Stay on Top of Dementia Patients’ Healthcare Issues

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

In the United States, most people older than 65 have access to the Medicare program. In other parts of the world, people with dementia who can’t afford to pay for their healthcare can become unnecessarily disabled as a result.

Making good and sensible use of what is available is thus important. People with a memory disorder obviously need help specifically for whatever disease is producing their symptoms. But they may also have other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, thyroid disease, or arthritis that also need treatment and monitoring. The following discussion points out how you can help your loved one with all types of healthcare issues.

People with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease should regularly be seen by their physician. Keeping these appointments is vital.

Visiting doctors, dentists, podiatrists, and opticians

Looking after the person’s teeth, feet, and eyes is important. Make sure they’re checked at least annually, if not every six months. Prevention is always better than cure.

Bear in mind that people with dementia and AD may feel anxious about visiting the dentist or being in an unknown, potentially busy, environment. Behavioral problems and agitation may result. Try to keep stress levels to a minimum by

  • Attending appointments with your loved one to offer support and give him confidence
  • Trying to attend the same clinics and see the same clinicians each time so your loved one gets used to the surroundings and personnel
  • Letting the professional know that the person you are with has dementia, and giving him useful tips for minimizing the potential stress of the situation for all concerned
  • Taking along a written list of points you want to cover with the clinician, including any concerns voiced by your loved one
  • Allowing the person with dementia to talk for himself if he is able and not irritating him by talking over him
  • Not covering too much in one visit and making the experience exhausting

Don’t let a previously stressful visit or the person’s declining dementia keep you from taking him to appointments again. His physical health is vital to him.

Coping with pills and medicines

Prescription medicines often have ridiculous names that make them hard to pronounce and remember, even for caregivers, let alone people with a memory disorder. Pills for different conditions can also have extremely similar names, which can lead to confusion.

Penicillin, for example, has a very close namesake — penicillamine — that’s no help at all in treating infections because it’s designed to modify the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. And if that’s not enough, drugs often go by both their generic and brand names. A common capsule to treat the symptoms of reflux and heartburn is known by its brand name, Prilosec, and its generic name, omeprazole. For all these reasons, mixing up pills is very easily done.

A person on multiple drugs for lots of different conditions could be made very ill as a result of confusing different medicines. Mixing up medications also involves the risk of under- or overdosing.

Checking what’s what with the doctor

The person’s primary care physician’s nursing staff should be happy to sit down and take you through each medicine the person you’re caring for is taking and what it’s treating. Try to arrange such a meeting as early as possible when you begin caregiving so you have a clear understanding of what’s going on. You can then explain the pills to the person you’re caring for, and repeat as necessary each time he asks. Knowing the purpose of each medication also means you can stress the importance of taking each one and when it should be taken.

Using pill boxes and blister packs

Some pharmacies dispense the person’s medication in a blister pack for a charge. This involves grouping together pills in a packet to be taken at a particular time of day for each day of the week. Automatic pill dispensers provide another way to ensure medication is taken safely.

These dispensers give access only to the pills needed at that time of day and have the added advantage of an alarm to remind the person when to take his tablets. They may even be able to close after a period of time even if the person hasn’t taken the pills to avoid them from being taken to close to the next dose. And having the pills safely locked in the automatic dispenser until the allotted time minimizes the chances of overdose. You can buy these dispensers online. They have to be filled by family or caregivers.

The most common method of tracking medication use is to set them out in weekly pillboxes where the pills for each day are put in that day’s slot identified as S/M/T/W/TH/F/S. As caregiver, you have to fill these pillboxes appropriately (with the help of your loved one if he is capable). Then you can leave out only that week’s pills and make sure your loved one takes only the appropriate daily dose.