Haims: Alzheimer’s care: What to do when your elderly loved one gets lost (column)
There’s a heart-pounding scene in “Still Alice” when the main character, Alice Howland, gets lost while jogging in familiar terrain. Then comes a heartbreaking scene when Alice gets lost in her own home trying to find the bathroom. After opening door after door, her husband finds her standing in the hallway. She’s crying. And she’s wet her pants.
The movie portrays a deep fear that comes with aging: the once familiar will become foreign. Memory loss can be typical with age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a normal or healthy part of aging. In the early stages of cognitive decline or dementia, people may start to get lost more often. When memory begins to affect one’s daily living, it’s dangerous.
If you or a loved one is concerned about your cognition, then one of the first steps to take is to monitor your diet and reduce your sugar intake. Emerging evidence suggests that added sugar (sugar not produced by the body) is linked to cognitive decline and a reduction in brain volume, learning disorders and depression.
After diet modification, there are many skills you can learn to help your loved one, from creating structured routines and simple lists to asking for help from professional caregivers who are experienced in caring for those with memory loss and wandering. But when your love one starts getting lost, it’s time to act.
• Keep lists of daily activities, as well as those for shopping and other tasks. A list does not need to be extensive to be effective. A few items on a grocery list or a prompt on when to eat meals is all that is necessary. Mark off tasks as they are completed.
• Create a wall calendar for one-off tasks or weekly reminders that include such things as meetings, doctor’s appointments or when to mail the bills. Write legibly.
• Use sticky notes where a reminder is necessary. For example, stick a note near the front or back door that simply says: wallet, keys, coat, hat.
• Encourage your loved one to journal or keep notes in a booklet on what he or she did during the day and then go over the activities.
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed tips for daily life to help minimize wandering:
• Create a structured, task-oriented daily schedule and stick to it every day. Break it down by morning, afternoon and evening.
• Identify the times that wandering is most likely to occur. Plan activities for those times. Doing so will lower your loved one’s stress and anxiety.
• Keep car keys out of sight. Also keep shoes, coats and hats (signs of departure) away from the door.
• Avoid large, loud and unfamiliar places, which can create anxiety and disorient your loved one.
Even if there is no medical diagnosis for cognitive impairment, but signs suggest challenges are present, a plan needs to be established. Denial and delay often lead to unfortunate situations.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.
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