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How to Handle a Patient With Alzheimer's Disease

How to Handle a Patient With Alzheimer's Disease

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

Alzheimer’s doesn’t play favorites. The soccer mom who was president of a neighborhood volunteer organization in years past may now be an angry woman, pacing the floor, trying to “escape” from the facility where she now lives. The professor who held court in front of thousands of students over the years may now be unable to lift the spoon to his mouth, forgetting how to eat. And the families sit by, unable to understand their loved one’s downward spiral.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people in the United States have AD today. These people are being cared for by 10.9 million unpaid caregivers, and which is costing society 172 million dollars annually to help care for and treat patients with AD. When a nurse comes into contact with someone with AD, chances are the disease has progressed for quite a while and has already made a significant impact not only on the patient, but on the patient’s family, as well.

Taking those these numbers into account, nurses who care for people with AD can – and do – affect millions of lives, including patients, family members, and caregivers.

The Emergency Room

The emergency room: You’d be hard pressed to find many spots in the community that are as fast paced as an emergency room. But, among the dramatic car accident victims and the tragic heart attacks and strokes, sometimes a little old lady – say Molly – is brought to you because she needs your help.

It’s easy to dismiss patients like Molly. They’re old, they’re sick, and they’re forgetful. They’re not as exciting as the next patient, plus, there isn’t much you can do for them. But, Molly – and those like her – need our help and care just as much as the next patient. The need may not be as immediate or as life-saving as with other patients, but the need is there.

Sadly, sometimes patients like Molly are brought to an emergency room to be “dumped.” By leaving Molly at the hospital, the family or friends feel that Molly’s responsibility and care is no longer theirs. Situations like Molly’s can become emotional for nurses. A nurse may be angry at the family for “dumping” Molly, or resent Molly for taking up another patient’s place. At the same time, a nurse may feel that Molly is in a safer place at the hospital.

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    over 4 years ago


    Making the decision to put Momma or Daddy or Grannie in the nursing home is one of the most difficult decisions most people face. Accepting that they can no longer care for their loved one at home is heartbreaking. We as nurses can help educate the family and facilitate a smoother transition for patients. Aknowledgeing the pain and fear they are facing can often make the decision easier. Families who face the decision for nursing home placement realistically, visit more often allowing for patients to get the care they need, without losing the family they love.

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    over 4 years ago


    Denial within the family is very frightening and disturbing as a nurse in ensuring that the dementia patient is safe in the situation they are in. I have seen denial families who have allowed their loved ones to live alone and some very serious consequences of that. Our role with these patients is vital and our patience is worth more than one can ever know. It is hard to have patience with an Alzheimers patient - but we must be there to keep them safe and know them well enough to be able to assess their needs - which is easier than you think if you take the time to get to know them.

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    Account Removed

    over 4 years ago

    Sometimes the hardest part of dealing with a patient with AD is the family - especially when won't accept the fact that mom or dad or whoever is deteriorating or that they even have AD. Family is convinced it's something else - like an infection or other illness making their family member not "act quite right".

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