There has been a marked change in the last two to three years in how Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care is approached, according to Pam Kul-Berg. She is the Dementia Care Specialist working with the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Southwest Wisconsin. The result is more resources being made available to keep those suffering from the brain disorders at home as long as possible.
Much of the progress can be attributed to the efforts of caregivers advocating for better care and improved resources, according to Pam – caregivers such as Todd Carpenter. He has been the full-time caregiver for his mother for the last five years.
The decision to keep her at home was not one encouraged by his mother’s doctors, at the time, Todd recounts. The decision arose because neither his mother nor his father was ready for the separation that being in a facility imposed. They found that out the hard way when early on county Social Services intervened and placed his mother in care.
Todd was still working full-time when the crisis came.
He says his mother had always been poor at taking care of her own health. She is diabetic and had other health conditions as well, that she struggled with before the memory issues. As her memory deteriorated, her self-care worsened. She would forget to take her medications or forget that she had taken them and then retake them.
The county placed her at Bethel Home, the nearest facility with space available. The sudden transition was hard on both his parents.
“It was so hard, our visits would cause such distress,” Todd says.
Todd’s mother wanted to go back home. His father also wanted her back home, but was unable to care for her.
Todd’s sister came back from the state of Oregon for as long as she could and the family planned. They began the first alterations that would make it possible to bring Todd’s mother home, and hired two caregivers.
The situation has continued to morph as the disorder progresses. Todd became the full-time caregiver. He installed keypad locks on the home’s doors, installed cameras and motion sensors. He placed a programmable GPS tracking bracelet that looks like a watch on his mother’s wrist. The placement of everything in the home is designed to reduce the risk of harm.
Each change has been weighed carefully for how it might increase her safety while allowing her some independence.
“In the early stages, it was short term memory that she was losing,” Todd explains. “But as it progressed, she started to suffer high anxiety and panic. She would try to wander, even leave the house and take off running. That was one of the hardest things to adjust to. You have to worry constantly, but we all need to be able to use the bathroom, we all need to be able to sleep.”
The GPS “watch” allowed him to set up a perimeter so that she could move freely about the home and even in the yard, but if she left that area, Todd would be alerted with an alarm.
Each new change, each new implementation of technology to help keep his mother safe, is intended to reduce disruptions or intrusions that can cause negative reactions.
One of the more common results of being in care is apparent. Todd’s mother is in better physical health today than she was before the memory decline began. That is because her medications are managed for her and Todd is able to work with her doctors to avoid issues of over-medication that can so often happen in seniors. Brains become more sensitive to medication with age.
“Physical health doesn’t decline with memory,” noted Pam. “And because it is long-term care, sometimes the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia ends up being healthier than the caregiver.”
For the complete article, please see the March 8, 2018 issue of the Fennimore Times.