Imagine yourself with dementia or Alzheimer's, beginning to get confused and disoriented in a world that no longer makes much sense. Your daughter – you do still recognize her as your daughter – takes you to an appointment to get an exam, because your glasses seem to only make the world more confusing.
You are helped into a chair and the doctor covers one of your eyes and asks what letters you see. What is a letter, you think, and why is he covering my face? You start to squirm and then push him away. You get more confused and frightened because you don't know what they want with you.
This happens, my friends. When I took my dad to the eye doctor because he still liked to try to read but his glasses were wrong for him, he responded in such a way. He happened to be having one of his worst days and thought the doctor was trying to kill him.
Needless to say, that was our last attempt at a new prescription. We had a new pair of glasses made with lighter frames to help them stay on his thinning face, but we couldn't get a good test done.
Teeth were another huge issue. Dad had worn dentures for many decades. He had little bone left to support the dentures, but I kept "gluing them in" with a tooth bonding cream. However, he managed to lose his lower plate. This is common in nursing homes, since elders will often take out an uncomfortable plate when they eat. Then, if the denture is not noticed, it will go in the garbage with the leftover food. In Dad's case, I believe he may have gotten annoyed with his denture and thrown it in his own garbage can. Whatever the reason, it could not be found, so off to the dentist we went.
The dentist was kind, and Dad was in better spirits than the day of the eye exam. However, the dentist was frank in telling me that there wasn't enough bone to fit new dentures. Again we were stuck with buying a copy of the old ones, and continued the icky process of gluing in poor Dad's teeth. The oozing pink stuff still haunts me, as we had to use so much it must have felt dreadful to him. Still, we had no choice. This was the best I could do.
Health Check-ups For Elders with Alzheimer's or Dementia
My mother-in-law had a different dental issue. She had her own teeth and they served her fairly well until she had a very bad case of pneumonia. I don't know for sure if the medication was the cause of the increased rotting of her teeth, or if it was general health decline, but her teeth literally rotted off at the root.
She couldn't withstand surgery to have them removed. Her dementia would not have allowed her to understand the use for dentures, even if they could operate. So, we did what we could. When she had an abscess, she had one tooth removed and the antibiotics she needed, but the rest of her teeth care consisted of keeping her mouth clean and as comfortable as possible.
Hearing tests are a similar issue to eye tests. How is a person who doesn't understand directions supposed to figure out a way to respond to hearing tests? I know there are some eye and hearing tests used for infants, but this is not a route suggested to me by any doctors.
In the end, with all of these issues, caregivers can only do what they can. For Dad, that meant lighter frames and plastic lenses, plus a slightly better fit. At least he could see to walk. The struggle to get a better prescription was one we had to give up. I, as his primary caregiver, had hopes of something better for him, but it wasn't to be.
The same things happened with teeth and ears. I took my loved ones to the right doctors, and asked for checkups. I consulted with the doctors about possibilities and then went with the best we could do – which wasn't much. However, I did have the satisfaction of knowing I tried.
Often, as a caregiver, that is all we can do. We can't fix what is wrong. We try to make it better. When we hit that brick wall of reality, we have to accept what is possible, do it and move on. These exams are hard on the elder and hard on us. When people ask, I suggest they try to work with a medical person, and then accept the verdict. We have many other things to concentrate on as we try to give our elders comfort. Letting go of issues we can't change is imperative if we are to concentrate on what we have some control over.