By Kim O’Roark, CTRS, CADDCT, CDP-
During the holidays we are spending more time with our families – even if it is virtually. Some family members that we may have not seen in a while may show noticeable changes in their cognition, behaviors, interactions, and overall appearance. Due to the current pandemic, many of us, especially older adults, have spent a lot of time in isolation. The impact of isolation can run much deeper than loneliness.
The Risks of Social Isolation
According to the Center for Disease Control, social isolation can significantly increase a person’s risk of premature death, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation is associated with approximately a 50% increased risk of dementia and can create apathy and lack of awareness regarding themselves and the things that are around them.
Recognizing the Signs of Dementia
When identifying dementia in older adults, it is important to gather as many facts as possible by observing what they are doing (or not doing) and by surveying their environment.
Some “behaviors” that may arise and are not limited to:
- Resistance to bathing, dressing, or eating
While these behaviors alone can be common, in combination and if consistent, these behaviors may be due to a neuro-cognitive issue. This means that there are physical changes in the brain that the person has little to no control over. The person is not intentionally doing these behaviors to “spite” those around them. Arguing or correcting the person may create distrust, anger, and social removal.
What to Do When You Suspect Dementia
Learning that there is a possibility of cognitive decline in your loved one can be a very scary experience. They are probably just as scared as you might be. There may be anger or denial that there is even a problem. It is important to look at how YOU are approaching the situation. If you are showing fear, hostility or other negative emotions, chances are, they will reflect those emotions back to you and the situation will only become more difficult for everyone involved. Making sure they are safe and comforted is the first step.
If you are concerned about memory loss or any kind of cognitive decline, the Alzheimer’s Association has a comprehensive checklist of the “Tens Signs of Dementia” that is accessible in a PDF form. You can download this form and print it out, taking it to your physician if there are concerns.
Dementia Care Resources
Thankfully, there are many resources that provide support in managing the dementia process. One great resource is a free app called DementiAssist. This app demonstrates what can be done to support your loved one who is experiencing these very scary changes that are going on in their brain and body. These changes affect many areas of the person’s life, such as: physical, social, emotional, and environmental. This app is designed to help learn more about how you can prevent or intervene to make things better for them and for you. Please note that this app should not be used when the behavior is occurring.
The Alzheimer’s Association also has a Respite Reimbursement Program, which reimburses a family caregiver living with a person with a medical diagnosis of dementia up to $450 per year. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association New Mexico Chapter at 505-266-4473 for more information.
For families that are looking for in-home care assistance, Home Care Assistance of Albuquerque’s caregivers are trained in a proprietary program called the Cognitive Therapeutics Method, which is designed to improve patient’s mental acuity and their overall engagement and happiness. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method includes hundreds of interventions with varying levels of difficulty to keep activities enjoyable and just challenging enough.
It may seem challenging to find activities to enjoy with a person with dementia. Often, many of the hobbies or activities that the person enjoyed before maybe frustrating and the person may longer show interest in those activities. The key is to find activities that are pleasant and that the person can feel successful at.
Here are a few activities from www.alzheimers.net to help engage your loved one and prevent social isolation
- Bake or cook simple recipes together
- Clean around the house. Sweep the patio, wipe the table, fold towels, or try other household tasks that help the person feel a sense of accomplishment
- Do arts and crafts, such as knitting and painting. Keep patterns and tools simple
- Look at books the person used to enjoy
- Organize household or office items, particularly if the person used to take pleasure in organizational tasks
- Read the newspaper
- Play music or sing songs
- Tend the garden or visit a botanical garden.
- Watch family videos
- Work on puzzles
Living with Dementia Successfully
Whether you are learning about dementia for the first time with your loved one or it has been around for a while, it is important to have the paperwork needed to help support them by being their voice and their advocate. Check with your attorney to make sure these forms regarding their care and wishes are complete.
In the long-term, keeping your loved one in their familiar environment and on a routine will help decrease some of the dementia-related behaviors that occur. Try to keep things simple for the holiday, eliminate large gatherings and a lot of stimulation. Enjoy time spent together and seek help if needed. Home Care Assistance can help you with this process and be a valuable resource for you and your family. If you have any questions, you can call the dementia experts at Home Care Assistance at 505-780-0800.