Some of the most frequent infections worldwide can happen to anyone – influenza, UTIs and even bladder infections are among the most commonly suffered infections in people from all walks of life at any age. But for those over the age of 65, these illnesses become all the more difficult to diagnose and detect – which can lead to chronic poor health, daily discomfort and a higher risk of hospitalisation.
If you notice symptoms such as a loss of appetite, decline in daily functioning, mental health changes, incontinence and more falls or frailty than usual – it may be a sign of any one of the following common infections:
Urinary Tract Infection
A http://www.myhomecareagency.co.uk/news/item/296-urinary-tract-infections-in-men.html is the most common form of bacterial infection found in the elderly, with the use of catheters and the presence of diabetes putting many older adults at higher risk. Changes in behaviour, such as increased confusion or urinary incontinence in dementia patients is a warning bell to look out for.
Pain or discomfort is not usually a symptom with many dementia or elderly patients, so if you suspect the onset of a UTI, contact their physician straight away.
Some of the most common skin infections experienced by the elderly include the likes of viral infections such as herpes zoster, also known as shingles. Other infections to watch out for are things like pressure ulcers, bacterial or fungal foot infections – most commonly in diabetes patients, cellulitis and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Keep an eye out for skin itching, fresh lesions or pain in isolated areas.
Seniors are at greater risk of contracting pneumonia for a number of reasons, including a weakened lung capacity, increased exposure to bacteria in a community setting and an increased vulnerability to infection due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes.
Older adults, especially those with dementia, do not display typical symptoms such as fever, chills or coughing, but rather weakness, confusion and delirium.
A weakened immune system combined with chronic pre-existing conditions makes many older adults highly susceptible to contracting the flu, which can often lead to more severe complications, such as developing into pneumonia. Common warning signs of flu are not necessarily shown by the elderly. Once again it’s important to look out for increased weakness, confusion and fragility.
The digestive system goes through many changes as we age, while the gastrointestinal flora and balance of our digestive system can also weaken over time. The elderly are most commonly susceptible to a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori, which causes nausea, upper abdominal pain and fever and can lead to long-term illness such as ulcers or gastritis.
Clostridium difficile is an increasingly common infection which causes diarrhoea, and can usually occurs after to antibiotic treatments.
As a care giver, it’s vitally important to be aware and understand the most commonly contracted infections, potential warning signs and how to go about getting your patient diagnosed and treated. Staying on top of your patient’s health can help to keep their quality of life at its best!
As a carer or a loved one it is of utmost importance to learn the intricacies of communicating effectively with someone suffering from moderate to severe dementia. Through time you will learn the best communication strategies to help maintain some form of connection with your loved one or patient, and with this patience, understanding and empathy is invaluable during this time.
10 tips for communicating with someone suffering moderate to severe dementia:
- Recognise and understand dementia – it is a disease that does worsen over time. It’s important to understand and accept this inevitability and that your patient or loved one will have a harder time understanding others, than you will them.
- Avoid distractions – try to find a quiet, peaceful place to talk where there aren’t any distractions to detract from their mental ‘energy’.
- Make sure to speak clearly and naturally – it’s always best to use your normal voice and tone, avoid using ‘baby talk’ or patronising ways of speaking.
- When talking about specific people, refer to them by name – avoid using words such as ‘he’ or ‘she’ as this could become confusing for your loved one or patient. Names are an important part of memory recall.
- Talk about one topic at a time – try not to mix up conversation topics. A sufferer of dementia may find even one topic overwhelming, so remember to properly engage in one conversation thread at a time.
- Use non-verbal cues where you can – maintain good eye contact, smile and touch a hand or arm, helps to keep them at ease and at times, facilitate understanding.
- Actively concentrate on listening – if you don’t understand something they are telling you, politely let them know what you cannot understand.
- Let the small things go – it may be pointless to quibble over misstatements, mispronunciations or delusions, sometimes it’s easier to let the small things go.
- Be patient – give your patient or loved one the time they need to understand what you’re saying and the time to process their response. Try not let frustration get the better of you!
- Make room for good days and bad days – some days your loved one or patient may seem more like their former self than others. It’s important to remember that dementia sufferers have both good and bad days just like everyone else!
Many loved ones and carers may refer to elderly parents or grandparents with dementia as a ‘shell of their former selves’, but it is important to remember that within the person you may not recognise their former selves still exist. With enough patience and a few of these communication strategies you will be able to best understand your loved one or patient and treat them with the dignity they deserve…
If you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it does not signal the end of the road for your relationship or connection with them. As a loved one supporting or caring for someone with either of these diseases it’s important to be realistic about the disease’s effects and how it may change them. At the same time, it is also important to remember that there are many ways to maintain a meaningful connection with the one you love.
Here are some simple ways to build trust, a meaningful memory bridge and maintain a connection with them:
It is well known that those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia develop an intuitive skill set in recognising and discerning the intentions of others - whether it’s a care giver or loved one. With this in mind, remember that silence and voids in the conversation do not always need to be filled. Non-verbal communication such as ‘being present’, using eye contact, smiles and touch can be just as effective.
Be there for your loved one with your patience, understanding and intention to create a better quality of life for them where you can.
Actions speak louder than words
For many late stage Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, verbal communication is very limited. In this instance, you are still able to create a connection with them in form of actions and not words. It has been proven that to mirror certain actions of a loved one, and not mimic them, is an effective way to create a memory bridge and level of connection.
If your loved one smiles at you, smile back, if they giggle at something, giggle along. It may be simple, but it creates connection.
The power of music
If your loved one is suffering in the late stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, music has proven to be a highly effective way to establish connections and evoke certain memories. Music and rhythmic speech is often stored in portions of the brain that can remain vibrant quite late into various forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
If verbal communication is not an option, play some of your loved one’s favourite songs and hum, tap, clap and sing along!
Learn to go with the flow
Very often elders with Alzheimer’s and dementia have a variability to the stories they tell and conversations they have. At times they may link disparate memories and time periods into a conversation in the ‘present’ time that may not make any sense. In this case, it is important to accept that this may be their version of what is ‘real’ and learn to go with the flow of their recollections and conversations. This, in turn, can help to strengthen your emotional connection with them.
At the core of the ways to maintain a connection should be the understanding that they are not lost or gone – instead, there are still ways to live with hope, dignity and a good quality of life through establishing meaningful connections.
They say there is ‘no time like the present’ when it comes to taking charge of your ageing and the status of your health. If you have a parent or spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia it may drive home the importance of taking the time to truly look after yourself - setting yourself up comfortably for your golden years.
It is well-known that happy ageing makes for healthy ageing – here are a few top tips for being the boss of your physical well-being and ageing happily:
Check your cholesterol levels
It’s important to get this checked at least once a year. Learning more about your cholesterol levels will help you to make the right lifestyle and food choices and maintain your personal health goals.
Assess your risks of developing common types of cancer
As you age, it’s important to be upfront and honest with yourself – are you at a prime age where developing certain types of cancer can occur? Speak to your doctor about the health warning signs to look out for and whether you are at risk. If you are at risk, make sure to go for the recommended tests and screenings – after all, early detection and treatment elevates the chances of survival dramatically.
Pack your diet with fruits and vegetables
Making sure your diet is balanced with fruits and vegetables and healthy fats is essential to reducing your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other dread diseases.
Maintain meaningful relationships and your social life
Social isolation has been linked to poor health, including anxiety, depression and an increased risk of developing mental health issues. Stay connected with family and friends, volunteer your time, get outdoors and maintain healthy emotional connections with those around you.
Manage your risks of heart disease
As we age, we become susceptible to developing heart diseases such as atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) if our heart health is not maintained. Take charge of the condition of you heart with a proper, balanced diet, regular exercise, stress and weight management. Asking your doctor for an EKG once a year is also recommended.
Train your brain
Boosting your brain fitness is imperative to warding off mental health issues and lowers your risks of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Keep your brain active with board games, crossword puzzles, puzzle building and social interaction with friends and family!
Understanding the importance of maintaining your health when you have it is paramount to enjoying the golden years you deserve. It’s never too late to start – take charge of your well-being and stay at the top of your game!
Caring for someone elderly or a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is not only about patience and empathy, but actually requires a lot of knowledge on an assortment of topics. These may include things such as coping with dementia behaviours, financial planning and legal details, emotional support, health warning signs to look out for and general day-to-day care.
Based on recent research and an array of recommendations by many top professionals, here are 5 essential resources to lend a helping hand in your care giving journey as a family member or carer:
1. The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer’s Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life - by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins.
This book has come to be considered the ‘holy grail’ of all resources for family members caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The book covers important, relevant topics such as emotional strains of caring, financial planning, dementia behaviour and how best to handle it, as well as information on nursing homes and residential living.
2. Mayo Clinic Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease: The Essential Resource for Treatment, Coping and Caregiving - by Ronald Petersen
This book delves deeper into the workings of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and how it affects the brain. Free from overwhelming medical jargon, the book covers information on how the brain works, how to age in a healthy manner, signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and not-to-mention the most recent developments in Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment.
3. The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diagnosis and Treatment for Memory Problems - by P. Murali Doraiswamy; Lisa Gwyther
Written by an expert physician in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia, this book offers a wealth of advice for both family members and care givers. The book includes a detailed guide to diagnosis and treatments of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and also outlines coping strategies for life after diagnosis. Also included is what to expect at different stages throughout the disease and how best to participate in clinical trials.
4. Alzheimer’s Early Stages: First Steps for Family, Friends and Caregivers - by Daniel Kuhn, MSW, and David A. Bennett
This book is focused on the care giver – offering practical coping advice, suggestions on how to handle caregiver stress and first-person accounts by care givers on what they have faced in certain situations. Additionally, the book focuses on the early stages of Alzheimer’s and how families can better understand the behavioural changes of a loved one suffering with the disease.
5. The Forgetting. Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic - by David Shenk
Written by well-known journalist David Shenk who has written more than one book on Alzheimer’s disease, this resource covers an exploration into the history of the disease. In this deeply empathetic book, Shenk discusses the role of scientists, care givers and policy makers in the history of the treatment of Alzheimer’s and the overall human impact of the disease.
The best way to give the best form of care is by educating yourself, and the above resources are a sure fire way to help!
The Alzheimer’s Societycould potentially make a life-changing difference for those that suffer from dementia, with a £6 million investment in dementia care research invested at three Centres of Excellence through Britain.
The Centres of Excellence are located at the University of Newcastle, University of Exeter and University College London and are the first three out of eight planned Centres of Excellence throughout the country. Each centre will be directly involved in ground breaking dementia care research, which is focused on ways to measure and improve quality of life for those diagnosed with dementia.
Key priority areas within dementia care research will be the focus of the Centres, over a period of five years - including areas such as access to post-diagnostic support, training for homecare workers and improved quality of life for both dementia sufferers and their home carers.
With 850 000 people living with dementia in the United Kingdom, the strain on the British economy to provide adequate care and funding of dementia treatment, home careand funding for research has become apparent. This pressure is alleviated somewhat by private investments and grants greater access to post-diagnostic support and care at home – allowing for empowerment of those suffering from dementia. This support will enable dementia sufferers to remain independent for longer, reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and minimise early entry into care homes.
The investment comes at a pivotal time in public awareness of dementia and the challenges of social care reform in the United Kingdom. With this worthy investment, there is room for increased development of the social care system.
The Alzheimer’s Society is the United Kingdom’s biggest contributor of charity towards dementia care research, contributing a third of its funding to this area. As part of the charity’s five-year plan, their research agenda will be driven by the knowledge and experience of those currently suffering with dementia, with the hope of improving their lives for the better.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are intrinsically linked, with Alzheimer’s being the primary cause of dementia. However, there are other rarer forms of dementia that can also be triggered by rarer diseases and conditions, which are not necessarily linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
With this is mind it’s important to know the many different ‘faces of dementia’ and some of the tell-tale signs.
Corticobasal degeneration (CBD)
This rare form of dementia usually affects people between the ages of 60 – 80 and is a disease where parts of the brain become damaged due to its shrinking. The first symptoms of CBD include problems with movement, stiffness, jerkiness in limbs and a failure to control hand movements – also known as ‘alien hand syndrome’. Further symptoms include loss of balance, co-ordination and difficulties speaking and swallowing.
An inherited disease, Huntington’s causes problems with movement, co-ordination, mood and cognitive impairment which tends to progressively deteriorate over time. Those suffering with Huntington’s may also experience difficulty concentrating, planning or organising things, as well as short-term memory loss and a development of obsessive behaviour. The onset of this disease varies person-to-person and dementia can begin to occur at any stage or age throughout the illness.
Niemann-Pick disease type C
This is an extremely rare form of dementia that affects those of school-age and early adulthood. It is an inherited disease that is not related to frontotemporal dementia, but rather is an inability to process cholesterol and fats, including those found in the brain. Symptoms of this disease include a loss of movement and difficulty in walking and swallowing. The dementia symptoms might include confusion, memory loss and difficulties concentrating or learning.
Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA)
Also known as Benson’s Syndrome, this rare degenerative disease affects the back or posterior of the brain, with the main cause of PCA usually being Alzheimer’s disease. Occurring in those between the ages of 50-60 years, symptoms may be indiscernible at first, but generally get progressively obvious. Despite a well-preserved memory, those with PCA will experience difficulties with vision, recognition of faces and objects, literacy and numbers. As time progresses, typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s will appear, including memory loss and confusion.
Being aware of the many different faces of dementia is just one positive step in understanding this complex disease. It could also help with early detection – giving those you care about an opportunity for adequate future planning!
As a care giver, your health and well-being should be as important to you, as those you care for. After all, without your health being in good condition, how could you perform and give 100% of your best effort to those that may need you the most?
You may find yourself having to juggle a number of responsibilities, and it’s only human that those that care for others, tend to neglect themselves. The best thing you can do as a care giver is remain strong, both physically and emotionally, for those you care for.
A few tips on self-care and ensuring your health is also a priority include:
See the doctor regularly
Visiting your physician regularly – at least twice a year, is important to ensure you are not overlooking signs of lingering health issues. Your doctor will pick up symptoms of exhaustion and stress that you may overlook and will advise accordingly. If you notice changes in your appetite, behaviour or sleep pattern, it’s recommended you visit your doctor to avoid a physical or mental decline in health.
Physical activity and staying fit is an important part of maintaining a good overall state of health. It can also help to relieve stress, prevent disease and releases endorphins which help to make you feel good! It’s important to find the time – 20 minutes or more of exercise per day is highly recommended.
Maintain a healthy diet
A well-balanced diet that consists of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, healthy oils and fats and a reduced amount of red meat is one that will keep you happy and healthy. Eat at least five small meals a day.
Build a support network
Having support when you need to vent, talk or bounce your thoughts and feelings off others is an amazing way to relieve stress – both mentally and emotionally. As a care giver it’s important to remember you are also human and finding a trustworthy support network to be there for you is paramount to maintaining your mental and emotional well-being.
Self-care is in no way related to being selfish – instead, it is about ensuring your health is in optimal condition so that you can provide the level of care that is needed. Take some time to truly assess how you feel and then take the necessary steps you need in order to be at your best, for those that need you the most!
Getting ahead on making provisions for the future in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia is vitally important. This involves sensitive planning with regards to legal plans and decisions, which ultimately allows those with Alzheimer’s or dementia to be directly involved in serious decision-making processes. To add to this, it also affords them the opportunity to express their wishes or expectations for future care and decisions while they still have the capacity to do so.
Legal planning for the future will generally include the following:
- Health care and long-term care plans
- Finance and property decisions and allocation
- Naming a proxy to make decisions on behalf of a client
Legal capacity is defined as the ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of actions, as well as being able to make rational decisions. If a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is able to fully understand and comprehend a legal document and the consequences of signing such a document, then he or she has the legal capacity to make their own decisions. However, the requirements of legal capacity vary from one legal document to another, so it’s important to gauge the full legal capacity of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia before signing any particular document.
Some steps to ensure clear legal capacity include:
- Talking with the person to ensure they fully comprehend the legal document and its consequences
- Ask for medical advice if you have concerns regarding their ability to understand
- Take inventory of existing legal documents – these may include wills, trusts or powers of attorney, it is important to review legal decisions that were made in the past before a client may have been diagnosed.
Making legal plans in advance eliminates guess work for family members when it comes to communicating what may already be a very hard decision. Having a decisive answer and legal plan already in place will help to alleviate stress for all parties. Planning for the future also allows those with Alzheimer’s or dementia to designate decision makers on his or her behalf, ensuring their affairs will be in the best possible hands.
In the early or beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, most people function completely independently. This stage of the disease can, in fact, last for years, where clients may still drive, be part of social activity or even still work. As a care giver, your role may not be as demanding as during the middle or later stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it is still an important one where you will provide support, companionship, and most importantly, help to plan for the future.
During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may be referred to more as a ‘care partner’ than an actual ‘care giver’ as your client may not actually need much assistance during this time. This is not to say that you won’t play an important role in their lives and, more importantly, their future care.
In the early stages of diagnosis, your role as a care partner is to maximise on the time you have and to help your client, and their family, to make decisions about the future together – such as legal, financial and long-term care. You can also use the early stages to encourage your client to take advantage of available treatments and clinical trials – taking the time to learn about Alzheimer’s, reducing anxiety about the unknown and setting up a solid foundation for the future.
As each person experiences and displays symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia differently, they may need certain types of assistance or cues from you, as a care partner, during these early stages:
- Remembering appointments
- Remembering words or names
- Reminding them of familiar places or people
- Assistance in managing money
- Keeping track of medications
- Planning or organising
As a care partner during this time, an important part of your role will be to focus on your client’s strengths and Person Centred Care- remembering that they are still an individual with likes, dislikes, hobbies and a history. It will also be vitally important to remain encouraging in them living an independent lifestyle. You will need to establish a strong platform of communication and really concentrate on working as a ‘team’ for the future.