Alzheimer's and Dementia Care
Alzheimer's disease and related dementias affect each person differently. Although there are still many things about these diseases that are unknown, research continues to offer a better understanding, more accurate diagnoses and more effective treatments. Hospitals play a key role in all three areas: research, diagnosis and treatment.
The behaviors associated with Alzheimer's and dementia are difficult for caregivers to handle and, at times, the person with dementia may benefit from psychiatric services. These services may be provided at the hospital on an out-patient or in-patient basis.
Symptoms of a Dementia
Alzheimer's disease and other dementias may cause a person to exhibit unusual and unpredictable behaviors, such as:
- Severe mood swings
- Verbal or physical aggression
If You Suspect Your Loved One Has a Dementia
If your loved one exhibits symptoms of dementia, the first step is to get a diagnosis and evaluate the disease so that your loved one can begin treatment.
- Get a complete professional geriatric evaluation for your loved one. This can help you and your loved one know if he or she has dementia.
- After a determination of dementia, staff can explain the disease process and discuss any challenges the patient and family may be facing in the future.
- After the evaluation is complete, the team will make recommendations for treatment. Recommendations may include medication or community services, such as care at an adult medical day center.
Some hospitals have clinics specifically designed to evaluate and treat those with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. The clinics provide ongoing treatment to the individual and support services for his or her caregiver. Check with your local Senior Information and Assistance program to find out what services are available in your community.
When a person with dementia is admitted to the hospital for an illness unrelated to the dementia, there may be a decline in his or her cognitive functioning (memory, ability to understand) or the person may become agitated, angry or may wander. Although these behaviors may not be preventable, working closely with the medical team could reduce some of the stress in dealing with this situation. This change in behavior does not necessarily mean the dementia is advancing. It may be a temporary reaction to a very different environment, or it may be a reaction to medication.
How the Nurse Can Help
- Let the nursing staff know the person has dementia.
- Give the nurse information on what the person will need to have done for him or her (opening milk cartons, filling out the menu, toileting).
- Write a list of things the nurse may need to know (food likes and dislikes, tendency to wake often at night). Ask the nurse to put this information in the chart.
How You Can Help
- Try to accompany the person to his or her tests and treatments.
- Arrange a schedule for family, friends or others close to the person to visit him or her frequently.
Hospitals may provide a variety of services for the caregiver:
- Caregiver support groups
- Educational programs or conferences
- Individual support from social workers, therapists, nurses and other medical staff, such as information on how to respond to your loved one's challenging behavior
- Information on community resources
Hire a Companion
The hospital is not able to provide 24-hour, one-on-one supervision for the person with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. If an individual needs one-on-one monitoring, it is the responsibility of the caregiver to develop a plan by which someone is with the patient at all times. This may be someone from the family, a friend or caregiver hired and paid privately. If you are interested in hiring a companion to assist a loved one with dementia while he or she is in the hospital, contact the nursing department, which should be able to give you a list of agencies to contact.
Other Helpful Information
Many clinics are also involved in research to understand the process of dementia and to develop new treatment options. If you and your loved one are interested, discuss the options with the staff at the clinic. An appropriate informed consent must be obtained before a patient participates in any study.