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Care Plan for Dementia: 10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Families need a care plan for dementia. A diagnosis of dementia often terrifies the patient and the family, especially when they don’t know what to expect. However, it need not be a dismal and dark haunting force throughout the remainder of life. In fact, many continue to find joy and happiness, even while living with dementia. Knowledge is power and having important medical information helps you and your loved one plan for the future, choose care options, and pursue the right treatment.

When meeting with your loved one’s doctor, jot down the questions that each of you has. Having a pen and paper with you ensures you don’t forget your questions and that you write down as much information as you need for later reference. Most doctors also give brochures and pamphlets to further guide you. But many find the following questions help their family as they move through this change in life.

1. Which type of dementia do you think it is, and why?

Doctors use the term dementia as an umbrella term for loss of memory and mental capabilities. About 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are known to be Alzheimer’s disease, but many other dementia types affect cognition, as well. They have similarities, but also some differences.

For example, frontotemporal dementia tends to affect behavior before it affects memory. while primary progressive aphasia affects speech and language. Vascular dementia often targets physical capabilities but may not cause the memory problems that the other types do.

Of course, a doctor may not be able to diagnose a patient’s exact dementia because the symptoms of different dementias often overlap. Therefore, a definitive diagnosis may not be possible to make at first. Over time, the diagnosis usually becomes more clear.

Although most forms of true dementia are chronic and largely progressive in nature, some do respond to treatments that may stall the progression or at least slow it down. Your doctor should be able to guide you to help in finding some helpful solutions.

Is it really dementia?

Another important point is that not all dementia is true dementia. For example, severe depression can cause many of the same symptoms. Also, some cases result from medical reactions. Ask your doctor if any of the current medications might be triggering the dementia symptoms.

It’s important that you do not assume that changes in personality or memory loss mean a person has dementia, or that the condition is hopeless and completely untreatable. Seek medical care as early as possible.

2. How far has dementia progressed?

Some types of dementia progress in stages. Is this one of them? If so, which stage of progression does the doctor believe dementia has reached? Ask them to explain the symptoms and reasoning to help you further understand.

Currently, we don’t have a  way to predict the course of dementia in timed steps. Some people remain relatively independent for years, needing minor assistance. Others quickly spiral into poor mental and physical health. Knowing how severe the dementia is, however, helps you develop a care plan for dementia for the future. This helps you plan and anticipate upcoming needs.

3. What kind of changes and conditions should I anticipate?

Your family’s physician is a good resource to help identify potential issues that often crop up in dementia patients. For instance, in addition to mental confusion, you may notice frustration or agitation, particularly in the evening. Depression is another common issue.

On the physical side, your loved one may lose the ability to control bodily functions. They are more vulnerable to urinary tract infections, skin problems, and circulation issues, too.  People with severe Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble chewing or swallowing. Often overlooked but quite important is that changes in the person’s depth perception make patients more vulnerable to falls.

4. What medication should our care plan for dementia include?

As part of your care plan for dementia, ask about medications.   At best, medications may temporarily relieve memory problems and improve alertness. They will not stop the progression of the disease.

Keeping the heart and circulatory system healthy and functioning well may slow cognitive decline in patients with vascular dementia. Your doctor may prescribe medication or authorize daily aspirin to help this critical function. Be sure to ask your physician about possible side effects of medications, herbal supplements, or other additions, including those your loved one is already taking.

You should know that currently, we have no medications that cure dementia. However, some drugs may help minimize or stave off its symptoms. The elderly who feel stressed or depressed may find relief from some medications. And of course, if your loved one experiences chronic pain or similar conditions, continued treatment is essential.

Most caregivers find they need to become strong advocates for the loved ones. Some seniors refuse to speak up, either out of fear or shyness. But also,  your loved one may eventually lose the ability to tell you when they are in pain. Learning to be an advocate

5. What other types of treatment could help?

There are supportive treatments that may help manage symptoms and slow the progression, even though there is no known cure for most types of dementia. Remember that nutritional and emotional support remains very critical. Counseling or psychotherapy may help some people come to terms with having dementia and help alleviate depression or anxiety.

Research shows the exercise helps many dementia patients. It often slows the progression of mental impairment and helps boost the mood, reducing stress and anxiety. Additionally, occupational therapy teaches people new ways to cope as their condition changes.

6. Can my mother or father still drive?

At some point, the discussion of driving will come up. Most families dread dealing with it, and it is a sensitive topic.  But for the safety of your loved one and the other drivers on the road, it is necessary.

One of the reasons this is such a sensitive topic is the tie to independence. Imagine the great joy of a teenager who has just gotten his license. It is considered one of life’s highest achievements to many. So when the time comes for your loved one, who has probably driven for decades, to give up his driving privileges, it can be very traumatic. In fact, they may argue on this one point more than most others.

Ask the doctor what signs to look for when considering the timing of this important step. In fact, most doctors are willing to be the ones to take the pressure off the caregiver and require the patient to stop driving. While this makes it easier on the caregiver, remember that it is still very sad and aggravating on most patients.

Take the steps necessary, but use compassion and understanding.

Personal Experience Note: We found it better to remove the privilege of driving sooner, rather than later. Dad was a retired mechanic and loved cars, but his driving skills had been impaired by a stroke. At first, he agreed on not driving. But eventually, he wished he still could. We stayed with the decision and were happy we did. In my opinion, it’s better to remove the option earlier in the process to avoid any accidents.

7. Is living at home still an option?

You also need to find out if it is still safe for your parent or loved one to continue to live independently at home. If so, ask how you can make the home safer and easier for the senior loved one to use. If needed, ask about home support services to help your parent or loved one age in place.

Unfortunately, the progressive, degenerative nature of dementia means that nearly all dementia patients will eventually require full-time care. That can mean a family member moving in the home or moving your loved one into your family home. Some choose assisted living options. This discussion is best done before dementia progresses too far so that the elderly patient may have some contribution to the decision.

Personal Experience Note: Opt for caution here. While senior care calling services such as buttons to call for help provide some help, we found that having someone there at all times was much better overall. Dad was more comfortable knowing help was immediate. And he enjoyed the company, too.

8. How can I help? Including me in the care plan for dementia

If your parent or loved one can still live at home, look for ways you might help them out. For example, in addition to making the house more elder-friendly, offer to help clean and declutter. Often it’s the little things that make a big difference along the way. Your doctor may have information about the changes happening to your loved one that can help you decide what needs to be done in their particular case.

9. What type of specialists should we see?

Your doctor will probably offer referrals for specialists that can help you and the patient. If not, ask. These might include a geriatrician, a neurologist, a visiting nurse, or an occupational therapist. Each of these experts offers a specific and targeted approach to meeting specific needs.

10. What can I do to support myself?

Finally, don’t forget about yourself. Some ares have dementia support groups. I found that the online community served me best as it allowed me to stay connected while caring for my Dad.

If a friend or family member asks if they can help you out, the correct answer is almost always “Yes!” The help you need is not always as a caregiver. Sometimes having someone help with cleaning, laundry, or other tasks gives you that needed time to just breathe!

Remember the speech that is given before each airline flight? Provide oxygen for yourself first, then to those who need your help. That’s because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you still cannot help anyone else.

The same is true for caring for your elderly parents or grandparents. They need you to help them. But they need you to be able to help them. Use the support of others when you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

This care plan for dementia helps your family manage this challenging diagnosis. Caring for a person with dementia demands knowledge to continue the ongoing commitment. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, That means you must take care of yourself. Ask for help from friends and family. As much as possible, prioritize self-care. Accept help whenever it is available. If you experience signs of caregiver depression or anxiety, seek help through your doctor or therapist. Often, getting the right support helps sustain the energy that caregiving demands.


Read More

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Tips for managing effects of dementia on family

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