Living with Dementia
By Doug Linze, LNFA, Denton LIVING WELL Magazine
Regardless of the cause or the age of onset, there are few people who have not experienced first hand a friend or loved one with the effects of some level of dementia. When do you call it dementia? It’s probably not when you just forget where you left your keys, but it might be when someone who in the past has kept up with their personal finances begins to receive notices of unpaid bills, or you notice a change in how a person reacts to circumstances that are uncharacteristic of past behavior. It’s one of those situations that leave you with an uneasy feeling.
Dementia is often a gradual and progressive decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. Ten warning signs that have been identified by the Alzheimer’s Association include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality, or loss of initiative. Once faced with the reality that it is dementia, the “how to deal with it” can be a very sensitive issue. Some family members will choose not to “see” the dementia or there will be varying views of how to manage this behavior in the place that they call home.
As with all health concerns, one should first visit a primary care physician to determine whether this is a short-term result of an acute illness, which can be resolved relatively quickly, or a more chronic situation that will require a more comprehensive ongoing approach. Most people intend to live as independently as possible for as long as possible utilizing whatever resources available before moving on to the next level. There are many creative approaches that can be taken at each level to provide us with that “piece of mind” that indicate our loved ones are safe and cared for along the way. This can be as simple as taking away the keys to the car, taking knobs off the stove, turning off breakers, and locking up chemicals, to more sophisticated approaches such as the participation in the Safe Return program. Other resources that may be available at home may include private duty sitters, adult day stay programs, and home health services. Other medical interventions your physician may recommend may be one of the available medications that are used to address memory loss in some cases.
Other living arrangements might include living in a group home or congregate living setting where staff is available to monitor the residents on a minimal level each day. As the dementia becomes more involved, a greater level of supervision will be required and might include the services of an assisted living facility, which would provide meals, medication management, 24-hour staff availability and a more managed approach to meeting the activities of daily living. Long-term care facilities are equipped to manage those individuals whose behaviors are unmanageable in any other environment or if these individuals have other health related issues that require additional medical interventions. Some long-term care facilities have secured units that provide a “home” for those who are likely to leave or wander or endanger themselves if left unattended.
Living and loving someone with dementia may well be one of the most difficult challenges that you will encounter. Utilizing the resources that are available and choosing the right level of care to meet these challenges will be the key to finding the piece of mind that we all desire for our loved ones.
Author Doug Linze, LNFA, is the executive director at The Vintage Retirement Community & Healthcare Center. To learn more about them, or to take a tour, call 940-384-1500.