Dementia expert, Karen Tyrell, offers answers to www.carp.ca visitors for their situation-specific questions. Karen is a dementia consultant who can point you in the right direction, giving quick insight and personalized answers to help you with dementia care challenges.
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]
June, 2015 Update
1. Apathy and Dementia- How Can I Get My Mom to Feel Excited About Life Again?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“Lately I’ve been very concerned about my mom who has Alzheimer’s because whenever I visit her at the care home she seems withdrawn. It’s as if she’s lost interest in everything around her. I don’t know whether this is because she’s angry or depressed, and I even wonder whether she wants me visiting her. Is her behaviour normal and what can I do to address it?”
~ Daughter in Doubt
Dear Daughter in Doubt:
Based on your description it appears that your mom is experiencing apathy, a common symptom of dementia. The red flags of apathy can be noticed when someone loses interest in activities that were once met with excitement and pleasure and when they no longer seem to be initiating conversations or forging other social connections. It can be distressing for family members to see this change in their loved one and they often question, as you do, whether they should continue visiting. Remember that your mom’s feelings of apathy are due to the effects of dementia at work and therefore should not be taken personally.
To see whether you can break through the apathy, try some strategies for reigniting her interest and eagerness. The next time you visit, for example, you could try saying, “Hey mom, It’s good to see you! Looks like you’re just about ready to go…let’s get your coat out of the closet.” This way you can prompt her to shift her focus towards a particular action or activity.
A sense of purpose also helps dilute apathy. Try asking your mom for her help in an activity such as finishing some knitting, sorting through a box of photographs, or completing a crossword.
Even if these strategies don’t work and your mom remains withdrawn, you can still enjoy each other’s company. Moments spent together even when few words are spoken can be special and meaningful. I encourage you to continue your visits, to learn more about the effects of apathy, and to explore different ways to engage your mom. (For some personalized suggestions feel free to contact us at: 778-789-1496.)
2. A Move in the Care Home- Should I Move My Mom Or Will It Increase Her Disorientation?
Dear Dementia Solutions:
“The care home wants to move my mom to a different floor where they feel she will be more secure because it’s closer to the dining room. Since she has Alzheimer’s, I worry that she will get more disoriented by this change. Currently she uses the elevator to go down to the main floor dining room but lately she’s been trying to leave via the front door. We just moved her to this new home two weeks ago and I’m concerned that another change will confuse her further. What do you think I should do?”
~Don’t Want to Move Mom Again
Dear Don’t Want to Move Mom Again:
Disorientation affects many of those with dementia and I can fully understand your worries that moving your mom may heighten her sense of confusion. Also if your mom is fairly active, moving her to a unit in the care home that may limit her mobility is another valid point of concern.
Keep in mind, however, that your mom’s current location may be causing her just as much, if not more, confusion. Moving her three times a day for every meal, in and out of elevators, to access the dining area may explain why she constantly wants to leave the building. To ensure her safety, which should be the priority of every care home, the staff must have felt that a move is necessary.
It is likely also best that they are moving her so quickly after the first move because as more time passes she will get increasingly attached to her current unit and resist any change. It would be harder to shift her after the co-residents and staff of her current unit have become familiar to her.Remember that adjustment to any change can take time. A few weeks may be needed for your mom to feel comfortable in a new environment. Once she’s settled, however, she may experience less disorientation because she won’t have to move as much between different floors. To make your mom feel more secure through the change, try encouraging a routine for her that will introduce a sense of familiarity and reassure her when she communicates her anxieties to you. Though another move can be unsettling in the short-term, it may lead to a more positive long-term outcome where your mom is safer and more at ease, and where you have greater peace of mind.
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to:[email protected]
Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA is a Dementia Consultant & Educator for Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca) and the author of the book “Cracking the Dementia Code – Creative Solutions to Cope with Changed Behaviours” and co-creator of the Dementia Caregiver Solutions App. She offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers.