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Busting Dementia Misinformation: Over-The-Counter Anticholinergic Medications and Dementia Risks

Tylenol PM is an over-the-counter anticholinergic medicationA revival of the claims in an earlier research study that over-the-counter anticholinergic medications (which includes Benadryl and many of the PM versions of acetaminophen and ibuprofen) causes an increased risk of developing dementia is making its way around social media.

As I strongly urge on a continual basis, we must be aware and intelligent about the context of all research and the tendency among humans to extrapolate generalizations and make them absolute truths from very specific research studies, as well as to perpetuate misinformation, disinformation, and out-and-out lies.

We have the responsibility to thoroughly educate ourselves about these diseases and get all the facts – if there actually are any (many of the more outrageous things I’ve seen have little to no factual basis and yet they are the very things that people widely distribute as truth) before believing anything you see and hear (or read).

The more you learn and know about these neurological diseases, the better able you will be able to distinguish between what is true and what is not (there is a lot of garbage and there are a lot of garbage claims out in cyberspace – when we fall for it, Advil PM is an over-the-counter anticholinergic medicationwe, frankly, show our ignorance and unwillingness to do the work required to get any kind of comprehensive and knowledgeable understanding of these diseases).

The facts about this study, its context, and over-the-counter anticholinergic medications are in this clinical report.

Facts About the Flu for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are much more susceptible to getting the flu than the general population, including senior citizens in general (the overwhelming majority of deaths from the flu each year occur in people over the age of 65).

With the peak of flu season upon us, it would be a good idea to review some basics about the flu. Click on the infographic below to see the full article.


Source: Fix.com

United States Hospice Agency Report Card 2015

In “The Layperson’s Guide to Hospice Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” I gave a comprehensive discussion about how to choose and what to look for in hospice agencies when the time comes that our loved hospice report card united states 2015ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease need comfort care and gentle and compassionate assistance with the dying process.

The Huffington Post, on January 8, 2015, had this article, which includes interactive maps for each state in the United States where state inspection data was available, giving detailed report card information for American hospice agencies. 

Here Are the Hospices That Break the Most Rules” is a must-read.

Do You Know And Have You Prepared What You Need To Ensure That You And Your Affairs Will Be Well-Taken Care Of When You Need Help?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightEvery few months, I write a post on the immediate need for everyone – no matter what their age, their health, or their life circumstances – to know and understand the vital information that needs to documented (and executed in terms of legal documents) and communicated to their designee when they are unable, either temporarily or permanently, to take care of their own affairs.

This includes digital access (email accounts, online bank accounts, retail accounts, etc.) documentation as well as legal, medical, and financial documents everyone needs to have in place when we need help or can’t take care of our own affairs in this area.

I am extremely puzzled by the fact those most people put this off and avoid thinking about it or doing it. It’s illogical and it is really cruel to those whose laps it ends up in.

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about a family member – especially parents of grown children – being incapacitated with life and death in the balance and because nobody ever talked about this contingency and no documents – living wills and/or DNRs – exist, there’s no clear decision-maker and the ability to let go (taking off life support when there’s no chance of recovery) is long, hard, and gut-wrenching on the family.

And the one who didn’t take the time to spell out their wishes suffers terribly and needlessly, not to get better, but essentially just to run up a meaningless huge debt that will decimate their estate and perhaps ruin the financial health of those they leave behind. 

None of is guaranteed our next breath, a healthy life with no life-changing accidents and diseases, nor a healthy mind for as long as we live. Things could literally change 180% for any of us and our families and loved ones while we’re reading this sentence. Yet, of all the things it seems that we humans deceive ourselves about, this seems to be the top “It won’t happen to me.”

But the reality is that it will.

If not sooner, then later.

And the most selfish and irresponsible thing that we can do to our families and our loved ones is to not be prepared ourselves and to not ensure that we have designated and prepared the decision-makers we choose in advance.

This is one of the greatest acts of love and one of the biggest blessings we can do for and give to those closest to us and whom we love the most.

to be prepared is half the victoryAll of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

With the precipitous rise in dementias overall, which may be in part related to a more toxic planet, more toxic water, and more toxic food, and the burgeoning number of lifestyle-related dementias that are emerging, the odds are not in our favor that every single one of us, in time, will not suffer from some sort of neurological degeneration. 

Who is going to help us when this happens?

And even if you or I are the exception to the rule, we’re still going to die. Everybody dies.

You can ignore it, you can deny it, you can live in some fantasy world where you refuse to think about it ever, but it doesn’t change the reality that it will happen to you and me.

I believe most of us assume that death will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I review and update, if necessary, both of those when my circumstances change or 12 months have passed. I have a signed and notarized DNR.

I have complete documentation on my digital footprint, as well as other financial, medical, insurance, property, and notification (for death) documentation that I keep updated as well.

I have detailed instructions regarding my funeral service and my burial.

Do you?

If not, why not?

What are you going to do about?

When are you going to do something about it?

What if tomorrow never comes?

If You Needed Help, Does Anyone Have What They Need From You to Step Up to the Plate?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightI went to a metropolitan senior center as an observer for an Alzheimer’s Association class today that was eye-opening as far as how few of the seniors in the class knew and understood what legal, medical, and financial documents they needed to have in place in the event that they needed help or could not take care of their own affairs in this area.

The questions they asked, which I was able to help answer, reminded me that I can’t overemphasize the explanations of these documents, the reasons why they are needed, and that the time is now for everybody, regardless of your age and health, to have these in place.

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.

The Layperson’s Guide to Palliative Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

In the post “The Layperson’s Guide to Home Health Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” we discussed what home health care is, when it should and can be used, and what services it provides.

In this post, we will discuss what palliative health care is, when and why it should and can be used, and what services it provides at home for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although, as any caregiver can tell you, dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are always on the radar with our loved ones who have these neurological diseases, there are often other health-related and age-related illnesses that our loved ones are also dealing with, especially if they’re elderly.

Home health care services are available – and should be used – when there is an acute medical condition that needs to be monitored and resolved (if possible) after our loved ones are discharge from a medical facility. Examples of acute medical conditions can include hard-to-manage/uncontrollable blood pressure, diabetes, life-threatening cardiac events, pneumonia, embolisms, strokes, and joint replacements.

As soon as the acute medical condition no longer exists, home health care services are no longer available. However, most home health care agencies have an intermediate health care option between home health care and hospice (end-of-life, with very specific criteria, which we’ll discuss in the next post) care.

That intermediate option is palliative health care at home.

Palliative health care provides home health care services when someone has a serious long-term or terminal illness, but death is not imminent or the prognosis is longer than six months. 

Palliative health care provides life-prolonging and curative treatments – just as home health care does – as well as providing pain management and symptomatic relief.

palliative health care layperson's guidePalliative health care offers the same interdisciplinary team and services that home health care offers: nurses (visits are usually one a week), physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, home care aides to help with daily activities like bathing, if necessary, and 24/7 nursing/medical support.

Like home health care, this palliative health care team’s manager is the nurse who coordinates and collaborates with the primary care physician and other palliative health care staff.

Palliative health care is an excellent bridge that gives us and our loved ones time to find, consider, and agree on options for care without being rushed into making a decision without having all the facts, discussing and understanding them, and being ready to live (or die) with them.

The goals of palliative health care are different than home health care. With the knowledge that death is the eventual outcome, the emphasis of palliative health care is in the following areas:

  • Comfort and relief from physical symptoms like pain, nausea, fluid retention, and shortness of breath
  • Communication and coordination of issues, treatments, and needs among doctors (although at this point, I’d personally recommend – and this is what Mom and I agreed to – just working with a primary care physician), other palliative health care staff, our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease and us
  • Time to pursue treatment options, if wanted, and time to prepare for death (discussing death, ensuring that all “loose ends” are tied up, meeting personal goals, and saying goodbye)

Since most home health care agencies have a palliative health care program, the transition is easy – either we and our loved ones or the home health care nurse will ask the primary care physician to write an order – and seamless – the same team of nurses and therapists continues throughout the palliative health care phase of care.

Some palliative health care programs have social workers and clergy on staff to help with any community-based services that may be needed in the home and to offer bereavement counseling.

The palliative health care program that Mom was in did not have those services, but we were self-sufficient in terms of a social worker and we had enough spiritual support from our close-knit group of long-time friends within our church family.

Palliative health care should be, at some point, a part of the care we ensure is in place for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most people don’t even realize this option is available – and our loved ones do not have to have been receiving home health care services to receive palliative care – and that is one of the reasons I wanted to explain what it is, what is does, and why it’s a crucial part of the team approach to care that we lead for our loved ones.

In the next post, and the last one in this series, we’ll discuss hospice care.

The Layperson’s Guide to Home Health Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Part of the caregiving team we will lead for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will – and should – include home health care, palliative care, and hospice. It is, therefore, important to understand what each of these services provides and under what circumstances.

Home health care is generally provided – if it is not offered, then we should request it as part of the discharge process – after our loved ones are hospitalized for an acute serious illness that is causing systemic problems (strokes, heart disease, hard-to-manage blood pressure, embolisms, and continuously low oxygen saturation levels are some examples of acute serious illnesses) or surgery that requires follow-up monitoring and wound care. 

What services are included in home health care?

Nurses, who function as case managers, will come to the home from one to three times a week (depending on the severity of need) to do a thorough examination of our loved ones, provide wound care (if applicable), and serve as the liaison with both the primary care provider for status updates and medication changes (if needed) and with other services included in home health care.

I strongly advise, especially for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, to request that the same nurse – if he or she is a good fit – do all the home visits to ensure continuity and to create comfort and trust for our loved ones. If the nurse is not a good fit, then we should request a change. Generally, it will be obvious on the first visit.

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are also services offered by home health care. At the very least, I would suggest taking advantage of physical therapy and occupational therapy. For our loved ones who have suffered strokes and are recovering, speech therapy should be included as well.

Hospitalizations always leave our loved ones weaker physically than they were before being admitted, because with acute illnesses and surgeries, they usually spend a lot of time lying in bed and are not as physically active. In the case of strokes, motor skills are usually severely affected on one side of the body, although in some cases both sides are affected (depending on where the stroke originated in the brain).

Physical therapy will begin in the hospital in some cases, such as with strokes or joint replacements, but most hospitalizations will not include this as part of treatment.

Therefore, it’s vital to our loved ones’ health to use the physical therapy services provided by home health care to regain strength and to keep them as mobile as possible for as long as possible. In the case of strokes, it’s imperative to continue physical therapy as part of the recovery at home.

Physical therapists will visit the home, on average, twice a week and will help us and our loved one with exercises and activities to do on a daily basis to continue strengthening and improving balance, mobility and motor skills. They will also order any mobility equipment – if we don’t have it already – such as walkers and wheelchairs, if needed.

Occupational therapy helps identify what physical adaptions of the home need to be made to make daily activities easier and safer for our loved ones. These include things like grip bars near the toilet for ease of getting up (or a sturdy raised toilet seat with bars – my preference), grip bars in the shower or tub to prevent falls, and transfer seats for the tub to make getting in and out easier. They can also identify safety hazards – for example, throw rugs are very hazardous for elderly and those using walkers – in the home.

Additionally, occupational therapists can help our loved ones with functionally-appropriate ways to do everyday things. While our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease generally find their own unique adaptive ways with our help, occupational therapists are critical in the recovery or maintenance of people who have suffered strokes.

home-health-careSpeech therapy can be helpful for people who have suffered strokes. In the case of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, in general, speech therapy is not a viable option.

The nurse (case manager) will contact these therapists as warranted and set up the initial consultation appointments. Each therapist will then set up his or her own visitation schedule.

If additional assistance is needed with daily activities such as bathing, most home health care agencies have home health aides who will come at least twice a week to help with with those activities.

One of the best features of home health care is our access to 24/7 medical support. As anyone who has been a caregiver knows, the need for medical advice and/or assistance often occurs at night and on weekends. Without home health care, the only option is to take our loved ones to a hospital emergency room (nights) or an urgent care facility (on weekends).

Many of the medical issues that occur are easily treatable at home, so having to get our loved ones to a medical facility where they often have to wait for a considerable amount of time to be seen, treated and released is very stressful and hard on them.

With the 24/7 medical support of home health care, we can easily assist our loved ones at home without creating unnecessary stress and discomfort for them.

Home health care services are covered by health insurance (if under age 65) or, if 65 or older, by Medicare Part A (80%) and Part B Supplemental Insurance (20%) and should not incur any out-of-pocket costs for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

We should be aware that most hospitals partner with a particular home health care agency in the area (most of the corporations that own hospitals have a home health care agency as a business unit in their corporate structure), but we should research – the best (and worst) referrals come from other people who’ve used an agency’s service – all the home health care agencies in the area we live in and choose the one that best suits the needs of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

All home health care agencies are not created equal. Some provide excellent care and service and some do not.

When our loved ones are discharged from the hospital, a discharge coordinator will be involved and he or she will initiate our request for home health care (again, they will not always offer it, but we should always request it). If we don’t have a preference, he or she will use the home health care agency the hospital partners with. If we do have a preference, we should state that. Then he or she will contact that home health care agency to provide follow-up care in the home.

It’s important to be aware as well that we have the right to fire a home health care agency and, going through our loved ones’ primary care providers, get a referral to another home health care agency that we choose.

We should not and do not have to accept poor or inadequate care for our loved ones, nor do we have to accept a situation where the attitude of the staff is poor or indifferent and where the staff does not treat our loved ones with respect, kindness, dignity, and gentleness.

If the home health care agency providing care for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is not satisfactory, for whatever reason, then today is the day to make the change to another home health care agency. We owe our loved ones the best, the most professional, and the most respectful medical care available. Never settle for anything less than that.

In the next post, we’ll look at the option of palliative care and when it is used and what services it offers.