December 14, 2009

IRELAND: Mature matters - Dementia and Alzheimer's

. DUBLIN, Ireland / Irish Independent / Health / Questions & Answers/ December 14, 2009 By Patricia Hallahan My wife was diagnosed with dementia three years ago. After the initial shock, we decided to make the best of it and in fact we have had a pretty good time since, taking holidays and focusing on what we like to do together. Recently, however, things have got more difficult and I find that I am much less patient with her. I'm afraid I'll lose my temper and might have to get others to help, which I know she would hate. Do you have any advice on how to avoid this? Congratulations on making the most of your time together since her diagnosis. Stress occurs when demands exceed our ability to respond. As your wife's condition progressed, her declining abilities led to more jobs for you and increasing pressure on your patience and understanding. This is to be expected and it is good you have recognised it. Carers are at high risk of developing feelings of depression, anxiety, burden and anger. However, not all the effects are negative. Many carers achieve a sense of fulfilment, competency and satisfaction from the mastery of a variety of situations. To have a positive care-giving experience the key thing is to ensure that you understand what to expect as her illness progresses, and to have the required skills and knowledge to help with the practical things as well as enough support from various sources. Your wife may not want you to involve others in her care but she would also not want you to be so stressed. You must strike a balance. Ask for the help you need and get in touch with your public health nurse and the Alzheimer's Society. I have been looking after my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, for many years. Her condition has deteriorated and my family is finding it hard to cope. I know the time may come when we have to move Mum into a nursing home and wonder how we can do that with as little stress as possible. Well done on the care you and your family have provided and for your foresight in considering the transitions that may lie ahead. These are often precipitated by events such as hospital admission and are difficult for the person with dementia and for families. Most carers dread this change and feel guilty about taking the decision. Spend time identifying the most appropriate nursing home for your mother. Make a short list and visit each one a few times at different times of the day. Arrange to meet with management and staff and talk with other residents and families. Bring your mother with you if you can as this will be her home and she should participate as much as possible in the decision. Once you have decided, share information with the staff about your mother's likes and dislikes and her interests and personal history. You could develop a 'life story book' with her, including photos of herself and significant others at various times of her life. Ensure that your mother's space is personalised with the things she likes to have around her. Be aware that feelings of loss and sadness are common in carers and your mother may experience an increased level of confusion as she adapts. Continue to stay involved in her care, visit often and use your understanding of her needs to advocate on her behalf. [rc] Patricia Hallahan, Director, Dementia Services Information and Development Centre, St James's Hospital ©