We know how difficult it can be when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. As a caring spouse, child or grandchild of someone with dementia, we know you'll experience a roller-coaster of emotions.
One of those emotions may be denial. It doesn't mean you're a bad person, but it's something you'll need to deal with responsibly as your loved one begins to show the early signs of dementia. Denial is an interesting psychological phenomenon. As humans, we tend to experience denial when we're shocked by a piece of information and worried about the future. Denial is emotional insulation. If you cannot accept a fact, even though you see irrefutable evidence of it, you may be in denial.
If you are in denial or another family member is, know it's no one's fault. Again, it's a typical response that only proves you're human. But it's best to move forward and understand the risks when it comes to an Alzheimer's Disease or dementia diagnosis. That's the only way you can help your loved one with the proper care they need.
Today, we'll talk about the real dangers associated with the denial of dementia. We understand this is an emotional moment, and we're here to help. Our goal is to make you aware of these issues so you can be proactive. We'll start with the most dangerous topics: falls and medication mishaps.
Falls Cause Serious Injuries Among Adults With Dementia
Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. If you're experiencing denial, you might be reluctant to make home modifications or "senior proof" the home. Be sure to take proper precautions and add some safety items to the household because dementia increases the risk of an injury.
Safety Adjustments for People Showing the Early Signs of Dementia
Your loved one may experience periods of disorientation, physical balance problems, memory loss and problems with motor functions. You should:
- Remove items that can cause falls, like extension cords and area rugs
- Install grab bars in the bathroom and shower, and purchase a shower chair
- Install a simple lock on exterior doors, high above eye level, to help prevent wandering
- Add extra lighting and nightlights to your home
- Allow them to wear sneakers or other grippy footwear when in the home
It's also vital that you store medications and vitamins in a less conspicuous place. Medication mishaps can have serious consequences!
Medication Mishaps and Malnutrition
As cognitive function (thinking and memory) begins to decline, your loved one might struggle to manage their medications. This is a very common early sign of dementia. They might miss important doses, take the wrong meds or even overdose! Someone will need to take a proactive position, making sure your family member takes the right prescriptions (with or without food) at the correct times.
It's also common for them to neglect their nutrition needs.
Senior Nutrition and Dementia
Malnourished seniors are twice as likely to need medical attention and three times as likely to be hospitalized! Our at-risk elders experience physical weakness and poor healing, which leads to more prolonged hospitalizations and risks of secondary issues like hospital-acquired pneumonia. Studies point to the role of senior nutrition in cognitive impairment as well. There is a disturbing and profound link between diet and age-related cognitive decline.
So it's vital to ensure your loved one is eating well. They may struggle to use utensils or forget to eat entirely! Be sure to offer them snacks and healthy drinks often.
Beyond danger to themselves, older adults experiencing dementia can be dangerous to others.
They Can Put Others in Harms Way
The Mayo Clinic says people with mild dementia are at a much greater risk of unsafe driving. And the American Academy of Neurology strongly recommends that people with even very mild dementia consider giving up driving. Your loved one might be reluctant to stop driving, or they may not be aware of a decline in their decision-making or driving skills.
How to Help a Loved One With Dementia Accept That They Should Stop Driving
The best way to help your family member accept that they can't drive is to talk to their doctor. Our elders tend to think of us as beloved children or youngsters. Early on, we might not know what's best. Doctor's orders, however, are irrefutable.
Another genuine concern for the family of dementia patients is their vulnerability to elder abuse.
Vulnerable to Elder Abuse
The Alzheimer's Association says elder abuse can occur anywhere. Older adults with dementia are especially vulnerable because their disease prevents them from recognizing abuse or reporting it. They might fall prey to strangers who take advantage of them physically, verbally or financially. Once the abuse occurs, they are unable to verbalize what's happened. They're not sure who to report abuse to, nor can they find the right words to express it.
While there are many signs of potential abuse, the most common are:
- Mysterious bruises your loved one cannot explain
- A decreased interest in social gatherings or family events
- Neglected grooming
- Disorientation beyond their "normal" level of confusion
- Unusual financial problems, difficulty paying bills they could generally afford
At Weatherly, we know all these concerns can pile up. Between your worry about early signs of dementia, your concern about their wellbeing, anxiety about their driving or medication management, the stress can quickly become overwhelming.
Risks for Caregivers
We've written extensively about caregiver burnout and how to avoid it. For now, know it's a real mental health struggle that can cause serious health problems in caregivers like high blood pressure, sleep disorders, tummy troubles and headaches. It can also wreak havoc on a caregiver's professional life, family life, and marriage.
But there are other risks for caregivers learning to navigate the early signs of dementia with their family. Financial risks — and even physical risks — are very real for caregivers. Understand that your loved one might become forgetful. They might leave the door open, the water boiling, and the oven on because they forgot they were cooking and went for a little walk.
That's why it's essential to quickly push through denial to provide the best care for your loved one.
Accept the Signs of Early Dementia So You Can Offer the Best Care
Per the Alzheimer's Association website, early warning signs of dementia can include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Difficulty solving simple problems
- Difficulty completing daily tasks (like dressing or eating, for instance)
- Confusion about the date or time
- Poor judgment
- Withdrawal from family or social life
If you think your spouse, friend or family member may be in the early stages of dementia, address it sooner, not later. If you feel overwhelmed by this formidable challenge, we're here to help. Explore the various levels of memory care we provide for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia by contacting us today. We'd love to give you a virtual tour and a no-cost, no-pressure consultation. We're ready to help.