! My dad says the doctor has not given him much information on what to expect. Is there something we can do to fix it? What about these medications for dementia? What can help her?
A: Dementia is a condition categorized by a group of symptoms and the most common of these groups are not reversible, meaning no cure. It appears that this diagnosis is quite early and it was based on a process of elimination is what I am guessing.
Unless the doctor specializes or has a lot of patients with the condition, they really do not have a clue on how to guide you on what to expect. There is not enough recourses for them to direct you. Alzheimer’s and dementia awareness is still making its round to help guide families and the public health systems around the world. Medication can slow down the symptoms so that one may have a longer quality of life but it does not slow down the process of the disease itself. Medication may work in about half the patients and only up to 2 to 3 years at best. Behaviour medication continues to be used but those too, have side effects.
There is treatment for dementia and it supports both the person with dementia and the family carers. The treatment is learning more about the disease and the carer learning how to communicate differently so that both can live the journey as stress free and comfortable as possible. It is not easy but the family and friends must be willing to make changes in their own behaviour to make it work.
www.angelsofthewestindies.com; http://internationalcaregiversassociation.com/dementia-care-training.shtml; www.alz.org; http://www.alz.co.uk/; facebook support with many dementia groups. Some of these organizations have free training. If you do not have a computer, ask a friend. There is no reason not to learn more. It will help you and your family. Also look for workshops and support groups in St. Lucia. We are working to bring awareness to St. Lucia.
To my children, never make fun of having to help me with computer stuff. I taught you how to use a spoon. Sue Fitzmaurice
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