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The NSPA Blog

Caught In The Middle, Part 2: When One Slice Of The Bread Gets A Little Crumbly

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Posted on April 14th, 2016 by Teri Dreher, under Patient Advocacy, Sandwich Generation, Tips & Resources

We all strive to remain independent and competent throughout our lives. It is safe to say that we wish the same for our aging parents. Members of the Sandwich Generation are already juggling so much with having both children and parents over age 65. When a parent’s mental functions start to show signs of decline, when the “parent” slice of the sandwich is not as on-top-of-their-game as they once were, it can be unsettling.

Is it just normal, age-related memory decline? Or is it something more serious? How does one figure it all out? There are many possibilities, with dementia being a common explanation for mental decline. The Mayo Clinic defines dementia not as a disease but as a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. While memory loss is frequently a symptom of dementia, other medical conditions can cause memory loss. These symptoms must be investigated, and the sooner the better (more on that below).

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. The Alzheimer’s Society states that 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 has some form of dementia. Given the Pew research study statistics from Part 1 of this series that 47% of our population has a parent over the age of 65, chances are extremely high that many in the Sandwich Generation will be touched by this devastating group of symptoms.

While dementia is a huge topic, worthy of much more than one blog post, here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction if you have concerns about a loved one:

1. Get your loved one to a doctor. A good doctor; one who will listen, perform a thorough history and physical, investigate through testing, and know where to refer you for more specialized diagnosis or treatment. (Yes, some forms of dementia are treatable!) It can be overwhelming to even think about the possibilities. Alzheimer’s Disease comes first and foremost in most people’s minds, but there are other possibilities. Until you have a diagnosis, you don’t know how to best treat it (treatment could be stopping it, reversing it, or slowing down its progression). Without a diagnosis, you have no way to know where these symptoms are leading, and how quickly they’re going to decline. Early diagnosis can lead to better treatments, and a better quality of life, and more time to “enjoy the moments today” and make plans for the future.

2. Educate yourself. Knowledge is power! If the doctor determines it’s Alzheimers Disease, the Alzheimer’s Navigator tool at alz.org offers a wealth of information for patients with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, and can guide you in making plans for your loved one’s care.

3. Advocate for your loved one. Take steps to get them to the doctor, cover their tracks in terms of partnering with them to make sure their bills are paid, sound decisions are made, etc., and take steps to keep them safe and feeling secure. If you need help in making plans for your loved one, a private, professional health advocate can help you arrange evaluations and services for your loved one.

3. Make sure “the documents” are in order. Before your loved one is too advanced to legally make decisions, make sure you see a trust attorney to get Durable Powers of Attorney put in place. At some point, someone else is going to need to sign healthcare consents, or take over the checkbook, or take care of other financial or medical decision-making matters. The Powers of Attorney will allow your loved one to designate someone to do those things when they can no longer for themselves. A trust attorney can also make suggestions so that assets are protected.

4. You can never be reminded of this enough: take care of yourself. Get the support you need. All Sandwich Generationals struggle with time for their loved ones, and time for themselves. It is even more critical when dealing with a potentially chronic condition that you take excellent care of your own health. There are many support groups available for caregivers and adult children of persons with Alzheimer’s. Consult the Alzheimer’s Association website (alz.org) to search for a group near you.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

For a no-cost 30 minute initial consultation, please call 847-612-6684 or click here to fill out our online callback request form.