A trip to the hospital demands special care for Alzheimer’s patients

Posted Aug. 09, 2012, at 4:04 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 09, 2012, at 6:26 p.m.
Eric Zelz | BDN

Many baby boomers living with Alzheimer’s are faced with stays at the hospital. Medical staff may not be familiar with the challenges the disease can present in diagnosis and treatment.

To ensure your loved one with Alzheimer’s gets the best medical care, keep a few tips in mind:

Ask the right questions

One of the first assessments an admission nurse or an emergency room doctor will perform is determining the patient’s level of pain. Doctors will ask, “From one to 10, 10 being the highest level of pain, what is your level of pain right now?”

These types of questions require reasoning and judgment, two cognitive functions that are impaired in a person with Alzheimer’s. Only open-ended questions make any sense, if at all, to an individual with Alzheimer’s because they have extreme difficulty completing a thought or sentence, let alone asking for basic needs such as food or a bathroom. That is why the family caregiver or a professional caregiver is best able to respond to such medical questioning.

Minimize disorientation

Delirium is a serious condition that often afflicts the individual with Alzheimer’s. Having a family caregiver present at all times to comfort the patient and keeping the environment as familiar as possible will lower the risk of delirium or disorientation.

A peaceful environment is everything to an individual with Alzheimer’s. Their sleep pattern is often reversed and confusion can set in around dusk in a condition known as sundown syndrome. Providing them with a sense of time and location can help.

Keep an eye on medications

Doctors want to help and often will prescribe medications proven to be harmful to an individual with Alzheimer’s. We now know that any form of sedative or anti-anxiety medication compromise the health of a person with Alzheimer’s.

Essential oils have been proven to have beneficial medicinal properties. But keep in mind that according to studies performed in 1999 and 2011, essential oils may contain pharmacologically active ingredients that may negate or enhance the effects of orthodox drugs. Because essential oils contain high percentages of phenols, they should never be used undiluted. Only health care personnel who have completed a clinically based course should be allowed to administer essential oils to treat certain behaviors or conditions in Alzheimer’s patients.

With no cure for Alzheimer’s on the horizon, we should find better ways for our health care workforce, including doctors in the emergency room and hospital staff, to strive to address future trends and current challenges in treating patients diagnosed with the disease. The baby boomer population and the nature of the disease demand an Alzheimer’s-friendly health care workforce.

Ethelle G. Lord, former president of the Maine Gerontological Society, runs Alzheimer’s coaching and consulting business Remembering4You.com. Her 10-year experience with Alzheimer’s originated with her husband, Maj. Larry S. Potter, USAF retired, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January 2003. She lives in Mapleton.

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