How many times have we said, “Honey where did I put my keys? I can’t find them anywhere.” Many times we laugh it off and think, I must be getting old, my memory is getting bad. Getting old and bad memory do not necessarily go together. However, if you notice that this is happening more frequently then it may be a sign of something more serious.
Dementia is a disease process that typically affects the older adult. There are many types of dementia, over 150 of them, with the most common being Alzheimer type. Other common types are vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia. One of the primary features of dementia is short term memory loss. Other characteristics include hallucinations, delusions, emotional outbursts, socially inappropriate behaviour and difficulty with motor activities such as walking, dressing, and eating (as the disease progresses).
Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia; it is considered a terminal illness. Medications can be given to help control some symptoms of the disease but these will not eliminate all the symptoms. There are also behaviour management techniques that can be used to assist in caring for the person with dementia. One challenge many caregivers face due to the disease process is the person with dementia may be resistive to care or refuse it. As the caregiver, you will learn to adapt and change your routine to suit the needs of the person with dementia.
But what happens when they get sick and need to be admitted to the hospital? You know that a change in environment is very difficult for them. Once there, their dementia suddenly seems to be much worse, their behaviour is less manageable and they are having more emotional outbursts. And they are not able to wander freely. What can you do to help?
Most importantly you know your loved one best, so let the staff at the hospital know their routine. Recognize that staff may not be able to follow it exactly but they will try very hard. Tell the staff about your loved one: their likes and dislikes, their life story, who they were before dementia took away their ability to tell the story themselves. Bring in familiar objects: a favourite blanket, music that they enjoyed, pictures of family, snacks they would like.
Slip out quietly
Be prepared to visit as much as possible. Most times the person with dementia will respond better to family than to staff. When you are visiting, spend time doing activities with your loved one that they enjoy. When it is time to leave do not make a big deal of it. Sometimes it is better to not even say goodbye but simply to ask the staff to distract your loved one and then you can leave.
The person with dementia will not understand why you are leaving and they can’t go with you. These are just a few suggestions for assisting your loved one during an admission to the hospital.
But what about yourself – what type of support do you need? Victoria General Hospital offers a monthly resource group to caregivers of people with dementia. DeARs (Dementia/Alzheimer Resource group for families) meets on the last Monday of every month from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. If you would like to attend please contact the social worker on the unit and they will assist you. The Alzheimer’s Society also has numerous resources available for caregivers through support groups, help lines and information sessions.
Caring for a person with dementia is very difficult. Living with the disease is even more difficult. At Victoria General Hospital we try very hard to ensure that when a person with dementia is admitted to the hospital we spend time with the patient and family to get to know the person behind the disease to ensure that we can provide them with the best care possible.
Myrna Stirling is a medicine educator at Victoria General Hospital. To support patient care at the Vic, please contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204-477-3513 or online at www.thevicfoundation.ca.