Archive for the ‘Caregiver Tips’ Category

5 Key Steps to Protect Elderly Adults in a Natural Disaster

Notepad with disaster plan on a wooden table.

 

Natural disasters affect everyone, but older adults are more vulnerable than others for a variety of reasons, including limited physical mobility, chronic health conditions and social and economic limitations. In fact, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than half of older adults had some kind of functional limitation.

If you’re caring for or have an elderly loved one, it’s important to have a plan in place in case a natural disaster strikes. It’s a plan that potentially needs to accommodate a number of factors, from medications and medical devices to assistance with daily activities of living.

What follows are some steps you can take to make sure the elderly adult you know or care for is protected during a natural disaster.

1. Have medications ready

It’s vital that your elderly loved one has their medications with them during a time of evacuation. Adverse health events are more likely to occur if essential medications for chronic diseases aren’t available, especially for older adults with a history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes or cancer therapies, among others. Without his or her medications, the older adult is at risk for health issues that would require emergency care.

That said, it’s a great idea to keep their medications in easy-to-grab containers during a quick evacuation. Experts also recommend making a photocopy of prescriptions to make it easier to get refills from a different location.

2. Let others know

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends making sure your cell phone, laptop or other mobile devices are fully charged when you know a storm is coming.

However, since lines of communication may be limited or even lost during a natural disaster, it’s important to plan ahead for alternative ways to let family, friends and neighbors know where you and your elderly loved one can be found. Keep a stash of quarters to use at phone booths in case

your cell phone no longer works, plus a list of any relevant phone numbers you may not know by heart.

3. Have a detailed emergency plan in place

It’s important to be specific when it comes to being prepared for a natural disaster. Things can get hectic during the actual disaster, and explicit instructions with specific times, places, and things that need to be done will help avoid confusion during a time of extreme stress.

The plan may include other priorities, including:

  • What to do with pets – Most shelters don’t allow pets, so talk with the local animal shelter or a veterinarian to learn about emergency options. Also, make provisions to include any food or supplies for the pet.
  • How to transport other devices – Older adults may require mobility, assistive or communication devices that must come with them during an evacuation.
  • Choose a meeting place – It’s recommended that families designate a secure rendezvous point away from home that’s convenient for everyone.
  • Have copies of essential documents – Make sure to have copies of essential documents, such as Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance cards, birth certificate, Social Security card, etc. It’s also wise to bring a small amount of cash.

4. Turn off the news

Don’t constantly watch or listen to news of the disaster in front of your elderly loved one unless you absolutely must. This can make someone who already feels vulnerable more anxious and nervous. Instead, quietly prepare for the evacuation by gathering supplies.

Move quickly but don’t rush, while also leaving yourself ample time to do what needs to be done. Moreover, know where you’re going, whether it’s to a family member’s house, a hotel, or a shelter while making sure everyone knows of your plans ahead of time.

5. Have backup

Designate a backup person, whether it’s a neighbor or close friend who lives nearby to check on – and if needed, evacuate – your loved one in the event that you can’t be there yourself. Make sure that you have a reliable way to reach them and that they’re able to easily get in touch with your elderly loved one. This is particularly crucial if you’re a long-distance caregiver.

 

7 Signs a Dementia Caregiver Needs a Break

stressed caregiver

 

If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you’ve probably experienced some rewarding moments as a caregiver. But the challenges of providing care for someone with dementia can become overwhelming. Despite how much you love the person you’re caring for, it’s not uncommon to suffer from burnout and need a break. In fact, research shows that family caregivers face a slew of physical and mental health problems due to the strain of caregiving.

It’s important to recognize the signs that it’s time to take a break and recharge both physically and mentally. Take time for self-evaluation and be honest with yourself. Are you running on empty? Is your life out of balance? All of the following may be signs that you’re nearing or already experiencing burnout, and are overdue for a break and some much needed self-care.

  1. Increased anger and irritation

If you find yourself losing your temper easily and getting angry with your loved one, or becoming increasingly short-tempered with other family members, it can be a sign that you’re suffering caregiver burnout. You may find your frustrations mounting as new obstacles and challenges arise, or if your loved one repeats the same behavior over and over. You may also notice that you raise your voice in anger more than ever before.

  1. Sleep issues

Caregiving can be physically demanding, as well as mentally demanding if your loved one wanders or has disrupted sleep. Your own sleep may become disrupted as you find yourself having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and waking up tired.

  1. Emotional outbursts

It’s only natural to feel a wide array of emotions, such as grieving and sadness, when caring for a loved whose condition is declining, but if you’re becoming more emotional and fragile, it may signal that it’s time for a break. Feelings of despair, dramatic mood swings, and unexpected crying are all signs of emotional overload. Remember, depression and increased anxiety are real risks for caregivers.

  1. Physical ailments

Reaching a breaking point as a caregiver can include a rough cycle of mental and emotional stress leading to physical disorders – which add to the stress you’re already experiencing. You may find yourself getting headaches and colds more frequently (and more intensely) than usual, or develop chronic pain such as neck and back pain. Perhaps you’ve even developed high blood pressure. While you may intend to take better care of yourself, you probably lack the time to do so, which only adds to your stress.

  1. Isolation

It can be easy to become isolated as a full-time caregiver, so much so that it may seem at times like you never see another adult besides the loved one you’re caring for. Or, you may feel like other family members don’t care as much about your loved one as you do, or that they don’t understand the depth of your daily caregiving responsibilities.

Your loved one’s behavior may make you feel that it’s too risky to spend any time away and, intentionally or not, you’ve become withdrawn. Social isolation can add to your stress instead of re-energizing you like being with others can.

  1. Lack of energy or motivation

There are many ways that lethargy can manifest itself, from a lack of energy, a decreased desire for trying to accomplish things, to feeling sluggish after a good night’s rest, or finding it hard to concentrate when you’re reading or doing other mental tasks. Performing the same routines daily as a caregiver can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, even if those routines enable your loved one to thrive. And some routines, like managing your loved one’s finances, can be more confusing and challenging than others.

  1. Family complaints

As a caregiver, it can seem like a better solution to take on the entire burden of care, feeling that you are the only one capable of keeping everything under control. It’s hard to imagine another way of doing things when you’re on the “front lines” and caring for your loved one on a daily basis.

But everyone needs help sometimes, so it’s important to be open to family and friends who may suggest that you’re not spending enough time with your other loved ones, or are neglecting the things that once gave you joy. You may even find yourself in an increasing number of arguments with other family members about your loved one’s care. It’s important to be willing to enlist help, whether  via unpaid assistance from loved ones or paid respite care.

 

 

 

How to Cope When Caring for a Difficult Loved One

DifficultDad

There’s no question that being a caregiver for a difficult loved one can have its stressful moments. When that person is a parent or another person close to use, your stress levels can easily rise as you deal with emotionally fraught situations you may never have anticipated. Plus, old age and poor health or disability aren’t likely to improve your loved one’s disposition.

The good news? There are many strategies to deal with a difficult aging loved one that can ease your stress while helping to guide them more smoothly through the activities of daily living. What follows are some practical tips to help you cope.

1. Put yourself first.
It seems counter-intuitive that putting your own needs first would be helpful in dealing with a difficult loved one. But it’s crucial that you don’t sacrifice your own sanity to provide care. Putting yourself first means delegating as many responsibilities as you can to others. Nurture your own relationships and friendships to maintain your own well being. The healthier you are, the better care you’ll be able to give your loved one.

2. Know your limitations.
This tip also relates to delegating responsibility, because caring for a difficult aging loved one can be extremely time-consuming. Trying to do everything by yourself is admirable, but certainly not practical. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” when you need to. Knowing what you can and cannot handle effectively is important for your own health and your loved one’s health.

3. Don’t expect praise.
This is particularly important if you’re caring for someone with dementia. The cognitive impairment your loved one is experiencing may mean that he or she is no longer capable of appreciating your efforts. Instead, their behaviors may include hostility, accusations and suspicion – behaviors that they never exhibited before. It’s important to accept doing a good job for your own sake and because it’s the right thing to do, and not for your parent or loved one’s approval.

4. Try something different.
Take a closer look at the interactions that are consistently negative and decide if there are less stressful ways to spend time with your loved one. Find other activities, like reading a book together, asking him or her to talk about their past, or even creating a photo album together. If sitting together often results in an argument, then volunteer to do a cleaning project, or to cook a special meal.

5. Take breaks.
It’s easy to get so absorbed in caregiving, jobs and family obligations, and the stress of daily life, that you can forget how much time you’re putting in for others. Take time to nurture your spirit and soul in ways that ease your burden. You can take a peaceful walk by yourself, listen to soothing music, meditate, enjoy a hobby, or anything that helps you re-focus mentally.

6. Be proud of your efforts.
Sometimes your efforts will fail no matter what – and how hard – you try. Self-doubt can creep in, and it’s easy to feel guilty or get angry at the loved one who is being so difficult. But take pride in the knowledge that you continue to do what’s best for your loved one’s quality of life and that you’re doing it with a sincere heart. Admire your own bravery and persistence.

7. Bring in experts.
There are situations where bringing in a professional, such as a geriatric care manager, is necessary. You may not have family support, or the relationship has become too explosive and complicated. Whatever the case, a professional can provide support and advice, as well as coordinate care if you live far from your loved one.

8. Set boundaries.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is important for anyone in a caregiving role, and especially important if you’re dealing with a difficult loved one. Be clear about how much you can do (and are willing to do) and this will leave you less vulnerable to manipulative behavior and guilt trips. It’s not a bad idea to set boundaries about how much abusive behavior you’ll put up with, as well.

9. Communicate.
It’s important to discuss situations as soon they arise, when possible. Talking things through with your parent or loved one without getting defensive can make a world of difference. Try using “I” statements instead of accusations or “you” statements.

10. Understand their point of view.
A parent or loved one may feel frustrated with the role reversal in your relationship now that you’re taking care of them. This may make them uncomfortable and feel less like a parent and more like a helpless child. Change the dynamic to “How can I help?” which helps put the responsibility and decisions back on them.

Aging in Place Safely: Home Automation for Seniors

 

 HomeSafety

As many seniors opt to age in place and live their golden years in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes, it’s natural for loved ones to want to ensure their safety when they can’t be around or when hiring a caregiver isn’t an option. The current slate of home automation devices in stores today offer practical solutions for keeping a helpful eye on seniors without feeling like an intrusion on their privacy. And since the gadgets available are so user-friendly, the high barrier to entry that once existed with products like Wi-Fi-enabled video cameras and smart home hubs no longer exists.

Today’s technological solutions are designed to be used right out of the box, meaning little installation is required. The days of dozens of cords and a novel-sized product manual are behind us. The seven home automation gadgets we’ve highlighted here not only provide ease of use, but peace of mind for seniors and their loved ones.

  1. Wi-Fi Video Camera

A Wi-Fi smart home camera allows seniors to verify that their homes and pets are safe while they’re away. For older adults living on their own, installing these cameras in a hallway, living room or any other space in the home will help family members keep a respectful eye on their aging loved one. The password-protected live stream of an Internet-connected video camera can be accessed on the camera’s website or a specially designed app. These cameras are particularly useful as an automatic communications device; many models have two-way audio to allow both the person in the room and the one watching remotely to speak to one another.

  1. Remote-Controlled Lighting

Thankfully, the era of the Clapper being the hottest thing in home lighting solutions is behind us. Now lights can be controlled via remote control, smartphone or even a smartwatch. Systems like the Lutron Caseta Lighting Kit let residents create schedules that adjust lights at specific times. The lights are also equipped to sense when a resident is approaching and illuminate at that moment, so there’s no need to shuffle around in the dark and potentially cause an accident.

  1. Smart Home Hub

Visions of yelling into a machine often pass through people’s minds when voice recognition products are mentioned. Yet, the technology has gotten so advanced that controlling any sort of voice-activated gadget is now more like speaking to someone sitting next to you, which is why home automation hubs like the Amazon Echo can be so effective for seniors at home. The device acts as the catch-all for activating things like streaming radio, audiobooks, getting the day’s weather report and even controlling other smart gadgets around the home.

  1. Automated Door Lock

Caregivers and extended family members may want to opt for a high-tech front door, as it allows them to control entry into the home without the old-school safety issues of leaving a key under the mat. Automated locks offer the ability to create unique digital codes for multiple users who need access, such as caregivers or other family members. The codes can also be changed at any time, which is a much easier solution than changing locks due to lost keys.

  1. Robot Vacuum

Lifting couches and crouching under beds to clean hard-to-reach places is a challenge that’s insurmountable for many elderly adults. Robotic cleaning gadgets eliminate the need for this.. Users can create schedules that signal when the vacuum should remove itself from its dock and start cleaning the floors. Most models automatically adjust as they move from carpet to hardwood to tile, so that every square inch of the floor is cleaned.

  1. Smart Smoke Detector

A smoke and carbon monoxide detector that requires little upkeep can be a dream come true for anyone who’s been woken by a detector that won’t stop chirping or who’s struggled to change a dead battery. A smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector like the Nest Protect lasts for up to a decade. It also helps cut down on false alarms while saving peace of mind by sending smartphone alerts should anything ever be amiss.

  1. Smart Sensors

Multi-purpose sensors can be used in all sorts of useful scenarios like detecting the buzz that signals the end of a washing machine cycle or a knock on the door. Elder caregivers and other family members will find it most useful for alerting when any doors or windows open, so that they can monitor who is coming into a house and, most importantly, when their loved one exits the house and returns safely home.

With smart technology now more user-friendly than ever, even seniors with little tech experience should find that home automation helps them age in place safely.

Kelly Schwarze writes about smart home technology, including how new products can improve the lives of seniors. Kelly provides her insight online for Home Depot. To research a large variety of smart home tech products, you can visit Home Depot’s website.

Forget About Bingo and Cards, These are the Board Games You can Play During Retirement

Bingo and card games–these are the games associated with retirement. For upcoming seniors who cringe at the thought that their social calendar will include bingo or despair that perhaps card games will be the only games they are capable of playing when they get older, think again. You’re never too old for board games, and I’m not referring to the traditional board games of Monopoly or Parcheesi. Instead today’s board games have you taking the helm of a pirate ship, building an empire, or laying railroad tracks across Europe. If your friends complain that they’re too old for board games or games take too long to play, they haven’t experienced the board games of today. With their high-quality art and storylines, you will find yourself in another universe, and many are easy to learn and can be finished in under an hour (no more never-ending board game marathons!).

The board game universe is pretty diverse with games that appeal to any interest, whether more social versus strategy, says Ian, a salesperson at Card Kingdom in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. When seniors visit Card Kingdom, he says they are usually there to purchase a board game for their grandchildren, perhaps becaus they don’t realize that board games don’t have an age or gender bias. HABA even advertises their games for ages 3-99!

This holiday season, consider purchasing a board game for yourself as a way to reinvent what you’ll be doing during retirement. Instead of your friends getting together for coffee, how about a game night instead? Instead of arts and crafts hour at the senior center, how about board game hour? And with the health benefits of keeping your brain active, board games are the perfect way to combine socializing and exercising your brain.

If you need an idea of what board games to consider, here’s  few favorite board games that Ian and Nelly recommended as being easy to learn and fun to master.

Qwirkle

qwirkleForm a row of either six blocks of the same color or with each a different shape. Sounds simple right? Not when you are playing with other people who are trying to block you and create their own rows. And don’t space off for a minute, otherwise someone will steal your space!

This game can include 2-6 players, with more players making it even more challenging. Not only does the game test your ability to strategize, but your math skills are also tested when you add up your points gained when laying down a tile. With all the tiles fitting neatly into a bag, Quirkle is easy to carry around and clean up.

Ticket to Ride

Win by completing all your train routes and building the longest train. With your opponents having the same mission and needing to use the same route as you to reach their destination cities, winning this ticket-to-ridegame requires knowing when to pick up a card or lay down track. That’s because once the track is claimed, you may find yourself cut off from your city! (Helpful advice: When playing with 3 or more people, be sure to claim your track through the middle of Europe early, as this quickly becomes taken.)

Two to five players can participate in this game, which is the ideal for playing when meeting new people because you can learn about where people have traveled or their favorite cities. With game boards featuring Europe, Asia, India, and America you can travel around the globe. Because there are small pieces, this game is for ages 8+, and when you play with grandchildren, they can learn about your world travels and world history at the same time.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival 

lanternsThis game I hadn’t heard of before Ian and Nelly introduced it to me, but Lanterns will soon be added to my game collection. In less than five minutes, Ian explained the rules so it’s quick to explain to players who are newcomers to the game.

Splendor

splendorAs a gem merchant during the Renaissance, your goal is to build your commercial empire and gain an audience with Henry VIII. Splendor is another game that I haven’t played but sounds intriguing. Ian describes it as having “almost a chess-level of strategy.”
Yet unlike chess, the game can be explained in five minutes and can be finished in a half hour.

Tsuro

tsuroTsuro is a quick game that can be played with 2-8 players. Simply laying a tile on the board and moving your piece along the chosen path can quickly prove disastrous if someone else plays a card that sends your piece off the board. This game makes you think ahead as to where paths might lead, and the challenge is not to use your finger to follow the path!

For those who like nautical-themed games, they will enjoy Tsuro of the Seas where you are navigating your ship through the treacherous seas. This game has the added challenge of sea monsters to dodge.

Do you feel inspired to visit a board game store build your collection? They are fun to visit and the staff are more than happy to share their favorites, as Ian and Nelly were when I stopped in for a visit. And remember, you can never have too many board games!

Helpful Questions to Ask When Determining the Type of Senior Living Community Your Parents Need

Portrait of senior manOn Monday we compared the senor living care types that are available when your parents require supportive services. While many families express a desire for loved ones to remain at home and receive in-home care or move in with a family member, for some families, this isn’t a realistic situation. In this post we’ll discuss the senior living care options available in a community setting. Although the community setting that most people think of is a nursing home, there are other living arrangements available and, most important, these communities are designed to mimic the privacy of a home while providing the emotional benefits of living within a close-knit community. Answering a few simple questions about your parents’ physical and mental abilities can help you determine which community setting will fit for their needs.

  • Can your parents still cook meals and clean the house but welcome a respite from these daily chores?
  • Do your parents need reminders to take their medications on-time?
  • Would your parents like to remain active and expand their circle of friends?

If your parents are still able to maintain their house and mow the lawn but are remarking that they don’t have time for these chores, then an independent living community is a good option for them. Visiting an independent living community can feel very much like stepping inside a small town because of the many on-site amenities such as a beauty salon/barber shop, a convenience store, bocce ball court, and even on-site banking and postal services.

These communities frequently have a full-time activity director charged with overseeing the activity program. Activities and events are customized to fulfill residents’ emotional, physical and mental well-being and are often tailored to meet a resident’s interest. Other community perks that are now increasingly common include movie theaters, art studios and putting greens.

One of the drawbacks of this type of community setting is that they are often large and those who are not naturally outgoing can find it intimidating. The average monthly rate of independent living communities typically start in the $2,000s and can be higher depending upon the amenities and location.

Should your parents consider an independent living community, ask whether assisted living services or in-home care services are available. Although your parents will be loath to admit they will likely need assistance in the future, you need to prepare for that possibility. By choosing a community that offers assisted living services, this will allow your parents to remain at the community and not have to move.

  • Can your parents remember to dress themselves but occasionally need help?
  • Do your parents need reminders or assistance to take their medication?
  • Do your parents no longer want to cook or clean the house?

When your parents require supportive services to remain independent, either an assisted living facility or a care home may be a good fit. At these communities, caregivers are on hand 24/7 to provide assistance and oftentimes a nurse is also on staff to oversee the residents’ care. Usually the same type of amenities found at independent living facilities, such as a beauty salon, movie theater and library, are found at assisted living facilities. Activities are scheduled Family Using Tablet Computerthroughout the day and residents live as they would at home yet with supportive services provided by on-site staff when needed. Because residents require more personal care, the average monthly cost of assisted living will typically start in the low $3,000s.

If your parents are seeking a more intimate setting that is family-like, care homes are a cozy alternative to the larger assisted living facilities. At care homes, residents live in a residential home so the transition is easy and familiar. The cost is usually less; however, you might not find as robust an activity program or the typical community-amenities like a  salon or concierge.

Some communities also offer limited nursing services or memory care. These are healthcare services you should take into account, should your parents care needs increase or they exhibit signs of dementia, so they won’t have to leave home and seek care elsewhere.

  • Is your mother or father exhibiting signs of dementia?
  • Have they been found wandering or forget where they are driving to?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, your parents may require a memory care community or a care home that specializes in dementia and memory loss to ensure the necessary support. These communities are secured to prevent unsupervised wandering outside, and caregivers receive special training on how to respond to the behaviors and physical symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Larger memory care communities are frequently modeled to look like a neighborhood, allowing residents to wander freely, yet able to easily walk to the dining room, courtyard or lounges from their apartment. Amenities such as beauty salon services and healthcare services can be expected as well. The cost of memory care will be quite expensive because residents require more frequent check-ins and one-on-one assistance to perform activities of daily living which include bathing, dressing or eating. Affordability is a major concern and because of this many families often wonder if assisted living is a better option. In an earlier post, Sandi Flores provides helpful advice on how families can determine whether assisted living or memory care is the best fit.

Change is never easy, but working with your parents to navigate through this new phase of their life before a crisis happens will make life happier and easier for everyone in the long run.

Comparison of Senior Living Care Types

Continuing with our series of helping you navigate the new world of senior living, today’s post focuses on the senior living options that are available so you can determine the best fit for your loved one.

All too often people think that a nursing home is the only option available. In fact, there are several different types of care options available. And because senior living has its own vocabulary, be sure to also visit our Senior Living Glossary for the terms that you will come across during your search. 

After reviewing the differences between the senior living options, visit us later this week as we discuss how to determine which community setting is the best fit for your loved one.

 

Care in the Home

Elderly couple dancing at home
Pros

Cons

Live with Relatives
  • Familiar environment
  • You know and trust the caregivers
  • Least expensive
  • For families who are close-knit, this is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen intergenerational bonds.
  • A preferred option for family members who do not like highly social or unfamiliar environments.

 

  • Lack of personal space/privacy for caregiving family members
  • Personality conflicts will be magnified by the caregiving relationship
  • Difficulty of holding down job while providing care
  • Financial and personal stresses will be very apparent to all family members and can create a stressful situation for the loved one needing of care.
  • If caregiving family members work, there is limited time for socialization and activities for loved one.

 

Private In-Home Care
  • Allows loved ones to remain in the comfort of their home
  • Live life as they had, but with the necessary support
  • A well-suited caregiver can be a reliable face and form personal bond with loved one.
  • Very affordable option for those with mild care needs
  • This is a preferred option for more private individuals who do not wish to leave the home to socialize.

 

  • Depending on the number of hours budgeted for, this can limit socialization opportunities for your loved one.
  • This is the most expensive type of care for those with high care needs.
  • Costs can exceed $10,000 per month for around-the-clock care.

 

 

Seniors exercising

Care in a Community

Pros

Cons

Care Home/ Adult Family Home
  • Intimate personal care in a single-family home environment
  • Small staff with relatively high caregiver ratio and few residents (typically 10 or fewer beds) per home
  • Familiar faces and routines are the best settings for those with cognitive decline who might be anxious in a larger community.
  • Frequently less expensive than a larger assisted living community
  • Quality and oversight of communities varies widely
  • Fewer amenities and activities offered/available
  • Fewer socialization opportunities
  • Fewer meal options
  • Fewer wellness services
Assisted Living Facility/Memory Care Facility
  • Larger communities often have many activity and entertainment opportunities
  • More services available on site
  • The peace of mind of 24-hour staffing
  • Licensed caregivers
  • On-site amenities, such as meals, outings, and a beauty salon
  • Opportunity to form new friendships with adults of similar age and ability
  • Frequently there are multiple care levels, allowing a resident to age-in-place.
  • In communities that offer memory care, caregivers are often specifically trained to care for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

 

  • Frequently, many older adults have fears or concerns about living in a senior community
  • Communities that provide many living options and levels of care can be more expensive.
  • Those not familiar with or comfortable with apartment-style living may feel out of place
  • High staff or resident turnover can lead to a feeling of impermanence and can negatively impact daily life.
  • Frequently there are complaints about caregivers being unable to spend one-on-time with a resident.

 

I Visited Mom and Something’s Wrong: Is it Dementia?

All too often, when family members notice a change in an elderly loved one’s condition, there is a the sharp pang of fear that this is the first sign of dementia’s onset. However, what most people don’t realize is there are reasons, such as depression or hearing loss, that can cause these distressing changes in behavior. Determining what the underlying factor causing the change is often complicated because the symptoms of hearing loss, dementia and depression can all appear separately yet also have complex linkages between the conditions. Here’s a few helpful ways of determining whether it’s dementia or another health issue. 

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Elderly Man - hard of hearingAmong the symptoms of hearing loss is the inability to concentrate on conversations, which can appear similar to signs of dementia to non-professionals. The reality is that those with hearing loss might only hear mumbled fragments of conversations when many people are speaking and struggle to put together discussions due to the inability to parse sounds.

A compounding issue is that increasingly studies point to the fact that hearing loss can increase the likelihood of developing dementia. According to the 2013 Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults study that involved 1,948 older adults, those who suffered from hearing loss exhibited cognitive decline at rates 30 to 40 percent greater than those with normal hearing after six years. The jury is still out as to what causes the increase in rate of cognitive decline, but certainly hearing loss poses an obstacle to social engagement and lack of sensory input can make our loved one’s lives more difficult. In more hopeful news, Improvement of Cognitive Function After Cochlear Implantation in Elderly Patients study published in 2015 suggests that cochlear implants can improve cognitive function in those with hearing loss, meaning that it is important to seek medical consultation early when hearing loss is observed.

Dementia or Depression?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the first thing to know about dementia is that it “is not a specific disease,” rather it “describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” The two most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of all cases, followed by vascular dementia, frequently resulting from a stroke.  All that said, dementia is a complex condition and interacts with a number of other maladies such as depression.

Elderly Woman Typing SomethingThe Canada Review of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias states that “diagnosis is often challenging because the frequency of symptoms which are common to both [depression and dementia].” For example the common dementia symptoms include loss of interest in enjoyable activities and hobbies, withdrawing socially, memory lapses, changes in sleeping patterns and impaired concentration. However, there are certain distinctions that are more common to one condition than another. With regard to the response to loss of cognition, those with dementia frequently exhibit denial and lack of concern regarding their change of behavior, whereas those with depression tend to be preoccupied by their deficits and are concerned. The table below lists a number of key symptoms of depression and dementia and distinguishing characteristics that can help identify the problem.

 

Symptom

Depression

Dementia

Ability to Concentrate Loss of concentration and focus is common as well as uncertainty and concern about making mistakes. Concentration is normal early on, but becomes worse as condition progresses over a long period of time.
Interests and Motivation Loss of interest and pleasure in combination with sad mood, and expressions of hopelessness. Often taking place over weeks. Loss of interest and initiative that takes place over a longer time-frame (months/years) and is unaccompanied by expressions of sadness.
Energy and Activity Level Decrease in energy and frequent complaints of fatigue. General normal energy, but lower activity due to lack of initiative and attention.
Mood and Outlook Frequent, persistent sad mood. Expressions of lack of hope. Stimulation and engagement do not improve mood. Mood and demeanor is normal most of the time, fluctuating with circumstance and responsive to stimulation.
Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide Common Uncommon
Sleep Changes in sleep patterns over weeks, increasing or decreasing. Gradual changes in sleep cycle (months/years), such as more frequent nighttime awakenings and sleeping during the day.
Language Use Language use is normal, but may be expressed slowly. Language use is impaired. Examples include forgetting names for common items like “pen” or “lamp.”

 

Depression and Dementia

Doctor and Elderly WomanWhile determining whether your loved one suffers from one condition or the other is critical, it is also important to recognize that occasionally one condition masks another or indeed leads to the other. In fact, a great number of those afflicted with dementia also suffer from depression and due to the similarities of symptoms, it may be difficult to distinguish when depression develops.

For this reason, it is important to look for significant changes in mood, such as uncharacteristic sadness, discouragement or tearfulness in loved ones. One particularly important sign that a loved one may also suffer from depression is when changes happen rapidly, which is indicative of a psychological change rather than cognitive. Indeed, for those who are more aware of their dementia in the early stages are often more likely to exhibit signs of depression. 

When you visit family for the holidays, keep a mental check list of changes in behavior from the last time you visited so you can be proactive with their health. And most importantly, once you have identified changes and specific behaviors, always consult a physician so you can ensure that the condition is treated and addressed in the best way possible.

If your loved one’s condition requires supportive services so they can remain independent but you are unsure of what care options are available, next week we will provide a helpful breakdown of the options.

Joan’s Journey: The Results of My Driving Ms. Joan Experiment

driving-ms-joan-resultsWelcome Joan’s Journeyers. In my opinion, giving up one’s car and agreeing to no longer drive, belongs on the stress scale with death of a loved one, divorce and moving. Each of these events is life changing. For me, handing over my car keys to the friendly dealership representative was like cutting off a body part. My keys, and the life they represented, have been a part of me since age 16. Saturday, June 13, 2015, will remain in my instant recall for the rest of my life.

I returned my car about noon, filled out the paperwork and looked around the dealership for the last time. The attendant took my keys and whisked away my lovely vehicle to be serviced and sold.

How did I cope those first days, how did I manage without a car and how am I doing now? Learn more about the results of the driving Ms. Joan experiment in Joan’s Journey, Part 36.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

Signs that It’s Time to Have “The Talk” With Your Parents

SWhen it comes to discussions with your parents, there are few more awkward or uncomfortable than the sex talk or the coming out talk. Yet for adult children, there is another discussion that can be added to the list—the aging talk. Just as you likely didn’t want to have the sex talk with your parents, they likely dread the discussion on aging. And while the inclination may be to procrastinate, putting off the matter for another year, there are some signs that you cannot ignore, meaning that you may have to discuss the issue now.

Is a parent withdrawing from social situations?

Not everyone is an extrovert; some prefer solitude or only socializing with familiar friends. Yet some medical conditions can increase the desire to remain solitary. These conditions include depression, dementia and even hearing loss, and we will discuss this in greater detail in Friday’s post, as many symptoms can overlap and one condition might mask another. Should you notice your that parent is not socializing as they once did, it might be time to ask how they are feeling, suggesting a checkup with their physician.

Has their behavior changed?

The first signs of short-term memory loss appear in your 40s according to ACL’s Brain Health, and unfortunately that trend doesn’t reverse. In some cases cognitive decline can impact a person’s well-being and independence. Perhaps the easiest way to determine whether your parents are experiencing cognitive decline is identifying whether their behavior has changed significantly. These changes can manifest in many ways, such as a news junkie who is no longer aware of current events or an unkempt house with unwatered plants and dirty floors. If you see changes that seem out of character, discuss scheduling a visit with their physician.

Do they have difficulty walking or have they fallen recently?

This could be either an issue of mobility or an eyesight problem. For eyesight it is worthwhile to examine their glasses, making sure their prescription is adequate. If your loved one has difficulties with mobility, this could signal a diminishing physical ability. Fortunately, there are a number of remedies including rearranging furniture or replacing steps with ramps that can help loved ones adapt. Your physician might also suggest physical therapy exercises to retain and increase muscle strength and flexibility.

What you should know is that these signs don’t necessarily mean your parents will need to leave their home. Rather, there are numerous care types available that can keep them safe and independent. Next week we’ll discuss these options so you can determine how to best accommodate your loved one’s lifestyle and while meeting their needs.