While I have been more acutely aware for quite some time of the areas of misleading and harm that Goldacre spotlights in this book because of my own experience as the medical advocate and primary caregiver for one of my parents and my subsequent extensive research into Big Pharma, Goldacre digs into the details and presents scary and compelling evidence of the total corruption in the industry. Continue reading
This is the last in a series of posts that discusses everyday practical needs that almost no one ever talks about in providing care and making life easier for both us as caregivers and the loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease that we care for.
In the first post in this series, we discussed how to make things easier day-to-day for our loved ones in the areas of eating and incontinence.
In the second post in this series, we discussed day-to-day helps in the areas of personal grooming and bathing in the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease with our loved ones.
In this post, we’re going to discuss the other day-to-day areas where we can make care easier for ourselves and our loved ones in the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The first area we’ll look it is how to effectively and safely address limited mobility and problematic mobility issues that arise both as a result of the progression of these degenerative neurological diseases and the aging process itself.
Because dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease affect the parts of the brain that control movement and balance, even our loved ones with no other health-related mobility limitations will eventually develop a shuffling gait and maintaining their balance when standing or walking will be difficult, increasing their risk of falls and injuries.
Our loved ones will also have a much harder time getting up and down from a seated position.
One of the most noticeable difficulties will be getting up from and sitting down on the toilet.
Many occupational therapists will recommend, as part of the home adaptive accessory purchases, buying a bedside commode for use when our loved ones are sick and unable to easily get to the bathroom or when – especially toward the end of life – if our loved ones aren’t completely immobile, walking any distance is too difficult.
A bedside commode will cost between $30-$40 out-of-pocket and can be purchased at a local medical supply store. However, with home health care or palliative health care, this will be covered by insurance (Medicare or other insurance) as part of the home health care or palliative health care services and equipment.
Occupational therapists will also recommend using the chair portion of the bedside commode over the bathroom toilet in the interim to facility easy standing and sitting.
This is not the best option.
The bedside commode chair is wide, and often won’t fit well, especially in smaller bathrooms, and securely enough over the toilet for this application.
Additionally, the distance between it and the toilet (even with the open guard that comes with most of them) makes keeping the toilet area clean and sanitary more difficult.
So I recommend, instead, a raised toilet seat with arms.
A raised toilet seat will cost around $60 out-of-pocket and can be purchased at a local medical supply store. However, with home health care or palliative health care, this may also be covered by insurance (Medicare or other insurance) as part of the home health care or palliative health care services and equipment.
The advantage of a raised toilet seat with arms is that it attaches to the toilet, is more secure when standing and sitting, and is more comfortable than the bedside commode chair. It is also more sanitary and easier to keep clean.
Installation is quick and easy. With the toilet seat up, the raised toilet seat is placed directly on the bowl of the toilet where it attaches securely with a large plastic bolt to the inside of the bowl.
As our loved ones progress in their journeys through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, they will become more sedentary than active.
This will mean sitting for long periods of time. Motor skills become more muted with neurological degeneration and a lot of the automatic sensory information that the brain gets, processes, and responds to will disappear.
Therefore, it will become less automatic for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease to feel the natural discomfort of sitting in one position or sitting still for a long period of time that, when we’re neurologically healthy, causes us to automatically move and shift weight frequently when we’re seated.
This results in the increased likelihood of pressure sores and pressure ulcers developing. Once the skin breaks down in this manner, treatment and healing are difficult at best. Because of this, infection and sepsis often follow leading to death.
The most effective way to prevent pressure sores and pressure ulcers from sitting for long periods of time is to buy padding for the chair that distributes weight more evenly and that does the work of ensuring that automatic shifting of weight occurs.
The least expensive way (about $20) to do this is to put a thick (at least 4″) egg-crate-type foam pad (most come with a plastic covering to help with incontinence issues) in the chair that our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease spend most of their seated time in.
These can be purchased at most big-box retail stores.
Another physiological change that occurs for our loved ones as dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progress is difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia). This difficulty includes liquids and solid foods, as well as medication.
Dysphagia presents two real dangers to our loved ones. One is choking. The other is aspirating food into the lungs, which can lead to the development of pneumonia. In fact, it is more common than not that pneumonia is the cause of death for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
That’s how serious swallowing issues are for our loved ones.
However, we can help mitigate this risk by some very simple techniques that will facilitate easier swallowing and reduce the risks of choking and aspirating food into the lungs.
Let’s start with taking medication since this is usually where swallowing issues appear first in the journey through these neurological diseases.
However, before I discuss the technique that usually is helpful for our loved ones to more easily swallow medications, it is important to discuss the medications themselves and the form they are administered in.
This will come in handy when managing medications with varying dosages (such as diuretics or glucocorticoids like prednisone, which might be increased temporarily or gradually and then decreased the same way).
However, I strongly advise against a pill crusher and crushing any medications (although assisted living facilities and nursing homes routinely ignore this when administering medications to residents with dysphagia). The reason is because there are medications that when crushed can cause serious side effects and become completely non-therapeutic.
When our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease begin to have problems swallowing medications with water or juice, the easiest and usually-most-effective way to help them be able to swallow the medication is to use applesauce (I recommend unsweetened).
Put the pill on about 2/3 teaspoon of applesauce, which goes down the throat more easily, and swallowing should be much easier.
If our loved ones have medication that come in a large pill form (potassium supplements are a good example and because they tend to dissolve in the mouth and are very bitter are not a good candidate for cutting in half), we should have our loved ones’ primary care providers (PCPs) prescribe a different form of the medication.
Some medications are available in a liquid form (potassium, for example, comes in a liquid form and can be mixed with applesauce).
Other medications are available in a sprinkle form (for example, Depakote, which is often used for mood balance in Lewy Body dementia because of the high sensitivity to anti-psychotics like SeroquelXR, is available in sprinkle form and can be mixed with food).
If a liquid or sprinkle form of the medication is not available, then we should work with the PCP to change to a smaller-pill alternative that will produce equivalent results.
As swallowing becomes even more difficult for our loved ones, liquids and solid food may need to be altered as well.
Sometimes this can be as simple as cutting up food (meat, for example, can be very hard to chew thoroughly in large pieces) into very small pieces and modifying or eliminating foods.
Easy foods to modify are vegetables. Raw vegetables and salads become difficult to chew and swallow for our loved ones as they reach this stage of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. Easy alternatives to ensure good nutrition are cooked beans and finely chopped vegetables, including some of the lettuces we normally use for raw salads (avoid kale and mustard greens – I use these for raw salads – because even cooked, they can be difficult to swallow).
You can also use these cooked beans and vegetables to make a creamy pureed soup. The key is to make the soup so that it approximates the texture of applesauce (not too thick and not too thin).
And I will pass this modification on as a personal note – if you want my recipe, email me at email@example.com – for cornbread. Crumbly, grainy, and textured breads and crackers are eliminated from our loved ones’ diets when swallowing everything becomes problematic. The reason is that they can choke and aspirate the little grains and crumbs into their lungs.
But my mama loved cornbread and I wanted to see if I could find a way to keep it in her diet. I had been doing some reading on healthy substitutions in baking (for oil, for sugar) prior to this ever being an issue, so I decided to try one of the healthy substitutions for oil – yogurt – in a batch of cornbread to see if it would change the texture from grainy to smooth. It worked perfectly (beautiful texture) and we were able to keep that in Mama’s diet (and any time we can find a way to do this, please go for it and try it!).
Swallowing issues may advance to the point where the dysphagia diet levels need to be implemented. There are three levels in this diet, depending on badly swallowing is compromised. I have not personally used these, although I’m familiar with them.
However, this is something that a speech therapist with home health care or palliative health care is qualified to and can help and guide us through at this juncture with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for us as caregivers to have one or other of home health care or palliative health care on board as we provide care for our loved ones since they have resources, like speech therapists, who are available to walk us step-by-step through each phase or issue that we may encountered.
This is the last post in this series. If there are other day-to-day “in-the-moment” things related to caregiving for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease that would make your life – and, no doubt, many others’ – easier that you would like to see discussed, leave a comment here and I’ll work with you to get you the answers and the help you need.
And please don’t forget to share this on social media. Dementias are more prevalent than ever – and will only increase from this point on – and more and more people are in the role of caregiving for their loved ones.
I often have people ask me what they can do to help and support other caregivers. All you have to do is share. I’ll do the hard lifting of research and writing. 🙂
Even if you don’t know all the people in your online networks, by sharing this information with them, you may be giving a lifeline to someone who is struggling, feeling overwhelmed, and completely alone on their journey.
We never know whose lives are crossing the path with ours. And this may be a random act of kindness that you’ll never even know you did. All you have to do it hit the Share buttons (and there is an email button for those who may not be on social media) for the social media forums you’re on to pass this information along to whoever may need it and can use it.
There is no cure for dementias or Alzheimer’s Disease. Once the journey begins, its course is downhill, sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly, but always in decline.
There may never be a way to prevent these neurological diseases from occurring before the damage is done – I’m going through several neurology-related courses right now and the professors teaching these courses readily admit there is more about the brain’s chemistry, physical structure, communication systems, and function that is not known than is known – but once dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease have begun to damage the brain, there is no remedy.
The brain is a unique organ in the body in that once cells in the brain die, they do not regenerate themselves. They’re dead and gone.
The neurological damage of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease cannot be reversed.
So when Mama’s diagnoses came in late July 2010, I had a unique and personal perspective on what that meant for her and for me. “Mid-to-late-stage vascular dementia and mid-to-late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease” from the psychiatrist at the geriatric psychiatric hospital that Mama was in after her meltdown on July 10, 2010 didn’t surprise me. But I knew there was no cure, no going back, no fix.
I transitioned, probably more easily than most family members who hear this for the first time, to “what can we do to stabilize?” The psychiatrist assured me that stabilization was possible, but it would take time and tinkering with the medicines that the symptoms of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease demand.
I was almost convinced that nothing could turn around the psychosis that Mama was experiencing in full throttle in those days. I realized my own helplessness to help her and make it better for her. I experienced a lot of guilt and inner turmoil because nothing I was doing was working and I knew how much she was suffering and how afraid she was and it was all out of her control and my control.
I was also extremely sad. This was not the mama who had, with open arms along with my daddy, brought my sisters and me into their home through adoption, loving us with a fierceness and tenacity that we struggled with at times but also realized over time was the real deal. This was not the mama who opened her arms, her heart, her door to me when life was banging against me and threatening to destroy me. This was not the mama who put up with me and loved me in spite of myself, at times, unconditionally.
How could I not do the same for her after all she (and Daddy) had done for me? They loved me in spite of myself. How could I not love Mama in spite of herself? This was a no-brainer for me.
It was during the geriatric psychiatric hospital stay that I learned about many of the most-commonly-used medications used to control and improve the symptoms of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Since Mama was experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions, the psychiatrist prescribed SeroquelXR (50 mg twice a day), Citalopram (40 mg a day) for anxiety, Namenda (generic: memantine) for cognition enhancement, Exelon (24-hour-patch/4.6 mg – this is also available in oral form since the patch can cause skin irritation) for cognition enhancement, and Clonazepam (.25 mg/PRN) for extreme agitation as the dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease medication regimen for Mama’s symptoms.
And it worked.
I gave Mama Clonazepam only twice in two years (it knocked her out and I didn’t like the side effects, but it was for extreme agitation and there were only two times when she was agitated to the point of fearing for her heart health, that I decided to give it to her). The rest of this combination of anti-psychotic, anti-depression, anti-anxiety regimen gave Mama a better quality of life from near the end of July 2010 until her death on August 14, 2012.
With the exception of SeroquelXR.
Just after Thanksgiving 2011, Mama awoke one morning with tardive dyskinesia. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but Mama was scared (and so was I as I watched the involuntary movements that rhythmically were going through her body).
I got Mama to the ER, where a nurse practitioner, who refused to listen to me (and the nurses who were with Mama and me and with whom we were talking to all day) for eight hours, was convinced that the tardive dyskinesia was Mama’s pacemaker going haywire.
So we waited all day in the ER for a cardiac consult that tested Mama’s pacemaker and confirmed it was working properly and not the problem (which I’d been telling the nurse practitioner all day because we’d just had it checked the week before).
Finally, the nurse practitioner decided to admit Mama, and late-stage tardive dyskinesia was diagnosed with the culprit being SeroquelXR.
Mama had Lewy Body dementia as well. It was not diagnosed (a firm diagnoses cannot be made without an autopsy of the brain, but symptoms are quite obvious while our loved ones are living), but I’d seen it, not knowing what I was seeing (I began researching it after Mama’s full-blown symptoms starting appearing in January 2012), just after Mama had gotten out of the geriatric psychiatric hospital when we were going to doctors’ appointments together.
Anti-psychosis drugs and Lewy Body dementia don’t mix well together. Mama was fortunate that she was able to stay on SeroquelXR as long as she was, and for that I am thankful. But we reached a point where we had to choose between mood and hallucinations/delusions.
I chose to help Mama with her mood. I knew I could handle hallucinations and delusions (although, in reality, what I thought I could handle still turned out to be surprising and perplexing, causing me to have to scramble to try to adjust with honesty and integrity even when things got way out of my comfort zone), but I could not handle Mama’s mood swings with these diseases.
So we (the hospitalist and I) went with Depakote Sprinkles (100 mg, 3 times a day – I could mix it with foods and drinks and make it easier for Mama to take) with the hospitalist telling me that Mama’s hallucinations and delusions would come back.
They did, but they were not particularly scary for Mama (I think because I was there), but they often threw me for a loop initially. I’m probably the least spontaneous person on the planet, so adjusting to these was particularly hard for me, but eventually, I got better at dealing with them and easing Mama’s mind. A new normal for both of us.
These medications that Mama was on are not the only ones used to treat the symptoms of dementias and Azheimer’s Disease, but they are the most common in the mid-to-late stages.
In the early stages, Aricept is commonly prescribed. From everything I have read and heard, it’s efficacy is limited. I believe that this is because by the time most people are diagnosed with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, they are already beyond the early stages of the diseases.
I would caution all of us as caregivers to make sure our loved ones are not over-medicated. Many of the anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety drugs can anesthetize our loved ones to an almost-coma-like state, which is not what we or they want or need.
We are their advocates. We are the only people who can fight for our loved ones medically. We have a responsibility to make sure our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease have the best quality of life they can have for as long as they can have it. This is our obligation to them.
So unless anti-anxiety drugs are absolutely necessary and unless morphine and its derivatives and cousins are absolutely necessary, please don’t give them. They deprive our loved ones and they deprive us of quality time in the face of these terminal diseases. Nobody wants that.
There are medications that I haven’t talked about in this post. If you want to know about any medications that your loved ones may be taking, please comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve researched many, if not all, the medications used to deal with the symptoms of these diseases, so I’ll be happy to help you with any questions you may have.
Today’s post will discuss the psychotic manifestations of the brain damage that occurs in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. These, in my opinion, are the ones that are the hardest for us, as loving caregivers, to understand, anticipate, and manage.
I think part of the reason delusions, suspicions, and fears resulting from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are so difficult to be on the receiving end of is because they often can be sudden, random, and transitory, so they have the effect of keeping us, as family, friends, and caregivers constantly off-balance.
And that’s not comfortable for anyone as a constant state-of-being, since a sort of everpresent anticipatory anxiety is a common side effect for those of us on the receiving end.
For several months in 2010, as my mom was experiencing these in full-throttle, it seemed like my heart was constantly about ready to beat out of my chest as we went through this together. Sometimes it was because I didn’t know what I was walking into and other times it was because of what I’d just experienced. But it was nonstop for the duration.
One of my mom’s biggest fears after my dad died was that I would die before she did and she’d be left, in her mind, alone. Although I constantly reassured her that she didn’t need to worry, there were times in 2010 when I thought her fears might just come true.
Before we identify some of characteristics of the common psychoses associated with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s important to understand what they are.
Delusions and hallucinations are not the same thing. Hallucinations are part of the visuoperception disorders that were discussed in “‘I See Dead People’ – Vision, Perception, and Hallucinations in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias.”
Delusions, on the other hand, are persistent untrue beliefs not substantiated by facts or evidence. In our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, these delusions often are accompanied by paranoia. And, frustratingly, there is no amount of logic, evidence, persuasion, or proof that is effective to counteract the delusions.
It’s important to note, though, that the influence of delusions waxes and wanes with our loved ones, and sometimes may not be present at all. I found with Mom that hers were worsening and more pervasive as her sleep patterns got more and more disrupted.
The most common negative (not all delusions are negative) delusions among our loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias are:
- that everyone is stealing their money, valuable items, and important documents
- that everyone is lying to them
- that everyone is abandoning them
- that everyone is against them
- that everyone hates them
These delusions actually create the other two psychoses of malignant suspicions and irrational fears.
Mom exhibited all of these before medication (SeroquelXR was a life-saver for her and me until the tardive dyskinetic effects related to her Lewy Body dementia prevented her from being able to take it anymore), and the belief that people were stealing things from her was the first to emerge.
It’s interesting to note that some delusions have a factual foundation in our loved ones’ pre-dementia and pre-Alzheimer’s Disease lives.
Mom actually had experienced theft of money (an insurance policy her dad had left to pay for her college was stolen by the aunt who was her guardian after his death) and a chest of items he and her mother had left to her (by the same person).
So, even before the dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease started taking their toll on her brain, Mom had a heightened fear of people stealing from her and taking advantage of her.
So when she began moving things – and this moving things got more frenetic as the damage from these diseases increased, so it just exacerbated everything and was a losing battle for me to try to keep up with – and then forgetting where she moved them, she immediately started accusing people of stealing them.
At first, her accusations were against other people, but eventually, she became convinced that I was the thief of everything, including her money (which I had no access to) and everything she misplaced.
I will never forget a Sunday afternoon a few weeks before her psychiatric hospitalization when my sister called to tell me Mom said she’d been at the hospital all the night before. I knew it wasn’t true, but my sister urged me to go back for a third time that day to Mom’s apartment and check on her.
I pulled into the parking lot next to a police car that was running and my gut told me that Mom had called 911 and the police were there because of her. Someone met me at the entrance and said that she’d called the police to have them arrest me for stealing her money.
Fortunately, the policeman just sat and talked with Mom and realized what was going on and got her calmed down and by the time I saw her, she was out of the delusional episode and tearfully welcomed me and said she loved me and asked me to forgive her.
Her tears always broke my heart and there was nothing to forgive, because I knew it wasn’t her fault, but my reaction was more a sense of helplessness to do anything about what was happening to her brain and the realization that it was bigger than both of us.
Fields of Gold: A Love Story is the history of my dad and mom [much of what explains my mom’s background that led to her behavior and thinking as vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease affected her brain] and us, me included, as kids and our lives together. It is a story of love, of commitment, and of endurance. For all of us. I recommend it because I chronicle so much of the last years of Mom’s life, and for all caregivers, this will resonate, but more importantly, hopefully it will help you.
Going Gentle Into That Good Night is the big-picture overview of caregiving for loved ones who are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias and my general offering of the lessons I learned in the process with Mom. This blog is a direct result of that book, so I can fill in the specifics, the details, and hopefully encourage and help you.)
After that Sunday, though, the delusions took over and every day until her hospitalization was like a siege. There were moments – and even a morning after a week of pure hell that I’ll never forget – of love and lucidity, but they were few and far between.
She was convinced I was stealing from her, that I hated her, and that I was purposefully hiding things in her apartment so she couldn’t find them.
Some days I spent hours trying to find things – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – and give her proof that nothing was missing and that I loved her.
But Mom simply, because of the dementias and the Alzheimer’s Disease and the ravaging effects that they were having on her brain, was unable to be persuaded that what she believed wasn’t true.
The one thing that always stung me most, however, was when I’d tell her that I loved her and she’d angrily say “Don’t tell me that! You don’t love me! It’s not true!”
And although she seemed to be doing everything she could – again, she wasn’t aware of nor was she responsible for this – to push me away or to push my buttons so that my behavior would validate her delusions, all I could see was the scared little girl who had been left all alone at the age of six and, instead of being angry or quitting her, compassion and mercy took over and all I wanted to do was protect her and love her and make it all okay.
And here is where I’ll offer some advice from my experience with delusions, suspicions, and fears. I’m not saying I always handled it with grace, but that was always my intent, and, most of the time, I did okay.
The first thing is to not take it personally. The reality is that delusions are the product of damage to the brain and mixed up memories of a lifetime and, as hurtful as the accusations and the strong negative reactions can be, they’re not really about us in the present.
The second thing is to remain calm. Reacting emotionally to or arguing with our loved ones suffering from delusions, suspicions, and fears actually heightens the suspicions and fears and in a strange way validates, for them, that their delusions are true.
It’s hard to stay calm, but it’s absolutely essential that you do. An even, reassuring tone of voice, deliberate and smooth movements and gestures, and supportive and encouraging words will not stop or change the delusions, suspicions and fears, but they will help.
If the situation escalates because of your presence, leave.
But not without being sure to tell our loved ones that we love them and we’ll see them later. I don’t care what kind of reaction that elicits – because it usually is negative – but it lets our loved ones know we’re not abandoning them.
And, then come back later, and start over. Repeat as often as is necessary.
The most important things, in my opinion, that we can do is to be loving, be patient, be merciful, and be compassionate. You and I have no idea of the tumultuous mental landscape that our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are living with.
It’s beyond comprehension.
There’s a sense, for our loved ones, of the knowledge that they’re “going crazy,” and yet doing anything about that is beyond their control. It’s sad, it’s scary, it’s depressing, and it’s lonely.
Love, patience, mercy and compassion given and expressed unconditionally and continually will not change the reality of what these diseases are taking from our loved ones, but they will be the greatest gifts that we are able to give and will ensure that our loved ones can count on us to be there and give them these things, no matter what else happens, as they and we walk this journey together to its natural conclusion.
This post will be a comprehensive list – in one place – of the prescription medications and vitamins that may be prescribed for our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
My main purpose in doing this is so that caregivers, as medical advocates for our loved ones, have the information needed about the common medications and vitamins used to treat the symptoms of these diseases.
Currently there is a lot of information on the internet about these, but it’s so scattered and oftentimes so clinically-written that it’s impossible to pull it all together and make wise decisions as to accepting or rejecting medication proposals from primary care physicians and psychiatrists.
And the preceding paragraph has some information caregivers need to know, exercise, and require for their loved ones.
First, both a primary care physician and a psychiatrist need to be involved in medical care for our loved ones. One of the first requests that should be made to the primary care physician after a dementias and/or Alzheimer Disease diagnoses should be a referral to a geriatric psychiatrist.
The reason caregivers need to do this is because geriatric psychiatrists specialize in treating elderly patients and they also have access to the latest research in the treatment of the symptoms of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Primary care physicians are not specialists. This includes internists. They know a little bit about a lot of things, which is exactly what they were trained for (and that’s not a bad thing), but they don’t have the time nor the resources to be experts in any one thing.
Therefore, a geriatric psychiatrist is an absolute necessity to ensure our loved ones get the best care possible to treat the symptoms of these diseases.
Second, you have the right to refuse medication. For example, one of the medications that Mom’s primary care physician wanted to give her as the Lewy Body dementia symptoms worsened was Abilify. No doubt you’ve all seen the commercials touting Abilify as a “booster” for use with anti-depressants to relieve chronic depression.
This is an “off-label” use of the drug. So is prescribing it for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease (a lot of the mood and psychosis-managing drugs prescribed for people suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are “off-label” uses of those drugs).
I did the homework on it before I filled the prescription. Ability was created to treat schizophrenia. That would have probably been okay, but then I saw the warning that “ABILIFY (aripiprazole) is not approved for the treatment of people with dementia-related psychosis.”
In addition, by then I knew Mom also had Lewy Body dementia in addition to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and I knew about the increased neuroleptic sensitivity associated with Lewy Body dementia, so I didn’t fill the prescription.
The first category of prescription medications is the cognitive enhancers. These drugs are designed to maintain mental health and may improve memory, awareness and the ability of our loved ones to go about their daily activities by boosting the function of existing neurotransmitters involved in memory and judgment in the brain. They will not reverse nor stop the neurological course of the diseases. They are:
- Aricept – Approved for all stages of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, but most effective in mild to moderate stages
- Razadyne – Mild to moderate stages of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Excelon – Mild to moderate stages of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease
- Namenda – Moderate to severe stages of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease
The second category of prescription medications treats the mood and psychosis symptoms of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
These medications need to be closely monitored and carefully dosed.
The optimal result of these medications is mood stabilization and no psychosis. If your loved ones are “knocked out” by this category of medications, the doses are too high. If your loved ones are “out of control,” the doses are too low. This is another reason you want a psychiatrist involved.
There are many possible combinations of this category of drugs. All the anti-psychotic drugs have possible side effects and extreme caution should be exercised, because of the high sensitivity to neuroleptics, in using these with our loved ones with Lewy Body dementia. Some of the most commonly-used medications are:
- SeroquelXR – anti-psychotic (possible side effects of neuroleptic sensitivity and tardive dyskinesia in Lewy Body dementia)
- Citalopram – anti-depressant
- Clonazepam – anti-anxiety
Anti-anxiety medications seem to be the most frequently mismanaged in this category of drugs. My advice is to advocate with our loved ones’ psychiatrists for low dosages and have them prescribe it to be taken as-needed instead of as part of the daily medication regimen.
The medication, Halcyon, by the way, should be avoided at all costs in people suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. It really wreaks havoc and it has a very long half-life! The most likely place this would be given is during hospitalizations, so be sure to let all the hospital staff you come in contact with know that our loved ones should not be given Halcyon for anxiety and/or sleep.
Vitamin supplements may be added to address some of the functioning difficulties brought on by dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. In my personal experience, I really don’t believe they’re all that effective after the fact of diagnosis. However, we all should make sure we have plenty of this in our own diets now to protect ourselves.
The most common are:
- Folic acid – helps memory and mental processing speed
- Vitamin D3 – protects the brain by controlling neurotransmitters and clearing amyloid plaques (found in Alzheimer’s Disease)
- Vitamin C – protects cells from the effects of free radicals
- Melatonin – facilitates sleep
Please be careful to work with your loved one’s primary care physician on vitamin supplementation. In many instances, these brain diseases are not the only health issues our loved ones are dealing with and some of the vitamins that might address dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms could negatively interact with other prescription medication for other health problems.
Our job as loving caregivers is to give the best care we are able to our loved ones, advocating for them, protecting them, making sure that everything that is being done is in their best interests.
We are there because we love them.
All the other participants in the caregiving journey are there for other reasons and those reasons may, intentionally or unintentionally, not consider what is best for our loved ones.
So it’s our job to make sure that we are the gatekeepers to the best care we are able to provide for the people we love. It’s a big responsibility, but, in my opinion, there is no greater gift we can give or be given in this life than to do this.
Today’s post will discuss Lewy Body dementia: what it is, some of the hallmark features of it, and medications that can help, unless there are severe side effects, and some alternatives to deal with those cases in which the most-often prescribed medications may not work.
Lewy Body dementia is diagnosed during life by its symptoms. The only way to confirm it medically is by doing an autopsy on the brain after death. However, the symptoms are obvious enough that it can easily be diagnosed while our loved ones are alive.
This history of discovering the source of Lewy Body dementia began with Frederick Lewy in 1912. While doing autopsies on the brains of people who’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s Disease share many motor systems characteristics), Lewy discovered tiny – and abnormal – protein deposits in deteriorating nerve cells of the mid-brain. These proteins became known as Lewy Bodies. Their presence in the mid-brain always leads to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.
It wasn’t until fifty-plus years later that scientific researchers discovered these same abnormal protein deposits in the cortex (the “gray matter”) region of the brain in patients who had suffered from dementia.
Someone with Lewy Body dementia will have these abnormal protein deposits in both the mid-brain and the cortex.
The symptoms that differentiate Lewy Body dementia from Parkinson’s Disease are:
- Vivid and recurring hallucinations and delusions early on when the inkling that something’s going wrong starts.
- REM sleep behavior disorder
- Mild to moderate motor skills impairment, most notably with balance, muscle stiffness, and the tendency to fall frequently. A shuffling gait when walking is usually noticeable as the disease progresses.
- Strong and dramatic fluctuations in cognitive function and alertness.
With my mom, although Lewy Body dementia wasn’t officially diagnosed (I did the research on what I was seeing and realized that’s what it was) until near the end of her life, all three of these symptoms were present early on when I realized something was wrong. She had progressively-worse balance problems the last six years of her life, with those becoming a front-and-center issue in 2010 when she began falling a lot.
Her hallucinations and delusions became a centerpiece issue in 2010 as well. There were also some fluctuations in her cognitive function in 2010, but the strong and dramatic fluctuations in both cognitive function and alertness did not begin until December of 2011. Even then, they were sporadic, but fairly quickly became more of a mainstay until her death in August 2012.
One the medications that she was given during her psychiatric hospitalization in 2010 was SeroquelXR.
This is one of the drugs you’ll have to make a judgment call on, since there are risks and potentially dangerous side effects to use this medication for an “off-label” use in treating the symptoms of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
SeroquelXR is an anti-psychotic (neuroleptic) medication specifically developed for bipolar disorder. It carries a warning that it is not be used in elderly patients with dementia. Additionally, among our loved ones suffering from Lewy Body dementia, about 50% have adverse reactions to neuroleptic medications.
However, for Mom, it worked very well for about sixteen months in controlling the hallucinations and the delusions. In late November 2011, Mom woke up one morning and her whole body was uncontrollably, but rhythmically spasming. She wasn’t in any pain, but she was scared, so I had EMS get her to the emergency room so we could find out what was going on. What she experienced was late-stage neuroleptic-induced tardive dyskinesia.
The SeroquelXR was the culprit, so the neurologist discontinued that during her hospital stay and the spasms stopped within a few days. I was concerned about the mood aspect of not having the SeroquelXR, so the neurologist and Mom and I discussed options, since she was on anti-anxiety medication already.
The best and most workable solution was Depakote, a medication typically prescribed for epilepsy sufferers. It would work on both mood and spasms, but the neurologist said the hallucinations and delusions were going to come back.
And within a month, they did, but they were not scary to Mom and they were always a surprise to me, even though I expected them, but not unpleasant and not unmanageable.
But I came to realize that the SeroquelXR had effectively controlled a lot of the Lewy Body dementia symptoms the longer that Mom was off of it, because after the SeroquelXR was discontinued, the Lewy Body dementia symptoms gradually increased and worsened.
So SeroquexXR can be very effective in treating the symptoms as long as our loved ones can tolerate it and don’t have the kind of problems Mom experienced with tardive dyskinesia.
And that is an important point to make. A lot of this becomes a judgment call on our part as advocates and caregivers for our loved ones. If I knew back in 2010 (I wasn’t involved in the prescription part when Mom was critical and hospitalized) what I know now about SeroquelXR, I would have agreed to it. Because for sixteen months, it gave Mom a pretty decent quality of life in the dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease realm.
There is no known cause for Lewy Body protein deposits occurring in the mid-brain and cortical regions of the brain, so there’s nothing health-wise or lifestyle-wise that can be done to prevent it.
But, if we can understand what it looks like, then we can help keep our loved ones more comfortable and safe and perhaps keep ourselves a little saner and a little calmer. The more we know, the better we can love and serve them.
I’ll end this post with a progressive-over-time brain scan image of Lewy Body dementia (the source is http://www.neurology.org/). A picture sometimes is worth one thousand words, especially when I consider the fact that my mom had vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease and this picture shows the damage to the brain from just one of those three diseases. What an uphill battle her last few years were and she fought it bravely and well right up to the end.