When a loved one suffers from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia it can be difficult to assess common illnesses. There is also the reality that these illnesses tend to affect each person differently.
Depending on the progression of the dementia, your loved one may or may not be able to adequately communicate to you how they are feeling. When caring for someone on their journey with this disease we need to become private investigators and at home clinicians.
Older Adults and the Common Cold
Let's start with the common cold or flu.
If you notice a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, etc., yet your loved one is not complaining of any other symptoms, you may assume he or she is suffering from allergies and treat them accordingly.
However, there may be other clues that can help you assess the illness more effectively. Look for the following symptoms: change in skin color, lethargy and low fever. Most people recover from the common cold in 7- 10 days. Hydration is important to assist in the healing process.
If symptoms don't subside after the week has passed, or a fever persists more than five diays seek out a doctor for a treatment plan.
Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are very common in people suffering from Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.
Keeping the genital area completely clean while showering or toileting can be a daunting task, especially when a caregiver must provide assistance for their loved one. There is always the factor of modesty when receiving help with these intimate tasks and oftentimes an elder can become combative and non-compliant with personal care. Caregivers do the best they can before the combativeness begins, but sometimes it's not enough to keep their loved one clean.
Dementia impacts memory, which means an elder may forget to eat or drink. As we age, we all need more fluid intake than we did when we were younger. Not consuming enough fluid can be a huge risk factor for urinary tract infections in the elderly.
So how do you know if your loved one is suffering from a UTI?
Your first clue could be the smell and appearance of their urine. When infection is present, the odor is overwhelming and sour smelling. The urine may also be darker and possibly tainted with blood.
Urinating more frequently is also a key clue to look for. No matter your loved one's age, the need to urinate when a UTI is present is often and urgent.
Most important to note in seniors is the fact that physical symptoms of UTI may not be readily apparent. Instead, many aging adults experience behavioral changes when they have a UTI. In fact, urinary tract infections can cause dementia symptoms in elders. Any sudden change in cognitive abilites or drastic change in dementia-like behaviors such as paranoia, hallucinations and delusions may not be a sign of progressing dementia, but may be signs of a UTI. If your loved one is acting odd or inconsistently, keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms listed above and seek medical attention. An untreated UTI can become a medical emergency leading to hospitalization.
Dementia Care Requires Close Observation
When caring for a person with advanced dementia, the key to figuring out what is troubling them is close observation.
If your loved one is favoring a certain part of the body or limping, then pain may be an issue. Do a full body assessment looking for bruising, swelling and other abnormalities in normal appearance.
Keep tabs on their food and fluid intake, as well as the frequency of their urination and bowel movements. When monitoring bowel movements be sure to document abnormal stool and whether it persists, or is a one time occurrence. You may be able to treat the problem at home with over the counter medications. However, if over the counter medications are ineffective, this could be an indication of something more serious that requires medical attention
Be The Voice of a Dementia Patient
It is also important to observe unusual behaviors or speaking patterns. Your loved one may become grumpy and less compliant with day to day tasks. A dramatic change in temperament that does not have another obvious trigger and persists regardless of tactics to redirect and change the behavior is almost always a symptom of something that is physically wrong.
They may begin to relay things verbally to you in a manner that is incoherent, or "gibberish." However, this way of speaking is typically an attempt to relay information that he or she no longer has the words to portray accurately.
By following the guidelines above, as well as having an extensive knowledge of your loved one's medical history and keeping in close contact with their physician, you will be on the right track to identifying and applying the appropriate treatment to get them feeling better and back on track.
Keep in mind that my insight is hands on experience based versus clinical. As always if you have concerns about your loved one's health you should consult a medical care provider.
Wishing you strength, courage and happiness with those in their days gone by.