Tag Archive | do not resuscitate

Medical Advocacy and Support and Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Author’s note: I originally posted this in June 2013, but I will now be reposting this every month, because it is one of the most important ways in which we can help and support our loved ones with dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other age-related illnesses (“Going Gentle Into That Good Night: A Practical and Informative Guide For Fulfilling the Circle of Life For Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease” offers a more comprehensive list of the areas in which we can offer help and support to our loved ones).

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Today’s post will discuss our role as medical advocates and medical support for our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s disease. Here I will provide practical advice and suggestions, from my own experience, in managing the medical aspect as easy, as straightforward, and as  un-disruptive for our loved ones as possible.

The very first thing we need to do as caregivers is to make sure medical wishes and medical legal authority – medical power of attorney – are documented and authorized (primary care physicians can do this; I suggest getting them notarized as well). Hopefully, these have been discussed enough so that either our loved ones have already taken care of them or we know what they want and are able to execute them ourselves.

For anyone reading this who is not a caregiver or suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, now is the time to think about these because time and chance happen to us all. For those of us who are caregivers, these are documents we need to locate and keep in one place.

A medical power of attorney document designates who will make decisions when the person drawing up the document is unable to.

Living willA living will essentially specifies whether a person wants everything done possible to keep them alive, no matter how long, how futile, and how expensive or whether only comfort care is given when it’s clear that the end of life is at hand.

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) document states that the person does not want to be resuscitated if he or she stops breathing.

I suggest getting a briefcase or backpack to keep all the documents related to the medical care for our loved ones in. The briefcase or backpack should be accessible at all times, so it goes everywhere we and our loved ones go.

The medical power of attorney, living will, and DNR should be kept together in a folder in the briefcase or backpack. The other items in this backpack should include medical history documents and an up-to-date list of of medications (I’ve attached a sample Excel spreadsheet you can download and for this). Get an inexpensive wallet to put a photo id and Medicare Part A and Part B cards in and keep that in the briefcase or backpack as well. Always have something (electronic or pen and paper) to take notes with.

It is important to remember that we caretakers have a responsibility to advocate for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease with all medical professionals (primary care physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, dentists, hospital staff, home health staff, and hospice staff). However, it is equally important to remember that, unless our loved ones are in the dying process and, therefore, unresponsive, that we need to include them in all conversations, explain to them what is being discussed and why, and make sure the medical personnel include them as well.

While our loved ones may not understand everything, we must not treat nor let anyone else treat them as if they are invisible. This is probably one of the greatest gifts of love and respect we can show them.

We have to usually initiate this by stopping the conversation the medical professional is having with us, turn to our loved ones and hold their hands, make eye contact, and explain. Eventually, the medical professional will make eye contact with both us and our loved ones.

The reality is that we don’t really know how much our loved ones comprehend or understand. It’s my personal belief that they understand more than the diseases allow them to respond to. I also know that touch and inclusion are two basic needs we all share as humans, so it’s essential that our loved ones never feel excluded or unloved.

Hospitalizations are hard on elderly people. I don’t know all the reasons why, so I wouldn’t begin to speculate (although I have some opinions about it) as to why. For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, hospitalizations are not just hard, but extremely traumatic because of unfamiliarity of everything: people, place, and routine. Going into a hospitalization, we as caregivers must be aware that it will be a setback for our loved ones when they come home.

hospitalizationBecause of the traumatic effect of hospitalizations on our loved ones, it is critical that we as caregivers stay with them as much as we’re able during the hospitalizations. We are, even if some of the time they don’t know who we are, familiar. And our presence can help neutralize some of the fear and anxiety that often occurs during hospitalizations. 

Always have a “hospital bag” with clothes, toiletries, and other things our loved ones need packed. That bag goes every time we take our loved ones to the ER or with us as we follow an EMS transport. (It is imperative to be sure to wash the clothes from the hospital stay immediately and separately from any other laundry when we get home.)

Spend the night for as long as our loved ones are hospitalized. I know, because I’ve spent way more nights than I could ever count with my mom – even before her dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease diagnoses because I didn’t want her to be all alone – in the hospital, that there’s iffy sleep, awful coffee, and not-so-great food. But our loved ones are worth it. 

But spending the night has an additional, and equally-important, benefit. Most doctors make rounds between 7 pm and 8 pm in the evening and between 6 am and 8 am in the morning, so by spending the night we’re always there when the doctors are there so we can be current on what’s going on with our loved ones. I’ve found that, in general, hospital nurses either don’t know much or are too busy to take the time to give you real updates, so the only in-depth information you’re going to get will be from the doctors.

The other benefit of staying with our loved ones is that we can make sure they get the quality care and attention they need. It’s been my experience that most hospitals simply to don’t have enough staff to provide much personalized care, so if there is no one there with the patient, the patient just has to wait until someone gets around to him or her. By us being there, we can ensure that our loved ones are clean, taken care of, and not uncomfortable in any way physically. That’s one of the best ways we can serve them.

As I mentioned, expect a setback after hospitalization. It can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. Recovery will eventually occur, but it’s important to know that it will never return to the pre-hospitalization state. That’s just the nature of these diseases.

It’s important to be patient, loving, kind, gentle, and tender no matter what. It’s my opinion that most of the behavior is a way of expressing fear, so it’s important that we allay those fears and help our loved ones feel safe again. It takes time and a lot of deep breaths sometimes, but this is another way we show them how much we love them.

 

Dying Wishes – The Discussion Everyone Needs to Have with Their Loved Ones Long Before They Need to Be Honored

Ellen Goodman is one of my favorite essayists and authors. My first exposure to her writing was an essay entitled “The Company Man.” Even though I was just 16 years old when I read it in my AP English class, it had a profound impact on me. I still often think of it when the days and nights of life get long, hectic, and overwhelming and it helps me to step back and do, if nothing else, a little reset to get my priorities realigned.

Therefore, when I read her post on the living-or-dying decision-making (and second-guessing) she had to do for her mom when Alzheimer’s Disease had forced Ellen to be the decision-maker, I found it very interesting.

And familiar. Because even if you’ve had “the conversation” many, many times, I think second-guessing, especially toward the end of life when push comes to shove, is inevitable.

Mama and I had talked in-depth about her dying wishes for years and we had the documents and the paperwork done well in advance of her dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, and congestive heart failure diagnoses.

Living will - dying wishesShe had a living will with no extraordinary measures, as I do. And she decided on a DNR after Daddy died without one and she saw first-hand the effects of futile life support that he had to go through in that last hour of his life because he didn’t have a DNR.

Even though Mama was a medical professional, as was Daddy, I believe the impact of seeing her soul mate and best friend go through being kept artificially alive even for that short period of time was profound and life-altering for her.

We talked about it a lot right after Daddy died, and I told her I had a DNR and had gotten itDNR (Do Not Resuscitate) in my early 20’s and I told her why I had (and still have) it. It made sense to her and we had her doctor draw it up and certify it.

As Mama’s heart health declined, we continued to have conversations about what she wanted and didn’t want as far as quality of life versus quantity of life.

We were so much alike in our very strong views that quality of life was what was important and not quantity (and this really is the core issue that must be addressed and resolved as part of the dying wishes conversation) that we never disagreed on care, treatment, and outcomes.

But it was because we had these heart-to-heart talks a lot in the last years of Mama’s life and we openly and frankly discussed death as the inevitable outcome and how Mama wanted that to be, as much as was within her control. 

When Mama told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore for treatment for her congestive heart failure, I honored that wish, despite the frantic response about liability from the nurse on the phone when I called to have Mama’s doctor give us a prescription for the medicine (Lasix and potassium) and a schedule so that I could treat Mama for it at home.

The doctor ended up calling me himself and he got Mama in the next day to the office and gave me the prescriptions and schedule to do at home with a follow-up visit within the week with him. And we continued to do this at home until Mama’s death. That’s what she wanted and I was determined to make sure that her dying wishes were honored.

The issue came up again three months later when, on her birthday, Mama started throwing up in the afternoon and had chills and sweating. I wasn’t sure whether the symptoms were heart-related or not, so I took Mama to the ER. She had a gall bladder infection and after we were transferred to a bigger hospital early the next morning, a gastrointestinal surgeon came in and tried to talk us into putting Mama under general anesthesia to remove her gall bladder.

I refused that because I knew with Mama’s weakened heart, she wouldn’t survive it and told him we needed a Plan B. He reluctantly said they could put a drain in with local anesthesia to drain the infection out, but that reinfection was likely within a year. I realized even then that Mama’s health was such that it was unlikely that she would live long enough for a reinfection to occur, so after she and I discussed it, we agreed to the drain, which was successful in removing the infection.

It wasn’t until the very end of Mama’s life that I did any second-guessing. I knew logically and intellectually what she wanted and I was committed to honoring that. And I did.

But most of my second-guessing came in the form of wanting to be sure that I wasn’t overreacting as death approached and that once it was clear that Mama was in the dying process, I wanted to be sure she wasn’t suffering and I didn’t know how to gauge that (she wasn’t and I know that now, but it was paramount on my mind then).

The reality is that, with appropriate comfort care during the dying process, it’s harder to watch someone die than it is for them to actually die. Because we watch our loved ones die with all our senses intact, all our systemic functions intact, and all our alertness intact and it’s almost impossible to not project our intact selves into the process.

And that is why having the dying wishes conversation with our loved ones long before we have to honor it is so important. Most people seem to be very uncomfortable with this conversation – and the subsequent similar conversations that will and should follow it.

But let me ask you a question that shows why we need to get comfortable with it.

What if something with a life-ending outcome looming happened to you today and you’d never discussed and formalized your dying wishes with your loved ones and they were suddenly thrust into the position of having to decide whether to postpone the inevitable or let you go with no intervention in God’s timing?

Would you want your loved ones to be in that position? Would you want to be in that position? Think about it. And have the conversation. As soon as possible.