Aging Parents with Dementia Still Communicate

May 8, 2012

Dementia Care

 

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“I’m still me, but not sort of.” It is not true that “everything” is lost in people who have a dementia. Some aspects of memory and language may be lost, while feelings and aspects of personality remain.

Let’s talk about what is lost and what is retained and how to help the person make the best of “still being me.” Aging parents with dementia are still the people they have always been, only disabled now. Even very impaired people often still sense the feelings of others.

A retired nurse who had had Alzheimer disease for several years found an elderly woman crying out in pain. She did her best to put a pillow under the person’s head and then walked back and forth between the nursing station and the person, trying to get help. She had a dementia herself now, but she had spent a lifetime as a caring nurse and in her heart remembered her skills and obligations.

A young nursing aide, obviously pregnant, seemed tired and discouraged as she cared for her client. The woman, who was quite confused, gently patted the aide. “I know you feel . . . I can see you do . . . Let me be your—your friend.”

One elderly  woman never forgot how to play the piano. She could remember only one song, but she always smiled with delight when the staff commented on her skill. When the doctor asked a person with dementia to remember three words as part of a memory test, she responded, “Young man, how dare you ask me such a thing.”

Dementing illnesses does not abruptly or uniformly disrupt a person’s thinking: they gradually and selectively impair intellectual functions. In addition, other illnesses, a non-supportive environment, fatigue, or stress can make persons with dementia even more impaired in function and intellect than they need be.

The seemingly strange contradictions of impaired and spared areas of intellect are probably as frightening to persons with a dementia as they are to those who care for them.

At first, the elderly or an individual may be aware of their failures and become deeply discouraged and frightened. They may fear that they are going insane. As the disease progresses, however, they will forget their forgetfulness and be unaware that they are ill. They will try to continue to do what they have always done—go to the office, prepare meals, or drive—unaware that they are getting lost or making dangerous mistakes.

Aging parents with dementia may be frustrated to the point of rage when they can no longer do simple tasks, such as button a dress or jacket or tie their shoes. Their environment becomes filled with inexplicable obstacles—once familiar tasks now lead to failure and embarrassment.

Unable to understand why they fail, they may struggle to cover up their failures, or they may not understand what is wrong. Their clumsiness can be humiliating. As the disease progresses, they may not know who they are and may experience extreme and ongoing terror. They may cling tenaciously to the one person who seems familiar. When individuals with dementia are no longer able to convey pain or fear, no one may respond to them, although they will be unaware that no one can understand them. Yet their ability to enjoy human companionship—and to give and receive love—appears to continue some time after they have lost the ability to talk clearly or to care for themselves.

An impaired man clearly enjoyed rocking a baby who was visiting the unit. But when the infant began to cry, he remembered just what to do: he quickly handed the child back to the mother.

An elderly woman had had a major stroke and could no longer speak. She sat in a wheelchair while her family visited. When a staff member noticed that her robe was wet and urine was pooling under the chair, the staff member quietly put a lap robe over her to conceal her incontinence from her family. The woman smiled as best as she could and took the staff member’s hand and kissed it.

Alice, who has Alzheimer disease, said to her daughter, “I don’t remember when I was born, but I’ll be OK if you don’t lose me.”

A confused patient to her aide: “You’re not so much as the other one. I like you more.”

The doctor was interviewing a man with dementia. When the doctor asked how things were going for the man, the man replied: “Life’s not so bad. After all, I’m only as old as seventy miles.”

Hannah Wilson said: “It feels so good when people listen to you sometimes instead of telling you to do so much, so much, so much.”

A woman was searching through her dresser drawer, saying to herself, “I’ve lost all thought. I don’t know who I belong to.”

Sarah, who often wept, said, “I’ve lost them. I’ve lost them. I’ve lost all anything of my life.”

A person with dementia said to her nurse, “It all seems so gone. I don’t say so much so I won’t cry.”

An elderly  woman with dementia said to her son, “I don’t know what you all are so upset about. I’m the one who doesn’t know who I am.”

A man with dementia said, “Well, I’m not so bad. You know, sometimes I can do it. Some things go. If I can stop and try it out, I like to do that and I do that. You can’t make yourself own up. Well, I couldn’t do that. Like all I had to do was that. So I’m not so bad.”

When a staff member began to undress a man before his bath, the man said, “Why do you make us guys look so dumb?”

Dementing illnesses does not abruptly or uniformly disrupt a person’s thinking: they gradually and selectively impair intellectual functions. In addition, other illnesses, a non-supportive environment, fatigue, or stress can make persons with dementia even more impaired in function and intellect than they need be.

The seemingly strange contradictions of impaired and spared areas of intellect are probably as frightening to persons with a dementia as they are to those who care for them.

At first, individuals may be aware of their failures and become deeply discouraged and frightened. They may fear that they are going insane. As the disease progresses, however, they will forget their forgetfulness and be unaware that they are ill. They will try to continue to do what they have always done—go to the office, prepare meals, or drive—unaware that they are getting lost or making dangerous mistakes.

Aging parents  with dementia may be frustrated to the point of rage when they can no longer do simple tasks, such as button a dress or jacket or tie their shoes. Their environment becomes filled with inexplicable obstacles—once familiar tasks now lead to failure and embarrassment.

Unable to understand why they fail, they may struggle to cover up their failures, or they may not understand what is wrong. Their clumsiness can be humiliating. As the disease progresses, they may not know who they are and may experience extreme and ongoing terror. They may cling tenaciously to the one person who seems familiar. When individuals with dementia are no longer able to convey pain or fear, no one may respond to them, although they will be unaware that no one can understand them. Yet their ability to enjoy human companionship—and to give and receive love—appears to continue some time after they have lost the ability to talk clearly or to care for themselves.

Are you struggling with trying to care for your aging parents?

Call today to get help with your aging parents, don’t try to do it all alone.

Visit us on the web at  http://www.seniorhomecareusa.com

Call us at (858) 349-4240

Email us at info@seniorhomecareusa.com

 

 

 

 

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamelah/16144383/">jamelah</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photo pin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

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