Tag Archives: Dementia Awareness

How to communicate with someone who has a cognitive impairment

14 Jun

 

How to communicate with someone who has a cognitive impairment

 

Firstly I would like to thank Kate Smith from Memory Matters some of the information for this blog.

 

No two people with a cognitive impairment will communicate in the same way, but here are some ideas that might help.

 

Memory can be unpredictable, however in general short-term memory tends to be lost first and long-term memory stays with that person for a longer period of time.  However, if something emotional or very unpredictable happens during what is otherwise a mundane situation, such as a huge surprise happening during breakfast, then the details about what you ate and drank for breakfast will stay with you longer than other breakfasts.  This surprise / emotional memory works like long term memory and can be retained.  What is important or emotional to one person, won’t be the same for another, which is why it can therefore be unpredictable what will be remembered.

 

People with dementia can have difficulty focussing, which can relate to their inability to filter their environment.  People without this impairment can focus and concentrate on the thing that they consider important and may not even hear people close by talking to them, if their focus is so strongly fixed on the task in hand, but people with dementia don’t always have this high level of concentration, so if there are multiple things going on in their environment, they might struggle to concentrate on any one of them.  This can also be a useful thing, if they become agitated or anxious, as the carer can do something that will distract their attention from what / why they are anxious and change their mood really quickly, such as dropping keys on the floor to create a sudden noise.

 

The areas of the brain that are affected by dementia are different in each person and if the frontal lobe is damaged, this can lead to issues with both planning and impulse control.  The family members of people who have issues with impulse control will be surprised by comments or swear words that can be used, that were never used before.  The filter that ensured that their interactions were social appropriate and measured has disappeared and they will both act quickly and out of character for them as they were before.  They might become more angry or tearful for example, the display of their emotions is unpredictable.

 

Another aspect of the loss of impulse control is the loss of ability to plan or manage their lives.  If they are thirsty at 10.30am, they might not be able to wait until 11am for their morning coffee, or plan a loo visit etc, so when they realised that they need / want something, they want it now!  They might ask for what they want and will have difficulty concentrating until they get it or they might get up and walk off to get it, which could be mid conversation!

 

Unless the environment is very familiar, that they continue to see / use daily, they could be disorientated, including to parts of their own house they don’t go in regularly, such as the spare room or family members that they don’t see regularly because either they don’t visit or live a long way away.  As far as people are concerned, everyone has a name, relationship and visual look and it is possible that they can forget one or more of these aspects, so they might know you are familiar, but not your name or what relationship you are.  This can create issues of inappropriate behaviour if the person thinks you are someone else, particularly when sons are misunderstood for husbands or daughters for wives!

 

What is important is that they feel safe with you, not the information about you that they can remember or not!

Advertisements

Dementia and walking

17 May

 

Dementia and walking

 

There are some people who have dementia who go out walking, can’t remember their way home and end up getting lost.  The purpose of dementia friendly communities is to support someone who might appear in distress, if they are seen in the community, to have compassion for someone with a dementia, but they might not appear in distress.

 

People walk because they always have or because they have a purpose, even if we don’t understand what that purpose is.  I’ve had clients that broke out of care home, breaking through doors to do so, because they had to go somewhere or be somewhere that was incredibly important to them, such as going to work, church or school. They might think that they are looking for something or someone.  Whatever their reason, however inexplicable to the people around them, it makes sense to them.

 

The person might get lost on their way to the place they are going or get lost on the way back.  This can generate a significant response for the authorities that are tasked with finding lost people, such as the Police or Search and Rescue, who do an outstanding job in difficult circumstances.  See the Police’s Herbert Protocol: https://www.met.police.uk/herbertprotocol

 

It can be challenging to communicate with people with a dementia, so it is difficult for them to explain what they are doing and why and it therefore becomes harder to help them by the people around them.  It is worthwhile taking some time to understand their reality, which might be being expressed in their facial expressions, or body language as well as through their verbal communication, which might be confused.

 

People with dementia are still people, they have human rights like everyone else and should not be treated as lacking their rights.  They might need support and care but this should be provided with their rights in mind, so as not to try to restrict them, but to enable them to walk as safely as possible.

 

They can have a GPS tracker placed on them, if it is in their best interests to wear one and they can be covert, again, if it is in their best interests to wear one.  There are some trackers that are insoles, so as long as the person is wearing their shoes, they will be wearing their tracker and can therefore easily and quickly be found, which is very relevant in extremes of weather, both hot and cold.  They should not be tracked oppressively, as they are still entitled to their freedom and only when their life is at risk, should they be tracked.

 

Walking is difficult for those around the person with dementia to manage, if they do it a lot, they will need to be appropriately supported, with everything that they might need, such as appropriate footwear and clothing, contact details in their pocket, snacks and water.  It is a tough role being a carer and they are amazing at it!

Dementia and domestic violence

3 May

 

Dementia and domestic violence

 

I have had a number of clients who have had issues with domestic violence, when there is a dementia involved.  It is a very difficult situation, as there is not the “usual victim and perpetrator”. It often arises because the person with dementia lacks insight into their condition and the carer doesn’t fully understand the condition or has carer burn out or it just isn’t what they thought would happen when they got together as a couple.

 

So what can be done?

 

Firstly, make sure that the person with dementia has had the appropriate referral to the GP to make sure that they have a formal diagnosis and access to any treatment that is available.  The dementia cannot be cured, but there are some treatments available for some types of dementia.  The diagnosis also gives that person access to certain activities, which may also help the situation.

 

The carer will also need support, as many carers are clinically depressed within a year of diagnosis, they live with an underlying level of stress, which can very easily escalate when an acute episode happens.  The person with dementia and their carer should ensure that they have had a referral to social services to ensure that they each have an assessment of their needs.

 

There should be a conversation with each of the parties to try to alleviate some or all of the fundamental issues that give rise to the domestic violence and to try to get each party to understand their situation, as far as is possible.  This can involve a very careful and sometimes skilled conversation with the person with dementia to try to interpret and understand their situation and their understanding of their situation.

 

Both parties need a plan for safety and it is likely that the carer will be the person responsible for the instigation of both plans, which continues to put a lot of pressure on the carer.  The clients I have are concerned for their safety and that of their loved one, so want a prompt response in the safety plan.  This puts pressure on local services, which need a process to respond to this situation, which is different from a “usual process”.

 

This is a safeguarding issue, which is the responsibility of the Local Authority, to ensure that the person or people are kept safe.  The plan could include lots of different strategies, which include diversion for one or both parties, medical input or in a serious case of harm, could include sectioning a person.  And in some circumstances, for married couples it might include divorce, which might not be what they had intended in regards to their caring role, but if one of both parties continues to be in serious danger, it might be the least worst outcome!

 

The most important thing is to ask for help and not suffer alone in the home, as there is help that can be provided by all the services that are there to support people to live as successfully as they can in the community.

Best Interests Meetings

23 Nov

 

Best Interests Meeting

 

These meetings take place when someone is receiving treatment and there needs to be a discussion about how they will be cared for in the future, when they are cognitively impaired and cannot make that decision for themselves and there is no attorney who directs what happens, as the person has not created Lasting Powers of Attorney.  They can either be a multi-disciplinary discussion as the case in complex and it is easier to decide what should happen going forward when everyone is in one room and there can be a full and frank conversation about that person’s various and complex needs.  Additionally and alternatively they can take place where there is a dispute about how someone should be cared for, particularly if that dispute is with the family.

 

These meetings are aimed at being constructive rather than too formal, but where there is a minute taker and a room full of health professionals from various disciplines, they are very intimidating.

 

Families know their loved one well, they know what they would want and have a good idea about how they will react to certain situations, however they are usually not healthcare professionals and can struggle to feel that they have been heard.  These meetings take place around a highly stressful situation, when a loved one is unwell, that’s enough stress to deal with on its own, then adding what is perceived to be an intimidating meeting can often be too much to be able to sit rationally and articulately and be understood.

 

The purpose of the meeting is to make a decision in that person’s best interests.  In accordance with the House of Lords post legislative scrutiny of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which was published in 2014, the Lords said that in general health professionals are paternalistic and social services are risk averse.  This makes it hard for families to assert that their loved one would prefer an outcome that involved more risk that the health care professionals are comfortable with.

 

I have supported many families in these kinds of meetings, to ensure that they feel that they have been heard and are supported so that they don’t feel quite so alone and do not understand the process that they are involved in.  If you need any help with this, please contact me.

Dying and Bereavement

26 Oct

 

Dying and bereavement

 

When a family member is terminally ill, everyone deals with that information in different ways, that includes the person themselves.  The Kubler-Ross model has 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.  These stages can work for all parties involved.

 

Family members can therefore choose to be very involved or not at all and this difference of grieving process has an impact on family relations, at an already difficult time.

 

Some people are afraid of dying and don’t want to do it alone, they will hang onto life for as long as they can.  Others accept it and at the end willingly go there, rather than cling to life.  Some terminally ill people don’t want their family to witness their death, they consider it personal.  So for family’s who are on a 24 hour vigil, the 5 minutes in which they leave the bedside to have a comfort break will be the 5 minutes that person chooses to pass away.  Others want their family there, will white knuckle the hands of a loved one, rather than let go and feel alone.  Either situation has its emotional impact on all parties.

 

Some family members will communicate with the others that turn up and let them know that if there is anything they can do to help, they will, yet when asked, are always busy with something more important.  They just can’t deal with facing the situation.

 

Some family members want to be involved with everything, do as much as they can, which might be more than is required and might be an invasion of the privacy of the dying person.

 

So what is the answer?  There is no “one” answer and there is no “right” answer.  Everyone deals with death and grief in their own way.  It is important to remember that, however anyone else deals with it, they might not understand how you do and vice versa.  So just give everyone a bit of slack.

 

When in doubt, imagine yourself in a week, a year and a decade and do the thing that means that you won’t have regrets, whatever that is.  And whatever you choose, know that you are not the only person in the world that has felt that, grief is universal, even if you feel alone in the moment.

Managing Risk for People with Dementia

21 Sep

 

Managing risk for people with dementia

 

We all take risks, we do it all the time.  We cross the road without looking carefully, eat too much, exercise too little, drink too much alcohol or smoke to name just a few of the things that all of us do.  And sometimes this has serious consequences, with the number of road traffic accidents there are a year, but there are far fewer accidents, than the numbers of people carelessly crossing the road each day.

 

People with dementia are still people, I have red hair (sometimes it is even referred to as being ginger!), but I’m not just known as that, I’m also a solicitor, resident of Plymouth and parent.  There are lots of different facets to me, but when dealing with a person with dementia, why is that the key facet that is seen?  They are more than that, much more.  So if I can take a risk, why can’t someone with a dementia?

 

From the human rights aspect, they can, they are still human and human rights are universal!  The overriding human right it the right to life, so as long as they are not seriously risking their life, everyone, including people with dementia should be allowed to make unwise choices.  We are all allowed a private and family life, freedom of religion, as well as freedom of assembly and association and freedom from discrimination.  We should all be allowed to exercise all of our human rights and it is only at the point that we risk our life, should our ability to exercise our human rights be curtailed and they should only be curtailed to the extent needed to protect our life.

 

In the Mental Capacity Act 2005, there is legislation regarding ensuring whatever decision is made on that person’s behalf, it is the less restrictive of their rights and freedoms.  The key word here is less, it is not least, to do the least restrictive would be to do nothing, but that might mean that it is too risky and becomes a risk to their life.  How many people with dementia say that they want to live at home with no help?  They might want to, but would be dead in a few days if they did, as they have no ability to care for themselves.  So the less restrictive might be to put in a daily carer, possibly even multiple times per day.

 

People with dementia are still people and like the rest of us, are completely unique, with their own views about themselves and the world around them.  They might be very risk averse or happy to take risks, even big risks.  All their characteristics needs to be taken into account when making a decision about someone with dementia, including what they say now, not just what they would have said when they were well.

 

The decision should be the less restrictive, let the person with dementia feel like they are still a person and not just a medical diagnosis and let them take a certain amount of risk as too restrictive a regime might be just as bad and dangerous for health as a too unrestrictive one.  Balancing risk is about seeing the person first, as a real person and not just their dementia.

 

And to all carers out there, from time to time, you may get it wrong, but mostly you get it right and just by caring, you get it right.  Keep up the good work.

 

If anyone needs advice in caring for a loved one, let me know, I understand.

Caring for someone with a dementia

3 Aug

 

Caring for someone with a dementia

 

There are lots of different kinds of dementia and they have slightly different presentations, but the key points about all dementias is that they are changes to the brain, that affect memory and brain function, that is deteriorating.  There can be changes in personality and the deterioration might not seem to make sense, as someone can still retain one key skill long after they have lost other key skills, it doesn’t always work that the person with dementia loses everything at a nice even pace!  And importantly, eventually it will be terminal.

 

It is useful to get a diagnosis of the kind of dementia that the person has, as it will help the carer to understand some of the changes that will happen.  Diagnosis is also a gateway to access some services, that will support both the person with dementia and/or their carer.  And making sure that the carer is supported is really important, as without the carer their life would be much more impaired and disempowered.  The carer will facilitate the best outcome that can be achieved.  In the UK dementia costs £26bn a year, the biggest part of that figure is made up of the work of unpaid carers, £11bn, and the NHS and social services make use of that unpaid care, which means supporting the carer to ensure that carers can keep going.

 

There is no cure for dementia, there is a lot of worldwide work being done currently looking at different cures, creating new drugs and repurposing existing ones and although there have been some promising initial results, I have been told that a cure is a least 10 years away, if not more.

 

Because there is no cure, the only therapies are those that keep the person in the state that they are in, but do not roll back the clock on the progression of the illness.  These drugs only work for a certain period of time, as they will not stop the underlying progression of the illness, but will maximise the cognitive abilities that they have.

 

The other therapies that are useful are the social interactions, as long as they are meaningful and there is a lot of work being done on these.  Music seems to be quite powerful to many people.  Football dementia cafés are great for football fans and here in Plymouth we are lucky enough to have a dementia café for veterans.  Elsewhere there are dementia farms, which for former farm workers is incredibly powerful that they are once again able to participate in the workings of a real farm.  When the idea was first mentioned there was concern about the risk, but the risk is managed and the participants get a lot of value from it.

 

Carers need support and respite, they need to be able to have a life of some kind away from their caring role, for an hour, a day or a week. Family carers do an amazing job to care for people with dementia and yet they are working alongside a progressing condition that is slowly taking their loved one away.  85% of carers are clinically depressed within a year of diagnosis, it is hard dealing with the condition and its progression.

 

A person with dementia can live a fulfilling life, they can be empowered to do the things that they want to for as long as they are able to.  It takes the carer and the understanding of a whole community to do it well.

 

If you need help caring for a loved one with dementia, let me know, I understand what it is like.