DEMENTIA patient “wants to go home” after living in own home for 30 years
Q: Good Afternoon Ms.Posvar, I have recently moved back to St. Lucia to help care for my sister who has Alzheimer’s. I must admit I do not know much about it. My sister must have had this for many years now but her condition has worsened over the last two years. She simply does not recognize me and I am having trouble getting her to do anything. I find myself crying a lot seeing her this way. Do you know how I can help her?
A: I can sure give you some general tips to help you connect with her. First, try to learn as much as you can about the disease. Find out if it is Alzheimer’s she has or another type of dementia as this will help you understand and recognize some of her symptoms. Second, reflect on her history when you were growing up together and know what she was like in the times you were apart. Your best connections with her will be through emotions. Make them good feelings. When you are communicating with her make sure you have her attention. Smile a lot around her and try not to treat her like a child as she will not like it, and she is not a child.
I often see people talk about their loved one as if they were not there and the excuse is that the person with dementia does not understand what we are saying so what is the harm. The challenge with that concept is there is no regard to the person as a person. There are moments of clarity that are not predictable and the person with dementia often understands language through other means like body and tones. So treating the person with respect as a person will help break down barriers. Keep your speech slower. Allow your sister to do as much as she can on her own even if it is not perfect. Learn to let some things go if it is not harmful. And if you are tense, she will feel your fear, anxiety, sadness or anger therefore she will not positively respond to you. Learn to step back and evaluate yourself and then try a different approach. And remember to care for yourself. Do not neglect your own health.
Q: Dear Nurse Posvar, my daddy has dementia and my brother and I care for him. We also have hired help with him every day while my brother and I are at work. After the carer leaves my daddy always wants to leave the house. I don’t know where he wants to go. He says he wants to go home. His home has been in same place for 30 years. Sometimes it is so bad he is banging on the window and says he is in prison. I am so tired of this behaviour. Is there something I can do to help him?
A: A couple of tips may help your dad. Your dad may be sundowning when the hired help leaves. Have the carer engage your dad in an activity that you can continue with him when you arrive. Have the carer quietly depart from an exit that he cannot see her leave.
I am sure your dad has worked most of his life and when everyone leaves to go home, he needs to go home as well. He may not recognize his home as he may be thinking of a childhood home or he simply does not recognize his surroundings because of the off balance of time zones and the body. Our bodies have an internal clock that is in alignment with the sun. As the sun goes down that is a shift change. Our bodies can feel it and people with dementia are more in tune with it. They don’t understand the feeling and they are not able to tell us they don’t feel right and home is comfort. Your dad could be thinking of a home that he felt safe in. In any case, if he is persistent that he wants to go home, take him out of the house on a drive, a bus ride or a walk around the block. Reassuring him when he is unsettled is best as opposed to re-orienting him to reality. Feel his reality.
Quote: There is no substitute for the love of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver – Alzheimer’s reading room
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