What if your dementia patient becomes abusive, aggressive or violent?

Angry, enraged senior woman yelling at a landline office phone, unhappy with customer service provided by the agent on the other side, giving off steam and smokeMy husband Morris was a gentle man. But occasionally, if things didn’t go his way, he would get nasty. Once Alzheimer’s took his brain hostage, he exhibited a darker side. But only when he was frustrated or confused.

Morris spent the last two years of his life in a memory care home. He was popular among the staff because he liked to goof around. When he walked the halls listening to music on his Walkman, he’d have a smile on his face and swagger to the rhythm. But if another resident got in his way, watch out. If it was crowded in the dining room and someone accidentally bumped him, he’d swing his arm out to shoo that person away. When one of his neighbors walked into Morris’s room mistaking it for his own, the two got into a rumble on the bed and fought like school boys. After this happened a couple more times, the neighbor was moved to the opposite side of the facility.

When Morris hit a resident in the dining room, the on-call physician prescribed a depressant to “calm him down.” Morris reacted to the drug by transforming into a zombie who slumped in his chair and slept too many hours during the day. I insisted that he get off the drug and Morris returned to his mostly cheerful self.

I once had a next door neighbor whose wife had Alzheimer’s. She threatened to kill her husband with a knife and then went on to slash a painting hanging in their living room. Was she or Morris responsible for their actions? No. A person with dementia is not responsible for acts of violence because as the disease progresses, neurons in the cortex that are responsible for language, reasoning and social behavior are destroyed. This leads to some Alzheimer’s patients engaging in aggressive or violent behavior such as biting, kicking, spitting, slapping, punching, and/or using foul language.

Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that up to 96 percent of patients with dementia who were studied over a 10-year-period exhibited aggressive behavior at one time or other. In 2011, CNN Health reported that 5 to 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients exhibit violent behavior at some point during the course of the disease.

There is usually a reason for aggressive behavior.

What to watch out for

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pain or stress
  • Loneliness, depression
  • Too much noise or stimulation
  • Boredom
  • Constipation
  • Soiled diaper or underwear
  • Uncomfortable room temperature
  • Physical discomfort (stomach ache, etc)
  • Confusion
  • Anger about loss of freedom (to drive, living independently)
  • Drug reaction or contra-indication
  • Resistance against being told what to do such as bathing
  • Sudden change in routine, environment or caregiver
  • Communication problems
  • Hunger or not liking the food
  • Dehydration

What to do

  1. If your life or the life of the person you care for is in danger, get help immediately!
  2. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900.
  3. Rule out UTIs, pain, discomfort, etc.
  4. Use an essential oil to help calm the person down. When my husband got agitated I’d put a few drops of oil on a cotton pad inside a diffuser and plug it into the wall. He usually calmed down immediately.  The following oils can be used in a diffuser, or put in a bath or fragrance free moisturizer. They can also be sprayed on a pillow or handkerchief. Citrus oils are generally refreshing and uplifting for the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for odor management and appetite support. Consider: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange. Floral oils are often used as a personal fragrance and are useful to relieve anxiety, depression, and irritability. These oils are useful as an inhaler, in a body lotion, and for the bath. Consider: clary sage, geranium, lavender, rose, and ylang ylang. Tree oils are revitalizing with immune boosting properties, ease respiratory congestion, and are supportive to breathing ease. They are useful for pain relief, skin infections, and odor management, and can relieve nervous exhaustion and depression. Consider: eucalyptus (Eucalytpus citriodora or globulus), pine needle, sandalwood, or Tea Tree.
  5. Reassure your patient by speaking gently and calmly.
  6. Play calming music, i.e. Mozart
  7. Try to distract the person with a TV show, favorite snack (ice cream almost always works), or a walk outside.
  8. Maintain a regular routine.
  9. Make sure the lighting is suitable in the home or facility.
  10. Help the person to maintain as much dignity and independence as possible.
  11. Make sure the person is eating a nutritious low-sugar, low-salt diet, with no or very limited amounts of alcohol and caffeine.

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Caring for a Parent who is Resistant to Care

Upset womanIt’s typical for our parents to resist moving out of their homes if they need to be cared for or need assistance in a long-term care facility. They may think their children are bossy and forcing them into a situation they didn’t choose. People, in general, are also often resistant to having an aid or personal carer other than family in their home.

A friend of mine had to move his parents, who were no longer able to care for themselves, into an assisted living facility. His mom had broken her hip and his dad was blind. After spending a couple of weeks settling them into their new home, David’s mom accused him of kidnapping her and his dad. In the end, after David returned home, his parents found a way to move back into their condo. There are bad feelings on both sides and now David and his parents are not speaking.

When the roles of parent and child are reversed, awkward moments and emotions can arise. The adult child may feel resentment at having to provide support and/or care for the parents because the extra time detracts from his or her normal routine and work schedule. Sometimes there is a financial burden placed on the adult child. The parents may feel disempowered when their freedoms are limited or taken away. They may feel financially stressed, and not want to “be a burden.”

Here are some ways to help you navigate this touchy and stressful subject.

  • Talk with your parents’ Primary Care Physician to get a clear picture of their physical needs.
  • Although you want your parents to be safe, above all else, respect their perspective and autonomy. Listen with an open heart and mind, and share your concerns. Tell them you know that this is hard, and that you are concerned about their welfare and safety.
  • Validate their feelings. Ask non-threatening, open-ended questions about the type of care they might be willing to accept. “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to cook or do laundry anymore?” “Dad, do you miss having coffee out with your friends?” Their answers will provide you with the opening to a discussion about how a caregiver or assisted living situation can make their lives, and yours, easier.
  • If finances are an issue try to enlist the help of a close friend, neighbor or family member once or twice a week for a couple of hours to assist with meal preparation, etc.
  • If this works and your folks get accustomed to having someone in their home, hire a caregiver agency to provide more care as needed.

What if you’ve tried everything you can think of and your parent is still resistant to help. Or what if your sibling wreaks havoc on what you’ve done?

If you sincerely believe that your parent’s behavior is contrary to what they typically exhibited previously; if they are unsafe in their home or are a danger to them self or others; if you have considered their dignity with respect, and you believe that their mental capacity is impaired as well as their decision making, you can activate a Medical Power of Attorney (MDPOA).

This is a legal document that authorizes someone to make medical decisions on behalf of another, only if one is already in place. If one is not in place and things are getting dire, consult with an elder attorney to determine if it makes sense to have a court appointed guardianship. This would be a last resort.

Most importantly, treat your parents with respect and honor their wishes the best that you can, always keeping their safety as a priority. Most everyone wants to stay in their home as long as possible. It’s hard bringing up this topic with our parents, but the earlier the better, especially when one of your loved one has dementia.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

 

 

 

 

The 20 most important things to consider when looking for a memory care home

seniorenheim 6The day I moved my husband into a memory care home was the second worst day of my life. The worst day was the day he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And both of those days were worse than the day he died.

After the diagnosis, I didn’t waste any time getting our finances sorted out, talking to an elder attorney about options, and learning about Medicare benefits. I did, however, wait a year before I contacted that Alzheimer’s Association. That was a mistake because this amazing association offers so much good information and support. So do yourself a favor and contact your local chapter and take advantage of all the free classes and support groups they offer.

After several years of caring for my husband at home, and downsizing to a more manageable home, I was advised to start looking for a memory care home in case an emergency situation arose.  I wanted to keep my husband at home as long as possible. But things happen, and in my case, I received a serious diagnosis. My doctor said that I needed to take care of myself and I listened to him. I got recommendations about a few homes in my town, found one I liked, and put my husband on the waiting list.

Many facilities will allow you to get on a waiting list. When your name gets to the top, you might have the option to refuse because you are not ready. In this case, you can move down the list but still have priority over someone who is recently added. Ask about this option.

The home where my husband lived for two years provided good care, but did not live up to the promise of caring for him until the end of his life. In fact, the last month of his life included several moves. After being discharged from the hospital, Morris was sent to a rehab center in a nursing home. It was not a good situation. The food was horrible, and the care was sorely inadequate. After two weeks, I begged the original home to take him back. They agreed to only if I hired additional one-on-one care. I did, but the cost was prohibitive. I moved him again after finding a wonderful end-stage Alzheimer’s unit down the hall from a hospice center. Morris received excellent compassionate care there the last two weeks of his life.

Here’s list of 20 things to look for and ask in your search for a memory care home:

  1. Look at your state’s Public Health and Environment website to see a facility’s number of beds, complaints, medical director, ombudsman’s phone number, and whether the home is Medicare and/or Medicaid certified. Here you can discover things like mishandling of narcotics (oxycodone), and theft of residents’ belongings, etc.
  2. What is the staff to patient ratio? During the day? At night?
  3. Is there a RN (registered nurse) always on the premises? Is a doctor always on call?
  4. How often does a medical doctor visit the facility?
  5. What level of care does the home provide? Can your loved one stay there until the end of his/her life? What if your loved one becomes non-ambulatory?
  6. Are three meals a day provided? What about special diets such as kosher, vegetarian, low-salt?
  7. What type of training has the staff received?
  8. What is the staff turn-over rate?
  9. What is the monthly rate for housing and care? What services does that rate include?
  10. Are rooms private or semi-private? How do prices vary for each?
  11. Is housekeeping and laundry provided? How often?
  12. What programs are offered? Social, educational, outings, exercise?
  13. How secure is the unit? Are residents locked in? Is there any chance a resident can leave and wander? Has this ever happened?
  14. What happens if the resident becomes aggressive or violent? Is he or she drugged? Given a warning that he or she must move out?
  15. What is the chain of communication for letting family members know what is going on with a loved one?
  16. What is the discharge policy?
  17. Are pets allowed?
  18. Are visiting hours limited or open?
  19. What is the protocol for a medical emergency?
  20. Visit the facility and look around. Are the staff appropriately dressed? Are they warm and friendly? Is the environment pleasing and clean? Does the executive director address residents by their name? Would you be comfortable having your loved one live there, and would you be comfortable spending many hours there?

No one ever wants to live in a nursing home or assisted living facility. But when your loved one needs more care than you can provide, is a danger to him or herself, or you, the caregiver, need to take care of yourself, a memory care home can provide a warm and loving option. Good luck finding one that suits your needs and the needs of your loved one.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.