Communication can prevent infections in dementia patients
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By Julie Ann Anderson  April 18, 2014 12:00 am

As those who tend to those with dementia already know, the condition can have consequences that extend beyond memory loss. One of the most common issues with which caregivers must contend is that a person with dementia, especially in the latter stages of the disease, may not be able to properly communicate about health issues, such as infections. 

When a typical adult gets a cut or develops a sore, he or she likely knows what to do about the problem. 

Often, however, a person with dementia may ignore the irritation and neglect to bring it to the attention of a caregiver. In other instances, the dementia sufferer may try to let a caregiver know about a problem but may lack the communication skills necessary to adequately express the exact nature of the problem, leaving both the caregiver and patient feeling frustrated and agitated.


Do a daily check

Caregivers should try to perform thorough daily checks for cuts, scrapes, infections, swelling and inflammations. This can take time, but it is worth it.


Look for signs

Sometimes an infection may not be obvious; however, there are signs for which a caregiver can stay on the lookout. These include: fever, pain/discomfort, reluctance to eat or loss of appetite, restlessness, crying or irritability, loss of balance, fatigue or apathy, diarrhea and cloudy, dark or odor-filled urine. 

Some people care for individuals who may already regularly exhibit high degrees of irritability and restlessness. In such instances, it is necessary to keep things in perspective. Caregivers usually know what “normal” is for their patients, but sometimes even the most experienced caregivers may struggle to determine whether simple peevishness or an infection is responsible for patient reactions.


Treat simple symptoms

While you should consult a doctor if you believe your senior loved one is suffering from an infection, you may be able to treat simple symptoms at home. For example, ibuprofen may help to control a fever or general achiness.


Work with the doctor

Caregivers may need to take extra steps to explain to the doctor why they believe an infection may be present. 

Be sure to outline the facts in as clear and precise a manner as possible, including why the behavior exhibited is different than normal.

If the doctor prescribes a treatment you believe may be difficult for your patient to take, discuss possible alternatives (e.g., a liquid rather than a pill) that might make administering the medication easier and, therefore, more likely to be effective. 

Those with dementia often suffer from infections without knowing why they suffer. Keeping an eye out for symptoms and seeking early treatment can help you to avoid undue stress, anxiety, and pain.


Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.

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