Following a morning packed with information about research, the afternoon session of the Alzheimer’s Association education conference in Petaluma featured a panel discussion with four individuals who are currently caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Kris cares for a friend at home, Elly cares for her husband at home, Dan cares for his wife in an assisted living facility and Roger cares for his mother who lives in an independent living community. The caregivers told a bit about their stories and took questions from the audience.
The next session featured Cynthia Barton, RN, MSN and Jennifer Merrilees, RN, PhD, who talked about Understanding and Managing Behaviors in Dementia. This was a very popular session as a majority of family and professional caregivers struggle with difficult behavioral problems in people with Alzheimer’s.
First, they explained some of the cognitive changes in dementia and the behaviors they may cause. Memory loss can contribute to repetitive questions; loss of executive functioning can lead to difficulty completing tasks; loss of visual-spatial skills leads to problems getting dressed and loss of language can lead to problems with naming objects.
Some of the most common behavioral symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease include apathy/indifference (75%), aberrant motor behavior (inability to sit still, 57%), irritability (55%), eating disorders (54%) and agitation/aggression (52%).
They offered a few guiding principles in managing behavior symptoms of dementia, including:
· Behaviors are NOT intentional, but they are meaningful
· Keep the goal in mind
· Is the behavior a problem?
· Know level/areas of impairment
· Unable to respond to logic
· Routine = comfort
They also reviewed a framework for behavioral assessment:
· Step 1: What happened before the behavior?
· Step 2: What is the behavior you observed?
· Step 3: What are the consequences?
· Step 4: What do you and the person with dementia do in response?
They then offered a few strategies for dealing with some common problems and reinforced that challenging behaviors are part of the disease, just as memory loss is.
“Success may be about accepting rather than trying to change things,” they said. “Remember: you are doing the best you can!”
Lastly, conference attendees were treated to a performance by writer/actor Nicole Maxali, who delivered her solo performance of I Heart Lola, about her experience with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Learn more about Nicole and I Heart Lola here: http://www.nicolemaxali.com/ and view Nicole talking about her Lola in this video: