What happens when your senior loved one suddenly stops making sense?
What happens when you have an elder loved one who has been clear headed and carrying on without issue suddenly saying things that don’t make any sense?
What happens is you have a serious problem that can be easily missed-- especially when caregivers don’t speak up.
At Interim HealthCare of West Palm Beach we know how scary this can be not just to the senior, but to the caregiver as well.
The problem with a sudden decrease in mental clarity is it can be awfully concerning for delirium. In delirium, a person develops problems with thinking and attention, which are a significant change from the person’s usual mental abilities. Unlike problems like dementia, or stroke, which involve damage directly affecting the brain, delirium is usually a side effect of another illness or stress affecting the body, such as infection, dehydration, or a medication side effect.
Basically, when under stress, the brain can start to go haywire, and a person can start having more difficulty paying attention and making sense. Delirium can cause a person with a perfectly healthy mind to behave like a person who has dementia. For persons with dementia, delirium makes their mental state worse. Older people and those with dementia are especially at risk for becoming delirious when sick, although younger people can also develop delirium during an illness. Delirium is very common, and lots of research studies have confirmed both the link with a serious underlying problem, as well as the dangers of leaving delirium untreated. Because of this, it’s essential that a person with delirium be quickly evaluated by doctors.
Caregivers and family members are often the first to notice that a loved one is acting strangely or seems confused. However, doctors in hospitals, emergency rooms, and clinics may often not notice delirium unless caregivers make a specific effort to point out the mental changes to them. This is because doctors are often lacking a sense of what a person’s usual mental state is like, especially when it comes to older people. In some cases to the families it can be glaringly obvious that something in your loved ones thinking is scrambled, they may still be walking and talking and answering simple questions normally. But like many confused people, deny that anything was wrong and want to stay in familiar environments.
Here are some tips for caregivers:
- Know that new confusion or a change in mental function is a sign of delirium and can sometimes be the only outward sign of a serious illness. Don’t delay in seeking medical advice.
- It’s not uncommon for a delirious person to resist getting medical care. Find a way to persist and get him or her to the doctor.
- Understand that doctors and nurses can easily miss delirium, unless a caregiver is very clear and specific in pointing out that there’s been a change in mental function.
- Caregivers are often the most likely to notice a change in mental or physical function. Noticing and speaking up about these changes is often essential to getting better medical care for your loved one.
So what is the solution? Insist on getting the sick person to a doctor, and make sure the doctor realizes there’s been a sudden change in mental function. Especially if the loved one has recently been through any medical treatment such as chemo, etc. it’s crucial that they get a good medical evaluation as soon as possible. As a caregiver, it is a lesson you should never forgot: A sudden change in mental function should never be ignored. At Interim HealthCare we’re here to help you, ‘When it matters most, count on us’.