Tag Archives: caregiving

Alzheimer’s and agitation: How caregivers can cope

hand-s-words-1438401-639x349_edited

Photo by Gabriella Fabbri/Freeimages

Among the most disturbing and difficult behaviors for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s to manage is agitation and aggression. Unfortunately, agitation and aggression are quite common symptoms, with almost half of those with Alzheimer’s exhibiting such behaviors, according to a 2008 study.

infographic-4_editedI witnessed the effects my father’s aggressive behavior had on my mother. Even though my dad was slim, when agitated he proved to be far more than my mother could handle. He still could pack a punch, literally, as when he hauled off and hit my mother in the chin with his fist. He claimed he was shadow boxing and she got in the way.

My father was eventually placed in a memory care center, in part due to his aggressive behavior.

Over the years, I’ve learned tips on how to best manage Alzheimer’s agitation and aggression. The key is that not every solution works for every patient; each case is unique. Here are some suggestions I found helpful:

  • Determine if agitation follows a pattern: For some people with Alzheimer’s, they become more agitated at dusk (sundowning) or during specific tasks, like getting a bath or taking medication. (For my dad, it was the bedtime routine.) Consider that the task may be frustrating to complete for the person with Alzheimer’s. If a certain event is a known trigger, it can be helpful in reducing agitation. Distract with an activity to reduce the effects of sundowning. Have an aide help with bathing. Try to disguise medication in food or a smoothie if possible.
  • Create a calm environment: Those with dementia tend to do best in calm environments that reduce the risk of overstimulation. Noise in particular can be overwhelming. Try soothing, familiar music and lights that are bright enough to maintain safety in the home but that don’t create a harsh glare. Limit caffeine if that is determined to increase agitation. Natural remedies, such as soothing teas and herbs may be helpful, but always check with a doctor first.
  • Stay active: For those with Alzheimer’s who are ambulatory, exercise can help reduce aggression and agitation. My dad loved to take long walks, and as his dementia progressed, he spent more time indoors, which was a source of frustration for him and increased his agitation. For those who have difficulty walking, doing simple household tasks like folding towels can be useful in preventing boredom, as can activities like simple jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.
  • Medication: While medication is not effective for some patients, it can be a useful tool when combined with the above suggestions. Consult your loved one’s physician to learn about options. Consider enrolling your loved one in a drug trial if they qualify.

One important factor to keep in mind is that agitation that appears suddenly may be related to a physical ailment your loved one is experiencing but cannot communicate their discomfort. For example, urinary tract infections are common in those with dementia, and can create very uncomfortable symptoms, which can increase agitation. A new medication can also increase aggression. Share any concerns with your loved one’s doctor.

What methods have you found to curb aggression and agitation in those with Alzheimer’s disease?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism

An encore visit to the cat circus

acrocats

The Amazing Acro-Cats

This past weekend, The Amazing Acro-Cats returned to Atlanta for multiple “purrformances.” Of course, I had to go. It is such an entertaining, quirky show. It’s the only time you get to see “cat herding” in literal action. I highly recommend catching a show if they come to your town.

When I saw that the Acro-Cats were going to be in town this time around, my heart clenched a bit. If  you’ve read my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, there’s a darkly humorous account about the first time I attended an Acro-Cats show. The essay is titled, “That Time I Chose the Cat Circus Over My Dying Mother.”

I couldn’t help but remember seeing them in 2015, and how desperately I just wanted one evening free of caregiving duties (at that time, I was a long-distance caregiver, but in contact with Mom daily.) I arranged everything so carefully, got out of work early and called Mom before the performance to let her know I would be unavailable for a couple of hours. I had just settled into my seat in the theatre when my phone rang. It was Mom.

And here’s where the guilt pangs come in. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t wait to see if she left a voicemail. Instead, I turned my phone off. “I just want to see the cats,” I screamed inside my head. I was definitely in need of a break, but ignoring my mother’s call and turning my phone off is not my proudest moment as a caregiver.

Of course, throughout the performance, I kept thinking about Mom. Wonder if she had fallen? (She wore a LifeAlert pendant so she did have remote assistance.) Wonder if she was having shortness of breath?  Wonder if she needed to call 911 but couldn’t? Wonder if she was dying right at that moment and wanted to tell me one last time that she loved me? How could I be so selfish?

Immediately after the performance I turned back on my phone and with dread, listened to the voicemail. Mom was asking me to call her doctor in the morning to inquire about her pain medication. She was as “OK” as a dying person can be, and I was relieved my night out hadn’t ended in disaster.

This time, I could enjoy the cat circus without any interruptions, which was bittersweet. Mom would have enjoyed the cat’s antics. Check out a snippet of Oz’s stirring rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

In a sad coincidence, Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats founder, is now battling stage III colon cancer, exactly what my mother had. She is raising money to offset the costs of not being able to tour while she is recovering from surgery. Martin has done so much to help needy cats, rescuing them and helping them get adopted. She’s also shown the world that cats can learn tricks through her clicker training method. I wish her the best in her recovery. The Acro-Cats will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Memories

Win a FREE trip to the National Caregiving Conference in Chicago

Please share this with any current family caregivers in your life. It is so inspiring to be in a room with fellow caregivers, sharing the ups and downs of the caregiving experience.

The Imperfect Caregiver is honored to be among those who will be presenting at the Third Annual Caregiving Conference in Chicago, November 9th and 10th. For a sneak preview of the presenters Caregiving.com is having a virtual summit May 14 – May 24. Virtual Caregiving Summit Our virtual summit, featuring conversations with our National Caregiving […]

via Win a FREE trip to the National Caregiving Conference in Chicago — The Imperfect Caregiver

1 Comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism

The cruel progression of Alzheimer’s

While the progression of Alzheimer’s is different for each person, there is a progression, and it’s a heartbreaking one.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired its latest installment following the life of Carol Daly and her journey with Alzheimer’s. This year marks 10 years since the show first made contact with Carol and her husband Mike, a former NYPD officer.

It’s gut-wrenching to watch the mental and physical decline of Carol over the years, and how much Mike suffers as a caregiver. But Carol’s story is  important to tell, to help raise awareness of this devastating disease to a mass audience. I am grateful for Mike and Carol for allowing cameras to document the cruelest aspects of Alzheimer’s.

Watch the full 60 Minutes segment

The segment touches upon important topics, such as the high cost of Alzheimer’s caregiving and the lack of financial support, along with the physical and emotional toll dementia caregivers takes on loved ones. You know Alzheimer’s is a beast when the former cop tells the CBS correspondent that caregiving is the toughest job he’s ever had.

The sad truth of course is that there are many Mikes and Carols out there, fighting their own battles with dementia. And that’s why we must do better, as a government and as a society, to help families caring for a loved one with dementia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism

The Reluctant Caregiver wins a gold medal

 

468

It may  not be a Pulitzer, but The Reluctant Caregiver earned a gold medal at the 2018 Independent Publisher Awards.

I know my parents would be proud of me, though maybe not so thrilled about what I wrote about them.

The award was a pleasant surprise. I entered a handful of book contests after the publication of The Reluctant Caregiver last year. The Independent Publisher Awards, better knows as the IPPY’s, is well-known, having been around 22 years. The award ceremony will take place on May 29 in New York City and I’m going to fly up for the day to attend the ceremony and hopefully track down a few of my dad’s old haunts.

There are some people who feel these contests are a waste of time and money. I understand the concerns and some are valid, but I choose contests to enter where I would appreciate the prize, even if it isn’t money. For self-published authors like myself, every bit of promotion is worth, ahem, gold.

If you want to learn more about The Reluctant Caregiver, you can visit my website, joyjohnston.com.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Awareness & Activism

Finding the rainbow as a caregiver

nature-3218866_1280

Pixabay

It can be hard for some caregivers to find moments of joy in their daily lives. Optimism can be in short supply when one is coping with loved ones in declining health. Mental, emotional and physical exhaustion leave little time for self-reflection or appreciation of the world around us. For those like myself who naturally lean on the pessimistic side, it’s easy to allow the clouds of despair to smother us like a blanket.

What I discovered is that even after one’s caregiving days are behind them, those clouds can linger. Having experienced such moments of despair, we live in fear of those days returning in one form or another. But by doing that, we may fail to recognize the beauty and the wonder that has always existed, even in our darkest days.

I was reminded of this while listening to “Golden Hour,” the new album by the critically-acclaimed country music artist Kacey Musgraves. The closing song of the album is titled, “Rainbow,” and its heartfelt message is for anyone who has gone through troubled times. I think many caregivers could relate. The chorus goes:

Well the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head

I know springtime has yet to reach some parts of the country, but here in Atlanta, everything is blooming and the birds are singing. My mother died during the spring so the season is now tinged with sadness. But I’m going to work on loosening my grip on the umbrella, so I don’t miss out on what the present has to offer.

If you’ve been a caregiver, have you dealt with the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality? How did you learn to live in the present more?

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Taking care of our ‘elder orphans’

human-511848_640

Photo: Pixabay

Now solidly middle-age and reflecting more upon my own mortality after the deaths of my parents, aging well is a top concern of mine.

Aging well means something different to everyone, but living independently with as little assistance as possible is a priority for me.  I read an article about “elder orphans,” a term used to describe older people who live alone without a support network. As our society has moved away from the nuclear family model, and more people are deciding not to have children, the number of elder orphans will likely grow dramatically over the next several decades. The author of the article believes that baby boomers will also experience an uptick of elder orphans.

Not only are modern families smaller, but members are more likely to be spread out geographically, which can complicate caregiving situations. Women, traditionally the caregivers in the family unit, have demanding careers that limit their ability to be caregivers. (Though we know there are plenty of family caregivers who work full-time and care for a loved one, which can lead to burnout.)

Some people, like my mother, become an unwilling elder orphan after their spouse dies. My mother was able to take care of herself until the last few months of her life, but she did not enjoy living alone. She missed the daily companionship and experienced loneliness living in a rural community without friends or family nearby. Yet even when she was still in good health, I couldn’t convince her to visit the community senior center.

So how can we better take care of our elder orphans? I’ve written before about aging in place and how some communities are being proactive in addressing the needs of their aging population. Infrastructure needs like housing and transportation is integral, but so are communities with residents who have an awareness and dedication to helping their elders age safely. Programs like Meals on Wheels isn’t just about receiving food, but serves as the only regular safety check that many older people living alone receive. The frigid winter weather has encouraged people to check in on their elder neighbors, and that’s something we should be doing all year long.

While we can’t predict how our own health issues will impact our hopes of aging well, we can plant the seeds now to create a safe and welcoming environment for elder orphans.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Awareness & Activism