Photo Credit: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office
“I can literally feel my blood pressure rising.” We’ve often heard the expression from folks who get annoyed at the noise from a neighbor’s noisy leafblower, a bad bit of TV news or just a harmless prank by co-workers – but this innocuous comment can be a signal of a serious problem. As we get older, our blood vessels can harden and constrict blood flow, leading to a whole slate of poor health effects – not least of which can be the onset of vascular dementia, the second-most common form of dementia after Alzheimers. If your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen and nutrients, brain cells can become damaged or even die off. That’s bad news all around.
Even worse, unless you’ve been to a doctor, you may not know you have hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. You can have it and be symptom-free for years! In the meantime, not knowing there’s a problem, you may not change your lifestyle to slow down or reverse the effects. Is your blood pressure reading below 120 over 80? If you don’t know, it’s time to get yourself checked. Continue reading
Photo Credit: EverydayInventors
Which is safer? Putting girders on place on the 22nd floor of a new Vancouver high-rise in your new work boots, or caring for senior citizens struggling with dementia? Worker injury claims for dementia caregivers are actually more expensive per capita than from the construction sector – and some days, you may feel like you need to wear a hard hat just to get through the day. The work environment of a care home may seem a lot safer to the eye. However, workplace violence from dementia patients can be an unwelcome surprise for an unwary nurse who just wants to help vulnerable people to live in dignity with a better quality of life.
Risk in the caregiver’s workplace can unfortunately be quite serious, as a BC nurse learned recently. As reported in Metro News, one nurse attacked by a patient needed stitches after being head-butted, elbowed and (while she was helpless on the floor) hit with a rock. Making matters worse, the paging system set up to help nurses remain secure wasn’t even working. Sadly, these kinds of incidents are not uncommon. As the CBC noted about a year before that attack, the BC Coroners’ office was already investigating horrendous attacks by dementia patients on other patients. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Liz Henry
This month is Cancer Awareness month, when it is important to recall what we know about this insidious disease, the many forms it takes and the ways that we can help to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Cancer is not just one disease, but over 100 different diseases affecting different parts of the body. In essence, it is an uncontrolled growth of cells that can form tumors. Malignant tumors spread within the body’s organs and ultimately threaten the life of the person affected. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Oskar Annermarken
When it comes to your health, your mind and body are very much connected. For instance, people who suffer from diabetes can be at a higher risk of developing vascular dementia. Studies are also showing a link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes that can cause additional cognitive impairment – and that’s something for which our caregivers are always watchful.
Diabetes is a particularly insidious disease, affecting more than 9 million Canadians either living with the disease or in a borderline ‘pre-diabetes’ phase. Aside from its link to vascular dementia, about 80 percent of people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke – and it shorten life expectancy by years. Worst of all, about a third of sufferers may not even know that they have the disease. Continue reading
Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ
As a caregiver, it can be a real relief to stumble upon an activity that your patient loves. Sometimes, it’s something that they used to love doing – but often, you can introduce new kinds of fun that they just never tried before. If you can overcome that initial resistance to change that can come up more often than we’d like, you may just instill in them a new kind of passion for life. Feel free to take suggestions from family members and friends – but if you’re looking for inspiration, here are some ideas. Continue reading
Photo Credit: avilasal
Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, whether you’re in the prime of life or affected by dementia in old age. Caregivers often face a serious challenge in helping their charge enjoy a decent quality of life: the client’s reluctance to eat well, even when their favorite dish is presented to them on a plate! What’s going on, here?
Dementia Challenges. Unexpected Challenges at Mealtime
As a result of dementia, or just the wear and tear of old age – or a combination of both, caregivers often come up against resistance.
- Sudden Taste Changes. Grilled chicken on a bed of greens and tomatoes was their favorite – until it wasn’t. Now they won’t even deign to look at it – even if they specifically requested it, not an hour ago! There’s not much you can do if they refuse to eat it but pack it up and provide them with their new ‘old-time’ favorite.
- Trouble Recognizing Food as Food. Someone with advanced dementia may just not make the connection that there’s food in front of them unless it’s presented right. Use colored plates that contrast with the food. Also, consider simplifying the meal to 2 dishes at a time, to avoid confusion.
- Irritation from Eating. Dentures fitting poorly, tooth pain or a sore jaw can make the simple act of eating an uncomfortable ordeal. There’s no getting around pre-emptive action. Make sure their dental health is clear and if necessary, get them out to the dentist.
- Unending Complaints. Caregivers can often get discouraged by patients who complain that their food just doesn’t taste right – even if they’re serving up delicious fare that others give 5-star ratings. It could be that the patient isn’t just being mean: the truth is that sense of taste and smell can decline, particularly in cases of dementia. That food you’re serving doesn’t taste as good as it once did – and sadly, all you can do is experiment by adding a little extra spice or sauce. Suddenly, they’re loving your over-seasoned chicken that your own family would reject. You’re not cooking for the Iron Chef – just do what works..
More Tips to Help Caregivers Feed their Patients Right
Mostly, this is about being flexible and adaptable. Your patient may have cultural preferences; rice, instead of bread. Spicy soup for breakfast. Meatloaf, prepared according to an old family recipe. Caregivers are welcome to try introducing new foods, but first plan out according to their preferences. Meal planning is critical for ensuring you provide a balanced diet and don’t wear yourself out trying to improvise whatever dish is requested that day.
Family members may have helpful suggestions about what the client might enjoy, or recommend certain nutrition supplements. Again, be accommodating – but not at the risk of your patient’s health or comfort. If they really do hate the taste of prunes for dessert, there are always plenty of alternatives.
Finally, be there for them when they’re eating! Mealtimes are social times – and this is where fond memories can be sharpened by the tastes and smells of the kitchen.
Eating well is a major part of our quality of life. Succeed on this front and you’ll be one appreciated caregiver!
Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski
We’ve known about the link between sleeplessness and aging for a long time now. Those afflicted with dementia in particular can suffer from insomnia, or even a reversal of the normal day-night sleeping cycle. Doctors still don’t know what it happens – but there’s no question that it does happen. However, until recently, no one had been able to detect a causal link between bad sleep and dementia. Recent studies do seem to suggest that link – even when taking into account heart health, medication and other factors.
Dr. Kristine Yaffe of University of California, San Francisco explains this research while in Vancouver: Continue reading
Photo Credit: DFID
Whether you’re a professional clinical dementia care provider or the family caregiver doing your duty out of love, it’s important to keep a focus on safety. Ultimately, it’s about keeping good habits – and where necessary, starting new good habits.
Safety is everyone’s responsibility. According to Worksafe BC, learning and following safe work procedures includes:
- Asking for training where needed
- Using protective clothing or safety equipment
- Thinking safety — never engaging in horseplay or working while impaired
- Immediately reporting an unsafe situation or any injury
Safe Caregiving for Patients with Dementia
Dementia adds an extra layer of complexity to any situation. Caregivers need to be extra careful to maintain their own well-being and that of the client. Worksafe BC provides helpful examples:
- Sometimes people with dementia can become aggressive or even violent with little or no warning. If this happens, remove yourself from the situation – and be sure to warn anyone else who is involved in caretaking.That said, in many cases, aggression results from basic needs not being met; before looking for external causes or assuming a situation was simply random, check to see whether all of the patients needs were being addressed prior to the incident.
- Touching a dementia patient or taking hold of their cane or walker while they are moving can result in an aggressive reaction. The patient may believe their personal space is being ‘invaded’. If you note these behaviors, be sure to tell others to prevent incidents.
- Bathing or providing personal hygiene help is essential for some patients with dementia – but these moments also have the potential to spark problems as patients become anxious. Encouraging the patient to be responsible for as much of their care as realistically possible, reassuring them and where necessary, distracting them, are useful behaviors for reducing stress and ensuring the caregiver’s safety from an unexpected reaction.
Caregivers already deal with many stressful situations – but preventable accidents can be a negative tipping point for both them and their patient. Make safety a priority in everything you do!
Photo Credit: DieselDemon
There is no cure for dementia – but with a lot of effort and more resources devoted to the problem than ever before, we’re hopeful that the answer is out there. In the meantime, here’s a quick roundup of some of those efforts we find so inspiring:
Walk for Memories in BC. 24 communities in BC are participating this year with Alzheimer BC’s initiative to raise funds to help the 70,000 locals affected by dementia and support research as well. Each year, this event raises awareness and much-needed dollars to assist in understanding the science of dementia. Continue reading
Photo Credit: NIAID
Marking World AIDS Day this month, the AIDS Vancouver group launched its “Undetectable” campaign to highlight “a new way of talking about HIV”. We’ve seen how in recent years, anti-retroviral treatment has made headway in lessening the chance of new infections to spread the disease. That’s good news – and on the front lines of dementia care in British Columbia, we’ve also seen how this new treatment is helping lower incidence of dementia.
What’s the Link Between HIV and Dementia?
While the public is more aware today of the connection between HIV and AIDS and associated symptoms, many people don’t know that the HIV can impair cognitive ability.
The HIV virus attacks the human central nervous system and can get into your brain and spinal cord tissues. Doctors can’t fully detect how this happens, but HIV-associated dementia is a well-recognized condition, adding one more layer of disability to an already-vulnerable population. In the early days of the US’ HIV/AIDS epidemic, roughly half of the people living with HIV/AIDS were experiencing dementia.
The good news? Since antiretroviral therapy has been introduced, we’ve seen a major drop in HIV-associated dementia. A recent medical study in the UK appeared to show that those suffering from HIV who had gotten anti-retroviral treatment had the same rate of dementia as for the general population. In related news, we’re seeing new research into ways of harnessing ‘big data’ to help understand how HIV damages the brain – an essential step on the way to a cure.
We’re glad to see new resources and research devoted to this important cause. In the meantime, we are here to help families and patients who are already experiencing dementia – whatever the cause.