IU Health West Hospital

Coping with dementia: A family affair

Health & Wellness

June 22, 2020

Your loved one is confused or disoriented. Is it signs of dementia? How you can help.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

He lives alone. He still drives and he cooks his meals. But there are little clues that maybe he is sometimes confused. How can you help keep your loved one safe?

“We know there are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. A lot of symptoms and behaviors are undiagnosed,” said Erica Newkirk, a clinical nurse specialist at IU Health West. With a special interest in the geriatric population, Newkirk has learned to recognize early signs of dementia.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month – a time to become familiar with signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and how family members can help their loved one cope. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. In the early stages, patients may show mild signs of memory loss. As the disease progresses, it can impair a patient’s ability to communicate or respond. The Alzheimer Association reports there are 50 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Maybe your dad can live alone, drive and prepare his meals, but is there a chance he could forget to turn off the stove leading to a fire?” asks Newkirk. The only way to know is to remain engaged with the loved one, she said.

Here are a few tips:

  • Drop by – stopping by frequently can tell a lot about how the loved one is coping. It gives a glimpse into daily habits – such as grooming, and basic housework. Is the refrigerator empty? Are their products that have passed their expiration date? Those are the things you may look for to recognize some signs of memory loss, said Newkirk.
  • Look at the loved one’s medications. Organize them in a pillbox and check to be sure the dosages are correct and are being taken on a regular basis. Print out a list of those medications and ask your loved one to keep it in their wallet for easy access.
  • Think about your loved one’s demeanor. Is he happy? Sad? “These are adults who are in their 70s and 80s who have been on this planet for a long time. Some were engineers or CEOs of major companies, and now they may feel a loss of responsibility and also need someone to care for them. They can feel isolated and depressed,” said Newkirk.
  • Listen to them. Acknowledge their feelings. “If they want to repeat a story, let them repeat the story,” said Newkirk.
  • If a loved one becomes hospitalized, it is important for family members to be present. “When they’re in the hospital, they spend a lot of time in bed. They can easily become worried and confused. Bringing a trusted loved one to the bedside gives them a sense of familiarity and helps orient them especially at night,” said Newkirk. At IU Health West, Newkirk offers patients activities from a “Distraction Cart,” a one-time use mobile supply center that provides patients with things to keep them busy such as puzzles and paints.

Family members should also take advantage of community resources to help their loved ones, said Newkirk. For more information contact Newkirk at enewkirk@iuhealth.org, or the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Indiana Chapter.

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Alzheimer's

A disease that affects memory and thinking ability, and is the most common cause of dementia.

Dementia

A group of diseases that affect the brain and cause memory loss and difficulty with communicating and thinking.