By Carol Abaya, M.A.
Question: My husband,
71, has been diagnosed with senile dementia (not Alzheimer's) and his
behavior is becoming more erratic and aggressive. He gets very frustrated
that he can’t remember how to do simple things. My daughter and I are
upset, and we don’t want to put him in a nursing home.
is no one “right way” to care for someone with dementia. But there are
some excellent books that provide coping TIPS.
Remember that your
husband cannot change his condition (unless the dementia is medicine or
thyroid induced). So you and your daughter must be flexible and try new
methods of handling him.
Simplifying the home
environment and daily routine can lessen his frustration. If he can’t
remember how to make a cup of coffee, for example, heat up the water and
let him put the coffee into the cup. Same technique if he can’t remember
how to brush his teeth. Put the toothpaste on the brush and then give
it to him.
Your area Alzheimer’s
association or a support group at your local hospital can help you.
If he is physically
aggressive, talk to your doctor about medication.
In the long run, and
if he becomes uncontrollable or bedridden, it may be best for everyone
-- especially you and your daughter -- to find an appropriate assisted
living or nursing home.
Remember that he is
not going to get better and things may only get worse. While this is
very hard for you emotionally, you do need to accept reality.
Do what you can do
comfortably; seek help; take time out for yourself every day.
Question: My sister,
70, is very forgetful and recently started asking the same question over
and over again. Is this Alzheimer’s?
a thorough geriatric medical exam can determine whether your sister might
have Alzheimer’s. There’s still no way of really saying, except by an
Everyone has times
when they are forgetful, have trouble finding the word they want to say,
or ask the same question again.
When signs like these
begin to affect every day life, and a person’s ability to care for self
decreases, there might be a medical problem that needs identification
and can be successfully treated.
Short term memory
is usually the first to go. So, be more patient -- and have her get a
for my 76 year old father has increased my stress level to the breaking
point. I need something to help me, but don’t like to take drugs. I’ve
read that certain natural herbs are better than drugs, and they don’t
have the bad reactions some drugs have.
many herbs may be safe and beneficial, others may be toxic, even deadly.
Negative reactions can occur from herbs as well as prescription medicines.
You need to research the herb and its potential side effects.
Even more important,
you need to get help in caring for your father -- don’t try to do it all
yourself. No one is superwoman. Make sure you find time every day for
yourself. And learn to say “no” if your father can do a task himself.
mother’s memory is terrible. She (79) remembers very little in relation
to her daily activities. The other day she told me that she hadn’t eaten
for days and she was starving. I know she ate because my son took her
out to her favorite restaurant. Her doctor says, “It’s just old age.”
I’m afraid it may be Alzheimer’s. Is there anything we can do?
find another doctor; one with geriatric credentials and a better understanding
of the aging process. Old age does not automatically trigger memory loss!
Second, some memory
loss and certain forms of dementia can be prevented and reversed
when they do occur.
Third, symptoms of
senile dementia and Alzheimer’s are similar. A person may hallucinate,
be confused, have profound memory loss, may withdraw from society and
be unable to cope with even simple everyday chores
But there are many
conditions that can cause similar reactions but are not Alzheimer’s.
Memory loss and dementia
may be the result of:
- clinical depression
- fluid imbalance
- misuse of medications
or adverse reactions
- low blood sugar
- small strokes (TIAs)
- poor blood circulation
- head injuries
Can be triggered by losses, including that of a spouse, one’s independence,
driving privileges or home. Depression is the number one cause of reversible
memory loss in seniors. A combination of anti-depressant drugs and counseling
too much or little water in the body can cause confusion. Many seniors
do not drink enough and become dehydrated.
Misuse of drugs:
Seniors taking too much medication or the wrong drugs may suffer from
metabolic dementia. The drugs most often abused, intentionally or not,
are sedatives such as valium, other tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
When misused, the drugs become toxic to the body and cannot be metabolized
properly, thus resulting in dementia.
Older people may have stopped cooking, and the lack of B-complex vitamins
and well-balanced meals can result in mental fuzziness and memory loss.
The B vitamin closely linked to memory loss is B-12, found in meat, shell
fish, eggs and dairy foods. Seniors may avoid these due to their cost
or the difficulty of chewing meat. Others become malnourished because
medication has lowered their appetite level.
Low blood sugar:
Can cause memory problems in almost anyone, regardless of age. If a senior
is diabetic and taking insulin, malnurishment can cause a hypo-insulin
Small strokes (TIAs):
With physical therapy, memory loss and/or confusion can often be successfully
Poor blood circulation:
anemia and lung and heart diseases, anything that interferes with the
amount of oxygen going to the brain can result in memory impairment.
Lowered metabolic function as a result of thyroid problems can result
in memory loss and is treatable with drugs
Head injury: Head
trauma, a blood clot on the brain, can cause memory loss and confusion.
Depending on the cause,
such loss may be reversible.
Consult a geriatric
physician and have him test for the conditions noted above.
Question: My father,
77, moved in with us three months ago. He keeps repeating stories about
his World War II experiences and the “fish that got away.” We’re all
sick and tired of listening to them, and my children are becoming rude
to him. How can we stop him?
things are happening here. First your father obviously has problems with
his short term memory. He doesn’t remember he already told you the story.
Second, he feels a
need to validate himself as a human being with a purpose and needed role
in life. So he is going back to the past.
Third, he is trying
to build a new relationship with you and your family. This is his way
of communicating with you.
There is little you
can do to restore his memory or confusion unless it is caused by thyroid
problems and/or medications. Then the problem may be alleviated. He should
have a thorough geriatric workup.
In relation to his
need to validate himself and develop new bonds there is a lot you can
He seems to enjoy
talking and being with other people. Look for a senior center in your
area or other activities he can participate in. Then he can share his
experiences with others, who undoubtedly had similar ones.
One time I was taking
pictures for an article at a nursing home that had adopted a dog and cat.
As the dog sat near one woman, who was scratching her (the dog’s) ears,
others joined in exchanging stories about their pets from years past.
They had a marvelous time.
It is important that
you acknowledge your father is talking to you. In the case of World
War II stories, you might say, “I’ve always enjoyed hearing these stories.
Next time when so-and-so comes to visit you, you should exchange experiences.”
And then divert his attention to something else.
Question: My mother,
90, keeps repeating the same things over and over again. I’m going crazy
listening to these same statements every time I visit her. Why is she
doing this? It has to be obvious I get upset every visit.
times repeating the same thing is the result of memory loss, a physical
or cognitive impairment. Most elderly people are not repetitive deliberately.
They just get stuck in one thought.
Repeating the same
thing is also a way to get attention — even if it is negative attention.
Your mother may need to feel she is still important.
Acknowledge that you
heard her. Clearly say that you understand her concerns or whatever.
By repeating what you heard, you show her you listened, understood what
she said, and are respecting her thoughts. You thereby increase her own
comfort level. Then divert her attention to something else.
Make sure medications
are not causing the problem.
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