Judson Haims: Ideas on what you should do now when your elderly loved ones start getting lost
Special to The Aspen Times
National Institute on Aging
There’s a heart-pounding scene in “Still Alice” when the main character, Alice Howland, gets lost while jogging in familiar terrain.
Then comes a heartbreaking scene when Alice gets lost in her own home trying to find the bathroom. After opening door after door, her husband finds her standing in the hallway. She’s crying. And she’s wet her pants.
The movie portrays a deep fear that comes with aging: the once-familiar will become foreign.
Memory loss can be typical with age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a normal or a healthy part of aging. In the early stages of cognitive decline or dementia, people may start to get lost more often. When memory begins to affect one’s daily living, it’s dangerous.
If you or a loved one is concerned about your cognition, one of the first steps to take is monitor your diet and reduce your sugar intake. Emerging evidence suggests that added sugar (sugar not produced by the body) is linked to cognitive decline and a reduction in brain volume, learning disorders and depression.
Within the past week, Lilly and AstraZeneca joined Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in halting Alzheimer’s research as they have failed to develop successful treatments. It seems that developing a cure to the problem is not nearly as successful as preventing the disease.
One of the most successful advancements in Alzheimer’s and cognition research has been the understanding of how diet and exercise effects brain health. Research from the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic (our nation’s leading neurological hospitals and research centers) confirm that diet and exercise directly impact your brain health.
After diet modification, there are many skills you can learn to help your loved one(s) — from creating structured routines and simple lists to asking for help from professional caregivers who are experienced in caring for those with memory loss and wandering. But when your loved one(s) start getting lost, it is time to act.
Lists, Notes and Calendars
Lists are good reminder visual cues: Keep lists of daily activities as well as those for shopping and other tasks. A list does not need to be extensive to be effective. A few items on a grocery list or a prompt on when to eat meals is all that is necessary. Mark off tasks as they are completed.
Create calendars: Create a wall calendar for one-off tasks or weekly reminders that include such things as meetings, doctor’s appointments or when to mail the bills. Write legibly.
Sticky notes are your friends: Use sticky notes where a reminder is necessary. For example, stick a note near the front or back door that simply says: wallet, keys, coat, hat.
Journals are great: Encourage your parent to journal or keep notes in a booklet on what he or she did during the day and then go over the activities.
Daily Routines and Coping Strategies
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed tips for daily life and to help minimize wandering.
Its tried and true tips include:
Daily plan: Create a structured, task-oriented daily schedule and stick to it every day. Break it down by morning, afternoon and evening.
Trigger times: Identify the times that wandering is most likely to occur. Plan activities for those times. Doing so will lower stress and anxiety.
Out of sight: Keep car keys out of sight. Also keep shoes, coats and hats (signs of departure) away from the door.
Avoid confusing places: Large, loud and unfamiliar places can create anxiety and disorient your parent.
Even if there is no medical diagnosis for cognitive impairment, but signs suggest challenges are present, a plan needs to be established. Denial and delay often lead to unfortunate situations.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His he can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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