How to protect your loved ones from elder abuse during the coronavirus lockdown

senior man covering his face with his hands. Depression and anxiety Copy space.World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. According to the World Health Organization elder abuse is a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation, and despair. It touches people across all socioeconomic groups, cultures, and races. But only about one in five cases is ever reported. People with dementia are particularly vulnerable because they are unable to recognize that they are being abused or to report it.

This year during the coronavirus lockdown, there have been massive increases in reports of elder abuse  ranging from financial scams to incidents of family violence.

The most vulnerable

Aging adults are highly susceptible to the deadly effects of COVID-19. Just knowing this, amps up anxiety levels and depressive symptoms in aging adults who might be isolated, lonely, and alienated from their families. Isolation and loneliness make the elderly even more vulnerable to scams, and to abuse by caregivers, neighbors, family and financial advisors.

Adults with mental disabilities and/or dementia who live in care facilities are exclusively cared for by staff who may not be in communication with family members. Family members have been restricted from entering the facilities in order to manage the spread of the virus. Consequently, family members are unable to see first-hand whether their loved one is being well cared for.

A news story recently reported that a son was shocked to learn that his father was severely dehydrated, hadn’t eaten for days, and was left in a dirty diaper for more than a couple days. The response he got from the facility was that they were short of staff because so many people were out sick.

Also, people who have diminished eye sight or hearing, or are confined to a wheel chair are vulnerable. My friend’s father who has macular degeneration and is hearing impaired was scammed out of thousands of dollars by a caller who claimed that she was his niece. She said that she was being held in jail and needed bond money. This type of family emergency scam has been going on for years via telephone calls.

We’ve all heard of telephone scams in which a caller claims he is a jailed grandson who pleads with his grandparents to send bail money, or the IRS scam where the caller threatens severe consequences if the senior doesn’t pay tardy taxes.

These types of occurrences are all too common, especially in under staffed, underfunded nursing homes.

Verify an emergency

If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
  • Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
  • Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
  • Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
  •  Report COVID-19 related scams to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (1-866-720-5721)

 

Types of abuse

  • Physical–causing pain or injury
  • Neglect–failure to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical and other necessities required to provide a safe, nurturing environment
  • Emotional and Psychological—Verbal assaults, harassment, threats, intimidation
  • Confinement –restraining or isolating the person
  • Financial—Scams, misuse or withholding of the person’s financial resources to the disadvantage of the elderly person, and to the advantage of another person.
  • Deprivation—Denying the person medication, medical care, food, shelter or physical assistance
  • Sexual abuse –Any sexual activity, including fondling, when the person is unable to understand, unwilling to consent, or threatened or physically forced

Signs of abuse

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns
  • Bruises around the breasts and genital area could indicate sexual abuse
  • Poor hygiene, bed sores, unattended medical needs, unusual weight loss
  • Sudden withdrawal from normal activities, unexpected depression, and a sudden change in alertness can be an indicator of emotional abuse. However, these symptoms can be the result of a progression of dementia or other disease.
  • Sudden changes in financial situation can be a result of exploitation.
  • Aggressive behavior from a caregiver or from the person being cared for can result in verbal or emotional abuse on either end.

Report abuse

Abuse can occur anywhere: at home, in nursing homes, and memory care homes. If you suspect abuse don’t hesitate to report it. You do not have to prove anything. It is up to the professional staff to investigate your suspicions, and put the proper safety measures in place.

If you suspect abuse, call the police or 911 immediately if you someone you know is in immediate or threatening danger.

Caregivers also are the recipients of abuse from the person they care for. If a caregiver feels physically threatened it’s important to get help in providing safe care for the person being cared for, possibly in a facility.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?

Report suspected mistreatment to your community’s Human Services Adult Protection agency and/or law enforcement office. Even if a situation has already been investigated, if you believe circumstances are getting worse, continue to speak out.

If you or others experience abuse or neglect in a community setting:

Report suspected abuse or exploitation to the local Adult Protective Services or Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program .

Human Services provides help with:

  • In-home assessment for abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation
  • Crisis intervention
  • Monthly visits by a case worker, if risk continues
  • Assistance with housing and/or placement to alternative housing
  • Assistance with obtaining benefits
  • Money management
  1. To report suspected abuse in a nursing home or long-term care facility, contact your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Each licensed long-term care facility is required to display a poster with the facility’s assigned ombudsman’s name and contact information. If you are a resident or family member of a resident in a facility, call the ombudsman listed on the poster. To learn more about the ombudsman program visit: Long-term care ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities. http://www.ltcombudsman.org
  2. Caregivers (both family and professionals) are most often the abusers of the elderly. Stress and feelings of being overwhelmed may provoke unintentional belligerent feelings. If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated as a caregiver, talk to someone for support.
  3. To speak with an Alzheimer’s Association Care Consultant call: 1-800-272-3900
  4. To find a support group in your area visit http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp
  5. To receive support from other caregivers visit https://www.alzconnected.org/
  6. To report an incident or concern of abuse or neglect, call the Alzheimer’s Association (1.800.272.3900) or Eldercare Locator (1.800.677.1116). You’ll be connected to your state or local adult protective services division or to a long-term care ombudsman. You do not need to prove that abuse is occurring — it is up to the professionals to investigate suspicions.
  7. Read more: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-elder-abuse.asp#ixzz2W9DhCbSL
  8. Keep in contact. Talk with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives. Maintaining communication will help decrease isolation, a risk factor for mistreatment. It will also provide a chance to talk about any problems they may be experiencing.
  9. Join Ageless Alliancea national, non-profit grassroots organization working to promote aging with dignity and eliminate elder abuse, neglect and exploitation through Awareness, Advocacy and Action. Based at the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect at the University of California, Irvine, Ageless Alliance is a grassroots campaign to give a voice to those who have been affected by elder abuse and abuse of adults with disabilities.
  10. Plan ahead to protect against financial exploitation. Download a handout on ways to protect yourself or a loved one.http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Resources/Publication/docs/NCEA_ProtectYourself_web508.pdf
  11. Be aware of the possibility of abuse. Look around and take note of what may be happening with your older neighbors and acquaintances. Do they seem lately to be withdrawn, nervous, fearful, sad, or anxious, especially around certain people, when they have not seemed so in the past?
  12. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) office to identify local programs and sources of support, such as Meals on Wheels. These programs help elders to maintain health, well-being, and independence—a good defense against abuse. See the Eldercare Locator, www.eldercare.gov Welcome to the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging connecting you to services for older adults and their families. You can also reach us at 1-800-677-1116.

image

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.

Why hydration is crucial, especially during the pandemic

Glass of waterAdipsia is the fancy name for the loss of the sense of thirst. As we get older, our sense of thirst diminishes, just as our sense of smell and taste diminish. Chronic dehydration  is one of the most common problems among seniors and the elderly who reside in care facilities.

If you have a loved one at home with dementia or in a care facility it’s important that you learn the signs of dehydration (below) and offer water or another beverage to your patient every hour and throughout the day.

Many older adults often limit their fluid intake because they may be incontinent or fear accidents. Those who have limited mobility may try to avoid another trip to the toilet. Individuals who have aphasia (inability to speak due to dementia or brain damage from  stroke, etc.) may not be able to express their thirst.

Better monitoring of fluid intake is needed at care facilities

Studies have shown that nearly all nursing home residents suffer from inadequate hydration. Additionally, in one study, 25 out of 40 participants suffered from diseases that may have been caused or exacerbated by their being dehydrated.

If your loved one is in a care facility now—during the COVID-19 pandemic–it is more important than ever to try to encourage them to drink. Ask the staff to put signs up in their room as a reminder. It’s especially important if your loved one has dementia and forgets to drink or is not thirsty.

What happens when you are dehydrated?

Your blood begins to thicken, which interferes with normal blood flow and viscosity. This is one of the reasons why, especially during the  pandemic, it’s crucial to stay hydrated. There have been many reports of blood clots and other cardiovascular episodes in patients with COVID-19. The kidneys, liver, pancreas and other organs can be severely affected from dehydration, and severe dehydration can lead to acute pancreatitis in some individuals.

Dehydration can interfere with brain function

This is a good example of what happens when our brains are dehydrated. My mom wasn’t able to walk the last two years of her life, and was dependent upon two private caregivers. She also drank thickened water, which is a disgusting thickened pudding-like liquid that substitutes for water. The reason?  She aspirated water and food into her lungs, which caused her to cough. Sometimes, the result was pneumonia. She may have felt thirsty and not wanted to bother with the thickened water, or maybe she wasn’t thirsty. But she ended up being severely dehydrated on more than one occasion.

When Mom was admitted to the hospital for a UTI (urinary tract infection), she developed delirium. A psychiatrist called me to report that my mom was exhibiting full-blown dementia. I had just spoken to Mom a day before and she sounded fine. I refused the offer of an antipsychotic drug for her, knowing well the high risk of putting an older adult on those drugs. (see Why you should throw away that antipsychotic drug prescribed for your loved one). As it turned out, my mom was severely dehydrated. After a couple days on a hydrating intravenous solution she returned to her normal self.

It’s important to learn the signs of dehydration in everyone, but especially in seniors and young children. The physical symptoms are usually clear:

  • dry lips and sticky or dry mouth
  • no tears when crying
  • dry, papery skin that tents when it is pressed
  • decreased urine output
  • sunken eyes
  • headache
  • lethargy
  • dark urine
  • extreme thirst
  • unable to sweat
  • fast breath rate
  • low blood pressure
  • the mental symptoms are not as obvious, but can result in mental confusion, irritability, delirium
  • extreme cases of dehydration can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, kidney failure, and seizures.

Ways to stay hydrated

If you are a caregiver (and that includes caring for yourself!) here are some helpful guidelines:

The rule of thumb is to have 48 to 64 ounces of non-sweetened, non-artificially sweetened drinks. Hydration keeps the body in proper pH (how acidic or alkaline your body is) and protects it from getting dehydrated, which is a cause of inflammation and other kinds of imbalances. Dehydration can also contribute to urinary tract infections (UTIs).

  • Encourage and remind your care partner to drink.
  • Drinking healthy fluids is important as eating healthy foods. Water is the top choice, followed by herbal teas, milk, vegetable and fruit juices. Remember that juices contain a lot of sugar, both natural and added, so don’t overdo them. Soups are nourishing and hydrating but be aware of the sodium content. Avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks which have a diuretic effect.
  • Serve liquids at a temperature that your care partner likes. Not everyone enjoys ice water.
  • Flavor water with lime or lemon.
  • Remind your care partner not to wait until s/he is thirsty. By then s/he is already dehydrated.
  • Serve juicy fruits such as watermelon, which contain lots of water.
  • Offer healthy popsicles as an addition to drinks and to those who refuse water.
  • Smoothies and shakes are nourishing and filling.

The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference. Drink plenty of water, fresh juices, and herbal teas to stay hydrated, flush out toxins and enjoy mental clarity. It is especially important now as we head into summer and during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s just as important all year round.


image-1

 

Does dementia increase a person’s risk of getting Coronavirus?

Elderly woman looking sad out the window.Although dementia in itself doesn’t increase one’s risk, there are other factors that might contribute to a person’s increased risk.

Does the patient have any underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, auto-immune disease, lung diseases including asthma and COPD, cancer? All of these increase risk of serious symptoms associated with the COVID-19 virus.

If a person with dementia is living at home, s/he may be at increased risk if they forget to wash their hands or socially distance. And, of course, as we are all well aware of, patients in care  facilities are at higher risk simply for the fact they are communally living together. Caregivers come in and out of the facility, go to their homes, and may be interact with others. See Should you move a family member back home from a care facility?

What can you do?

  • If your loved one is living at home and can still read, place sticky notes around the house  (refrigerator, bathroom, kitchen sink) in appropriate places to remind him/her to wash their hands.
  • Call often to check in. Use Zoom or Skype, Facetime, if the person can manage technology. Amazon’s new Portal, which is like a large iPad that is kept plugged in, is an easy device. Check it out: It’s a smart, hands-free video calling device with Alexa built-in.
  • Make sure your loved one has adequate food. If s/he can still prepare meals, drop off their groceries. If they have trouble in the kitchen, bring home-cooked meals or make arrangements with an organization such as Meals on Wheels that can deliver foods.
  • If you have to go inside the person’s home, make sure you have on a mask and gloves, and maintain physical distance as much as possible.
  • A person with dementia is probably not keeping a clean, tidy home, which is important to health and wellness. Try to clean around the person. Have him or her sit in front of the TV or at the kitchen table, while you vacuum and clean the bathroom. Then move him/her to another room in order to clean the kitchen.
  • The main thing is to stay in daily contact. Have the grandkids write notes and draw pictures to send in the mail. If you live in the same town, visit from the lawn and have your loved one sit on the front or back porch.
  • Set up a daily schedule for your loved one. Keep it posted on the fridge. For example: 8:00–wake up, toilet, brush teeth, shower. 8:30 Take meds, eat breakfast. 9:30 Do fitness routine, etc. Do 10 sit-to-stands while watching TV. Walk through the house for 10 minutes a couple times a day.
  • It’s important to protect our loved ones physically but to engage them socially to prevent loneliness and to keep them mentally stimulated. Here’s a great way for seniors whose dementia is minimal.

Well Connected (formerly called Senior Center Without Walls), is a telephone-based national program that offers free weekly activities, education, friendly conversation, classes, support groups, and presentations to individuals 60 years or older anywhere in the United States for English and Spanish speakers. There are activities occurring throughout the day, every day 10:00 am-8:00 pm, Mountain Time, depending on the day. Sessions run between 30 minutes to one hour.

Play a game, write a poem, go on a virtual tour, meditate, share a gratitude, get support, and most importantly, connect and engage with others every day. Well Connected is a community consisting of participants, staff, facilitators, presenters, and other volunteers who care about each other and who value being connected. All groups are accessible by phone and many are accessible online.

Well Connected offers 75 different programs. People can join a particular group, call in the same time each week, hear the same voices on a regular basis and make friends. This has a positive impact on their emotional and physical life. “The gratitude activity, which is offered twice a day, is especially popular and well attended,” says Wade, Social Call director (see below). “Participants share something they are grateful for. This allows for an increase in social connectedness. We also have fun and intellectual programs that help individuals feel valued, stimulated and engaged, and sometimes we invite presenters from the outside in.”

Wade pointed out that Well Connected, is not just for people with mobility concerns. We get folks who are active, people who are married and individuals in a co-housing situation. Anyone can feel lonely, she says. “We take a survey every year and the results indicate that 85% of our participants feel more intellectually stimulated and  socially connected. And on a daily basis, we get calls of gratitude from participants who say, ‘this program saved my live,’” says Wade.

Well Connected also offers a program called Social Call, in which volunteers call participants for a weekly phone visit. For more information, email coviaconnections@covia.org or call 877-797-7299.

Well Connected is an award-winning program of Covia, formerly called Episcopal Senior Communities. For more information: To register call 1-877-797-7299,  https://covia.org/services/well-connected/


image-1

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.

Should you move a family member back home from a care facility?

I'll have to learn to walk againAccording to the New York Times (April 17, 2020), about a fifth of U.S. virus deaths are linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That’s about 7,000 people.

It’s an extremely difficult time for families who have a loved one in a care facility. You’re not able to visit, and you and your loved one might be missing the physical touch that we as humans crave.  You might be too overwhelmed with caring for others at home to make the drive to the care facility, only to be allowed to peer through a window and touch hands separated by glass.

Two of my friends recently lost a parent who was in a nursing facility. Their parents didn’t die from Covid-19. One died from Alzheimer’s (yes, Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease) and the other had dementia and was recovering from a broken pelvis. Neither friend was able to get to the facility in time to say good-bye, partly because of the imposed lock-down on these facilities.

You might be worried that your loved one will contract Covid-19. What should you do?

Should you move your loved one home?

  • Consider why you moved your loved one to a care facility in the first place. Are you able to safely care for him/her at home?
  • How is your health? Have you been sick? Do you have a chronic condition that prevents you from taking on added stress?
  • Are you overwhelmed caring for children who are doing online schooling?
  • Are you working from home?
  • Is your loved one mobile? Continent? Can you bathe and dress him/her? Do they need a two-person transfer?
  • Can you hire in-home care? This option comes with the risk of having an outsider who has possibly been exposed to Covid-19 come into your home.
  • A person with dementia might have compounded anxiety during the pandemic. Anxiety increases when a person with dementia has their routine disrupted. The individual may not be able to understand what is going on, but pick up on the stress of those around him/her. Would you have the patience and time to devote to caring for such an individual?
  • Be honest with yourself, and consider your own health, psychology and emotional well-being.

If moving your loved one is out of the questions, consider these tips from The Alzheimer’s Association.

If your loved one is in a care facility:

By now, almost all care facilities are not allowing visitors through the door. 

  • Check with the facility regarding their procedures for managing COVID-19 risk. Ensure they have your emergency contact information and the information of another family member or friend as a backup.
  • Do not visit your family member if you have any signs or symptoms of illness.
  • Depending on the situation in your local area, facilities may limit or not allow visitors. This is to protect the residents but it can be difficult if you are unable to see your family member.
  • If visitation is not allowed, ask the facility how you can have contact with your family member. Options include telephone calls, video chats or even emails to check in.
  • If your family member is unable to engage in calls or video chats, ask the facility how you can keep in touch with facility staff in order to get updates.

What if the care facility has or had Covid-19 incidences?

  • Ask the facility about their quarantine procedures. What is your level of confidence that CDC guidelines are being followed?
  • How many people in the facility have been impacted by COVID-19? Are those affected staff, residents or both?
  • Is your family member able to follow social distancing procedures (with or without help)?
    • In some cases, the person may not be able to walk or move about on their own. This could help maintain social distancing.
  • Does the facility have and use personal protective equipment?
  • How many staff members interact with your family member on a regular basis? Is the facility able to limit the number of staff who work with your family member?
  • Is the facility adequately staffed to provide the level of care your family member requires?

The Centers for Disease Control has issued these guidelines for nursing home visitation in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak:

Limiting Visitation: For facilities that are in counties, or counties adjacent to other counties where a COVID-19 case has occurred, we recommend limiting visitation (except in certain situations as indicated above). For example, a daughter who visits her mother every Monday, would cease these visits, and limit her visits to only those situations when her mom has a significant issue. Also, during the visit, the daughter would limit her contact with her mother and only meet with her in her room or a place the facility has specifically dedicated for visits.

Facilities should actively screen and restrict visitation by those who meet the following criteria: 1. Signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. 2. In the last 14 days, has had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID19, or under investigation for COVID-19, or are ill with respiratory illness. 3. International travel within the last 14 days to countries with sustained community transmission. 4. Residing in a community where community-based spread of COVID-19 is occurring.

Be kind to yourself, and try not to feel guilty about not being able to visit your loved one. Caregiver guilt is complicated, but you are probably doing the best that you can.

This pandemic lock-down is unprecedented. Hopefully, the restrictions will lift soon and you’ll be able to be with your loved one again. Until then, take extra good care of yourself.


image-1

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.

Does Alzheimer’s Cause Vision Problems?

Depressed old woman in eyeglasses on ophthalmologist appointment, vision problemMy husband wore glasses. And he had Alzheimer’s. And he had a retinal tear that required a laser procedure, which was no fun.

My kids and I thought Morris’s vision was deteriorating because he couldn’t see objects, such as a drinking glass right in front of him. This went on for years. Sometimes he was afraid to walk, thinking he’d fall or run into something. But it wasn’t his vision. The problem was in his brain.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between sight loss and visual problems due to dementia. Often times, one condition can mask the other.

Here’s what I learned.

People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have visual difficulties caused by what is happening in the brain. They can still have healthy eyes, or have vision that hasn’t changed significantly. Their perception problems are not due to how clearly they see, but to changes in the brain.

Some of these difficulties may indicate dementia. My husband had to deal with almost every one of these issues.

  • reading
  • recognizing people
  • coping with low light, bright light or both
  • finding objects
  • avoiding obstacles
  • recognizing food on the plate
  • seeing well even with glasses on

In Alzheimer’s dementia, there are five main areas of visual deficit that can affect perception.

(See the last section, below, for some ways to help with these issues.)

  • reduced ability to detect motion
  • reduced peripheral vision
  • loss of depth perception
  • difficulty recognizing colors, especially in the blue-violet range
  • reduced contrast sensitivity to gradients of color–trouble picking out objects that are surrounded by similar colors, i.e. finding the toilet in a bathroom where the floor, walls and toilet are all white

Alzheimer’s disease can be detected through an eye test

According to researchers, changes in your sight and smell may be the key to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. A decreased sense of smell is an early clue. In the case of vision, people with Alzheimer’s have fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina (back of the eye). The retinal nerve that comes out of the brain gets narrower and this can be detected by an eye test that uses a non-invasive scanning technique called OCTA (optical coherence tomography angiography).

Having a thinner retina can also cause blurry vision at first that may interfere with normal activity, making things to appear hazy or out of focus.

Results from two studies show that OCTA can see signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a matter of seconds. Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina compared the retinas of 39 people with Alzheimer’s, 37 people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and 133 healthy people. The average age was 71.

The researchers excluded various people from the study, including people with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration or poor vision.

They took scans looking at the tiny blood vessels in different parts of the retina, and then compared blood vessel density between the groups. They found that people with Alzheimer’s had fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina than healthy controls and those with MCI, and that a specific layer of the retina was thinner. They also found that the small blood vessels in the retina are altered even in patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s but have no symptoms.

Because the retina is connected to the brain by way of the optic nerve, researchers believe that the deterioration in the retina and its blood vessels may mirror the changes going on in the blood vessels and structures in the brain, thereby offering a window into the disease process.

Because genes play a significant role in how Alzheimer’s disease begins and progresses, another team of researchers from Sheba Medical Center in Israel examined 400 people who had a family history of the disease but showed no symptoms themselves. They compared their retina and brain scans with those who have no family history of Alzheimer’s.

They found that the inner layer of the retina is thinner in people with a family history. The brain scan showed that their hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s first affected by the disease, had already begun to shrink. Both factors, a thinner inner retina layer and smaller hippocampus, were associated with scoring worse on a cognitive function test.

The goal of this latest research is to find a quick, inexpensive way to detect Alzheimer’s at the earliest signs. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is a currently a challenge. Some techniques can detect signs of the disease but are impractical for screening of millions people: Brain scans are expensive and spinal taps can be harmful. Instead, the disease is often diagnosed through memory tests or observing behavior changes. By the time these changes are noticed, the disease is advanced. Even though there is no cure, early diagnosis is critical as future treatments are likely to be most effective when given early. Early diagnosis would also give patients and their families time to plan for the future.

Regular eye exams are important

I wondered how the doctor could ascertain what Morris’s eye glass prescription was since Morris was unable to read the eye chart. The ophthalmologist assured me that they have their way of checking someone’s eyes without verbal feedback. The doctor adapts the test for the patient, and allows for more time. It is important, however, that someone who knows the patient well accompanies him/her.

People with dementia can have the typical causes of sight loss that many aging people have, including cataracts, macular degeneration, normal aging of the eye, and stroke.

Ways to help your patient with sight loss and dementia

  • Make sure their eyeglass prescription is current.
  • Clean the glasses often, and try to prevent loss or misplacement by attaching them to a strap, lanyard or chain.
  • Improve the lighting where the patient lives, and install automatic lights that come on at dusk.
  • Use contrasting colors to help the patient discern places and things, i.e. Serve colorful veggies (which are higher in antioxidants and vitamins) on a white plate. Put DO NOT ENTER signs on outside doors, if there is a risk your patient might wander, etc.
  • Play books on tape, or read to your patient if he/she is unable to read.
  • Focus on what your patient can do and is familiar with, and help him/her to have positive experiences.


image

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.

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.

image

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.


image-1

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.


image-1

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.

How dehydration can lead to delirium and other health issues

Different drinks in glass jugs on white background. Ideas for summer cocktailsIt’s hot outside and it’s easy to get dehydrated. Our body is 50-65% water. The brain, which is 70% water, gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking.

Dehydration can also result in delirium. Delirium is a mental disturbance that is exhibited by a new or worsening confusion, changes in one’s consciousness or by hallucinations. It has a sudden onset from hours to days. It can be reversed but it’s easier to prevent delirium than to reverse it.

When my mom was admitted to the hospital for a UTI (urinary tract infection), she developed delirium. A psychiatrist called me to report that my mom was exhibiting full-blown dementia. I had just spoken to Mom a day before and she sounded fine. I refused the offer of an antipsychotic drug for her, knowing well the high risk of putting an older adult on those drugs. (see Why you should throw away that antipsychotic drug prescribed for your loved one). As it turned out, my mom was severely dehydrated. After a couple days on a hydrating intravenous solution she returned to her normal self.

It’s important to learn the signs of dehydration in everyone, but especially in seniors and young children. The physical symptoms are usually clear: dry lips and mouth, no tears when crying, decreased urine output, sunken eyes, headache, lethargy, dark urine and extreme thirst. The mental symptoms are not as obvious, but can result in mental confusion, irritability and delirium.

Many older adults often limit their fluid intake because they may be incontinent or fear accidents. Those who have limited mobility may try to avoid another trip to the toilet. Individuals who have aphasia (inability to speak due to dementia or brain damage from  stroke, etc.) may not be able to express their thirst.

If you are a caregiver, and that includes caring for yourself!) here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Encourage and remind your care partner to drink.
  • Drinking healthy fluids is important as eating healthy foods. Water is the top choice, followed by milk, vegetable and fruit juices. Remember that juices contain a lot of sugar, both natural and added, so don’t overdo them. Soups are nourishing and hydrating but be aware of the sodium content. Avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks which have a diuretic effect.
  • Serve liquids at a temperature that your care partner likes. Not everyone enjoys ice water.
  • Flavor water with lime or lemon.
  • Remind your care partner not to wait until s/he is thirsty. By then s/he is already dehydrated.
  • Serve juicy fruits such as watermelon, which contain lots of water.
  • Offer healthy popsicles as an addition to drinks and to those who refuse water.

The rule of thumb is to have 48 to 64 ounces of non-sweetened, non-artificially sweetened drinks. Hydration keeps the body in proper pH (how acidic or alkaline your body is) and protects it from getting dehydrated, which is a cause of inflammation and other kinds of imbalances. Dehydration can also contribute to urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The dangers of UTIs

Urinary tract infections are notorious for causing delirium and delusional behavior in the elderly. When younger people get a urinary tract infection, they typically experience painful urination, an urgent need to urinate, lower abdominal pain, back pain on one side, and fever and chills. However, an older adult might not experience those symptoms. As we get older our immune system changes and it responds differently to infection. Instead of pain symptoms, seniors with a UTI may show increased signs of confusion, agitation or withdrawal. In older adults with dementia, these behavioral changes may come across as part of that condition or signs of advanced aging. If the underlying UTI goes unrecognized and untreated for too long, it can spread to the bloodstream and become life-threatening. In fact, I have a dear friend who died from a UTI that quickly became septic.

Always: Keep the patient hydrated since urination can flush out unwanted bacteria from the urinary tract.

The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference. Drink plenty of water, fresh juices, and herbal teas to stay hydrated, flush out toxins and enjoy mental clarity—in summer and all year round.

 


image

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.

Urinary incontinence, UTIs, and dementia

Incontinence inscription isolated

There are lots of reasons that people develop incontinence. This blog focuses on people with dementia: their care and ways to prevent urinary tract infections, a serious consequence of incontinence in the elderly.

People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia often have problems with urinary incontinence. This can be a result of not realizing they need to urinate, forgetting to go to the bathroom, not being able to find the toilet, or limited mobility.

Ways a caregiver can help

  • Avoid giving drinks like caffeinated coffee, tea, and sodas that may increase urination. It is important, however, that healthy liquids including water, smoothies, and fresh fruit juices are not restricted. Hydration is vital to overall health and to prevent urinary tract infections.
  • Keep pathways clear and the bathroom clutter-free, with a light on at all times.
  • Make sure you provide regular bathroom breaks–at least every 2-3 hours.
  • Mark the bathroom door with a large sign that says “Bathroom.”
  • Provide a portable commode or a toilet frame with handrails or grab bars to make getting on and off easier. Make sure it’s the right height.
  • Supply underwear that is easy to get on and off.
  • Use absorbent underclothes for trips away from home and/or adult diapers.
  • When going to a restaurant or public place such as a movie theater, try to sit as close to the bathroom as possible.
  • Limit liquid intake after dinner

Talking to the doctor

  • Ask if it’s possible to cut back on prescribed medications such as water pills that increase urination
  • Does the patient have undiagnosed diabetes? Diabetes increases urination.
  • Is an enlarged prostate the problem? Rule out any medical issues that increase urination or block urination.

Preventing urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections, commonly called UTIsare more common in people who are elderly, bed-ridden and incontinent. Symptoms can include general weakness, confusion, nausea, dizziness, sudden incontinence or increased severity of incontinence. Often these symptoms seem connected to other conditions that are unrelated to a UTI, and can make it difficult to determine that the cause is an infection.

  • The most important method of prevention is to keep the genital area clean and healthy. Wipe from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria to the urinary tract, especially in women.
  • Remove used diapers from front to back.
  • Dry the skin when changing or after bathing since bacteria grows better in moist areas.
  • Use recommended hygienic products for washing that are not drying to the urogenital area.
  • Keep the patient hydrated since urination can flush out unwanted bacteria from the urinary tract.
  • Try to make sure your loved one gets help to empty their bladder entirely, since urine remaining in the bladder can help bacteria thrive and multiply.
  • Help to prevent constipation by providing plenty of fruit (applesauce, apples, berries, prunes, figs) and other foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal, legumes, peas, chia seeds, carrots, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, popcorn, nuts, and whole grains.

The dangers of UTIs

Urinary tract infections are notorious for causing delirium and delusional behavior in the elderly. When younger people get a urinary tract infection, they typically experience painful urination, an urgent need to urinate, lower abdominal pain, back pain on one side, and fever and chills. However, an older adult might not experience those symptoms. As we get older our immune system changes and it responds differently to infection. Instead of pain symptoms, seniors with a UTI may show increased signs of confusion, agitation or withdrawal. In older adults with dementia, these behavioral changes may come across as part of that condition or signs of advanced aging. If the underlying UTI goes unrecognized and untreated for too long, it can spread to the bloodstream and become life-threatening. In fact, I have a dear friend who died from a UTI that quickly became septic.

If you suspect a UTI

  • Get medical help, especially if your loved one has fever or complains of nausea or back pain. An antibiotic will be prescribed. Make sure the entire prescription is taken even if the symptoms subside. Otherwise, the infection can come back with a vengeance.
  • If it is appropriate, have the patient drink unsweetened cranberry juice on a regular basis, and/or take a cranberry/D-Mannose supplement to help stave off future infections.
  • Give the patient plenty of water to flush out the harmful bacteria
  • Apply a heating pad to the lower abdomen and/or back to help with discomfort
  • A pain reliever such as Advil can help alleviate pain and fever

Urinary tract infections are nothing to mess around with. Please get your loved one medical help if you suspect an infection.


image-1

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.