In the first key, we talked about managing chronic disease because when disease management becomes too complicated, people are forced to move. Read here.
In the second key, we talked about maintaining your activities of daily living. Helping people find a way around specific challenges so they can continue to provide for their own safety and wellness on their own. Read here.
In this third key, we’re going to talk about what is probably the hardest challenge:
Key 3: Managing Memory Loss.
To get a picture of the scope of the problem, it is estimated that 5.5 million Americans have some stage of Alzheimer’s dementia. That is approximately one in 10 people over the age of 65. If you, or someone you love, have found yourself part of those statistics, you’re not alone and there are things that can be done.
First, recognize that there are many stages to the progression of dementia. If you want a short overview, here is a link to our blog article on the stages of dementia. Read Here. Make sure you talk to your doctor. Often, elders will try to hide their symptoms because it is both frightening and embarrassing to them. But, the sooner it is identified, the sooner treatment can be started to slow the progression of the disease.
Many people with early stage dementia are able to live normal and happy lives, often with a great degree of independence. As a geriatric care manager, the individuals that I’ve seen be the most successful have three things in common:
- They have close and open relationships,
- They have strong daily structure,
- They have built in safety and monitoring into their daily lives.
Close and open relationships.
The relationships with children, other family members, or even friends and neighbors can be so critical to an individual who is experiencing dementia. These people provide an emotional support, understanding, and the sense that no matter what happens, you’ll be taken care of. These individuals also are the ones that can identify where the problems and challenges are popping up for their loved one. There is a problem when your brain stops working correctly. You can’t see it because you perceive the world in your own mind. It takes an outside individual to be able to see where things are going wrong for you; and that takes trust. Close and open relationships make all the difference.
Strong daily structure.
Some people naturally tend to create very structured lives while other people tend to want to “live in the moment” and push against having structure. Individuals who create strong patterns have an advantage over their more artistic counterparts. If you have a morning ritual that has you doing the same thing every day, at a certain point it’s very easy to go into ”autopilot”. In this state, you’re not actually making decisions, you’re just following a script. When people have early dementia, decision-making becomes difficult so people with strong patterns stay more functional because they’re just following that script. The artistic mode of operation is just more mentally energy-intensive, so folks can’t do it at a certain point.
If you’re working with the one who struggles with his/her structure, a great course of action is to write a schedule out with him/her. Post it in multiple locations around their house so they don’t have to remember where it is. If they forget to take their medication in the afternoon, set an alarm, and put a note beside the alarm to take their medications. Eventually, these rituals become part of everyday living and to an individual with dementia, repetition is often times comforting.
More information on the importance of a daily routine, read this!
Build safety monitoring into your everyday life.
I’m not going to attempt to sell you a safety monitoring system for your loved one; those do have their place. What I’m talking about in regard to safety monitoring really loops back to the first point: warm human connection. The best safety net for a senior is a real, live person who comes to their house on a routine basis. When an elder is living alone, often the family has some degree of worry about them. How does the daughter living two states away know that mom is okay? How would we be notified if they weren’t? Do you have someone who drops by and/or calls on a routine basis? The most vulnerable seniors are the most isolated.
“But my mom is a quiet and private person”
People that like to be alone and are okay with isolation are doubly at risk. They are the least likely to tell people about problems with their health or safety. As a senior care manager, I’ve seen time and time again people who were described as “just wanted to be left alone” truly come to enjoy frequent visits from family or even paid caregivers. There may be no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there is a cure for loneliness and isolation; a cure for feeling alone and forgotten. And we all have that cure at our disposal.
Most often, the problems that put seniors into nursing homes build over months and years: disease progression and physical health decline, loss of mobility and capability to perform activities of daily living, and finally, memory loss. If these problems can be spotted earlier, better solutions can be found.