When Dementia Comes Home: Walking the Journey

While memory complaints of all ages seem to be on the rise, families of older adults often start to think perhaps something is beyond the changes of normal aging. Questions arise and with a basic understanding of what concerns should be further assessed, families and friends can begin to better understand these changes and the impact it may be having on day to day functioning. Unless you are around a person for a lengthy period of time, many of those issues may be attributed to a person just having a bad day.

There are many strategies that can be helpful and caregiver education is essential part of any program. A referral to a speech-language pathologist specializing in this area can be a valuable resource in creating a plan for communication and memory strategies, safety recommendations, and activity modification. Learning to meet a person where they are with periodic modifications can help to decrease frustrations and anxiety sometimes leading to difficult behaviors as well as increased withdrawal from activities.

Another important aspect is the impact of a hearing loss on a person’s ability to retain information. Important strategies used by friends and family can be very helpful since you cannot recall what you did not hear. Equally important is helping the hard of hearing person understand what they could do to maximize their participation in the process.

A frequent concern that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later is whether or not a person should be driving.  Families could benefit from the many resources which provide guidance on the best ways to approach the situation early on or when safety has become a serious concern. While a person may recall the route and how to drive, safety may be compromised for a variety of reasons including hearing, vision, reaction time and judgment. No one wants to give up the car keys and the conversation is one that is often put off too long.

Most people are fairly private with their finances and when there are memory and cognitive issues, there can be poor choices as well as an increased risk for fraud. Often the person with dementia can be making errors when taking their medications such as skipping some or taking them more than once. They may reassure families they know what they are doing but are totally unaware of the errors until a crisis develops. Sometimes just the assistance of someone with finances and medications can allow the person with dementia to participate for a longer period of time but with supervision.

Additional areas where those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia can struggle often include meal planning and shopping which impacts their overall nutrition and hydration. Loved ones often do not notice the gradual changes until there are more serious issues such as frequent dehydration, weight loss or failure to thrive. Traveling is another area where those who frequently took trips are struggling, such as when handling the  complexity in planning, the faster pace and unexpected changes that can occur with air travel.

In each of these areas a personalized care plan can be created by a speech-language pathologist after assessing the person with dementia. Starting with understanding not only their deficits but the areas where they have more intact skills allows the creation of memory props around those capabilities as well as providing training for interested care partners in how to modify their approach.

Often one of the first things family may notice is a decline in activity participation. Helping families and friends understand why this is happening and how to engage the person with dementia in activities that appeal to them can help the connection through the many stages of change. Knowing a person’s preferences and creating a lifestyle care plan early on will help families, friends and care partners encourage things they might enjoy or prefer that often just need to be modified appropriately.

Walking the journey when a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia is a life changing process.  With better understanding of what is happening and how to best handle situations, it is possible for all involved to reduce some of their stress and remain connected even through the later stages. As my mother’s abilities changed, she was no longer the Scrabble expert but we still played. Modifications included looking up words, making cheat sheets of little words, keeping score for her or just letting words that were misspelled count without drawing attention to them. It was our tradition since I was in grade school and I fondly reflect back on those memories. They are mine and they matter all these years later.

The eldercare articles and blogs and this cable tv show and blogs along with a wide range of products that have been created through the years were developed to help you walk your journey. Many times in my work as a speech-language pathologist and in private consultations I have experienced the joy in seeing others stay connected in small but meaningful ways when what used to do was no longer possible. For further information on consultation services contact kathryn@memoryfitnessmatters.com.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”  Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993); Actress, Humanitarian

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters (www.memoryfitnessmatters.com) and Communication Connection(www.connectionsincommunication.com). She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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