A trip to the hospital can be stressful for anyone but can be especially difficult for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. They can become easily anxious and confused in new surroundings and any subtle change in their routine can cause delirium, which is a state of confusion that can develop following illness, infection, or surgery. Delirium is one of the most common complications in hospitalized patients over age 65.
People with dementia who are hospitalized are less likely to receive adequate pain relief, and potentially more likely to receive a higher dose of medication – which comes with its own risk of complications and side effects. They can also need more care from family members while they’re hospitalized.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a time of great change and uncertainty in our community, and has brought increased awareness of our own mortality. As Hebrew SeniorLife’s Clinical Director of Palliative Care, I see every day why it is important to discuss what medical care you wish to receive if you become seriously ill. Completing an advance directive is one thing we can all do to help us maintain autonomy in the midst of challenging circumstances.
This is an unusual and difficult time we are living in. The threat of becoming sick with COVID-19, grief over losing loved ones, and necessary social distancing are challenging us like never before. If you’re not feeling like your usual self – maybe more anxious or worried, sleep changes, appetite change, trouble concentrating – this is a normal reaction.
Here are some ideas that seniors and people of all ages can use to help you cope during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Connect with at least one other person each day, by phone or video call. Staying in touch with others is one of the best things you can do for yourself – and you might even make someone else’s day by calling them.
The coronavirus pandemic is making everyday life challenging for all of us, but that’s especially true if you’re caring for someone with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or another cause. You may be providing care in your home without the community supports that you’re used to, or maybe you’re trying to help while being physically separated due to the social distancing required to stop the spread of the disease.
When winter weather hits us with cold and icy conditions, it’s no surprise that many of us can feel isolated or lonely. What may be surprising is that social isolation and loneliness can have negative health consequences, especially for older adults.
Recent National Institute for Aging research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy just as much as smoking.
It’s not uncommon to experience some memory loss as you get older. Although your parent or loved one may complain of memory problems, that does not mean they have dementia or even Alzheimer’s. Common memory issues include difficulty remembering names and details of events. If this does not interfere with any daily functioning, then it can be considered normal and likely related to natural aging. However, significant memory loss is not a part of normal aging.
Here is a warning sign checklist from the Alzheimer’s Association which outlines the signs to look for and when to talk to a doctor.
Since researchers have not yet determined what causes Alzheimer’s disease, you may be wondering if there is anything we can do to prevent it?
The answer is YES. RUSH University nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and colleagues’ research has shown a link between nutrition and the role it may play to prevent or delay the onset of dementia decline. One of the studies showed the benefits of the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) on cognition – it included 960 participants with an average age of 81. The research analyzed food frequency and cognition scores over 10 years. Those on the MIND diet scored being 7.5 years younger cognitively!
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that antipsychotic medication is overprescribed for patients with dementia. Antipsychotic medications were created years ago to treat serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. Over time, these drugs came into use to treat dementia patients with symptoms that put them and others at risk, including physically aggressive behavior and wandering.
However, research shows these drugs are not effective for most dementia behaviors, and can cause unnecessary and sometimes dangerous side effects. Experts agree that all dementia patients on antipsychotics should have their medical plans reviewed, since some patients may benefit from either reducing or stopping the medication.