When my Mom was battling Alzheimer's there was a moment when I realized that a person meeting for her for the first time would not be meeting the person that I knew and loved. The disease had simply taken too much.
It's heartbreaking for anyone caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia when the disease progresses to that point. As sad as it was to get to that place, I also realized that at some point it would have a profound impact on her care. Molly Gray was a delightfully, sometimes frustratingly, quirky person. So many little things could bother her, or make her happy. And Alzheimer's would amplify her reactions to them to the point where they weren't so "little" anymore. When we needed professional home care, and later memory care, our whole family worried about her comfort. We could could still understand her. We still "got" her. But how in the world could a stranger connect with her?
As it turned out our worries were not unfounded in many situations. Adult day care, home care, hospital stays and rehab centers were disasters.* We felt we couldn't leave Mom's side for a second, and we had to repeatedly educate the people caring for her about her personal preferences and sensitivities. It was frustrating for us, but mainly our hearts were breaking for Mom because she simply could not speak up for herself.
They say that "necessity is the mother of invention" but I think for The Memory Kit pain, frustration and compassion played the larger roles. Our goal in creating the Care Companion and Care Card was to make life more comfortable for people living with Alzheimer's/dementia, and to provide some peace of mind for their families. Both products are designed, with the help of experts, to enable your loved one's caregivers to get to know them and understand their needs when you're not there.
*Not every experience we had with care providers and healthcare professionals was bad. We made a change in Mom's primary care physician to a doctor who can accurately be called an angel, and the team at Sunrise in Beverly Hills was nothing short of amazing. They are a part of our family now.
Flashback to 2014: My mother who has Alzheimer's has been admitted to the hospital for what would ultimately be diagnosed as a severe urinary tract infection. She was scared, confused, and extremely agitated (an understatement). Enter the nurse, who appeared to have no interest in the information we were trying to share with her, which was that her patient had Alzheimer's disease that had progressed to the point where she was easily agitated, often seemed delusional, and was unable to answer very basic questions. Ignoring us, she began asking my mom complex questions about her symptoms, which she couldn't answer and served to make her even more upset. The nurse's response? Repeat the questions at over twice the decibel level. While smiling. The nurse continued to ignore us as we tried to explain that mom's hearing wasn't impaired - she had Alzheimer's. And so it went, during this hospital stay and others we would have.
Over the next few years we would learn that hospitals are woefully unequipped to address the needs of patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. The reason is that non-specialized doctors, nurses and social workers simply don't understand the disease. Why is that? The answer - from this caregiver-survivor's perspective - is that because Alzheimer's is the only disease that is not covered by insurance or medicaid patients never enter the system with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. They enter the system for some other reason, and Alzheimer's is a "post-it note" on their chart.
If you have a love one with Alzheimer's in the early stage, there are a few things you can do to be prepared for potential hospital stays. Here is my prep list:
I'm sharing our family's experience in the hope that, with a bit of advanced planning, you can ensure that your loved one is more comfortable in the event that a visit to the ER or a hospital stay is necessary.
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If you have a loved one receiving long term care The Care Card can help ensure that their needs and preferences are always met.