Managing Medication and Pill Aversion

There seem to be two kinds of people in this world. One that uses medication and appreciates the benefits, and the other that has a general aversion to taking medication.

I fall in the second category and was happy when the one prescribed medication I was taking (a baby aspirin/day) fell out of favor. Well, I suppose there was the science to it, but when my doctor said to discontinue taking it, I was happy to comply.

I see many people struggle with medications, including those with no cognitive issues. I think it’s too easy to miss a dose and think pill caddies are helpful solutions.

A reader asked if there were any simple books for medication management for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While I’m not trained in health management, from the brain health training I have done, I do know that starting a new habit is difficult for someone diagnosed with any form of cognitive issue, include all dementias.

The bubble packs are dated and have time stamps that are easy reminders to follow and track.

There are two simple options to help manage medication as well as see if and when someone has missed a dose. The first is the pill caddy and the second is bubble packs. For anyone with more complicated medication scheduling or a lot of pills, the doses are packed with dates and times and come on a roll or in a blister pack.

I always consider options that give an individual more control over their life. I think those two options are helpful in managing medication and provide simple cues on when to take and if a dose was missed.

For those that are averse to medication, but diagnosed with something that medication can prevent or abate, I hope family and loved ones will speak up and help the individual understand the choices they are making and the potential risk to their health. One of the entitlements of being American is that we are given the opportunity to make really bad choices for ourselves. However, when it comes to our health, sometimes our spouses, siblings, and friends need to recognize that someone diagnosed with a cognitive issue might be unable to make a reasonable choice. The act of not taking that medication might result in a need for a higher level of care or other health complication that requires medical intervention or nursing care.

I hope if you have someone in your life in this second category, you will at least share your concern and give them the opportunity to explain their choice. Once diagnosed with any form of dementia, I see many deal with loss after loss. They have lost friends who fell away, the ability to perform at a job they loved, and even just manage the simple act of cooking a meal. Is the refusal to take the medication one place that gives them a sense of control? Wondered.

Help with Healthcare is a Great Place to Start

Staying at home has given me a lot of time for Spring Cleaning. I finally went into the last box of my parent’s papers this weekend and found this note from my Mom.

When my parent’s were still coming over for dinners on Friday and we recognized something was amiss, but were unsure what, my Mom asked if I would join her for the annual physical. She had mentioned that they were having trouble keeping up with the medicines and she was worried about my Dad … would I join? This was the note she gave me summarizing all of their medications. I attended and sat quietly and watched as concerns were raised and then mostly dismissed.

Within a year, my mom had a minor stroke and she readily accepted my rides to the doctor. However, this was the beginning of the trouble in some regards. My Mom was in disbelief that she had a stroke, and started to challenge that I was making it up. She began to debate me on the way to the appointments when I would simply report that we were going to see the neurologist. When she asked “why” and I reported it was because of her stroke, she would guffaw in disbelief. At the appointment, she argued with the neurologist. Good times. ; <

I wish I had know about Anosognosia. From the Stroke Connection: “Anosognosia (pronounced an-a-sog-NO-sia) refers to a person’s lack of awareness of their own motor, visual or cognitive deficits. It can happen in people with stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Looking back, I realize that even just stating that she has a stroke created an emotional response in my Mom that left her feeling like I did not have her best interests. She became very protective of her information and in return, insisted that she could manage her own affairs.

I learned over time that my parent’s responded with emotion to information or events. Any information citing they were unable to manage their own health and welfare pushed them into a defensive mode. If I arrived for a visit stressed, they would absorb my anxiety and we would have a terrible visit.

During this time my siblings and I watched as:

  • Their licenses were revoked and they continued to drive their cars;
  • They failed to pay their bills regularly and ran into issues with water and electricity;
  • Ultimately, their retirement community threatened to kick them out if they would not move from independent into the assisted living community.

I was ready in the wings when it was time to act, but it was more than two years before I was allowed back in to help. When I did re-enter I had learned a lot about how best to support and respond to my parent’s needs.

The current state of affairs may be a bridge that opens to invite you in to help. While many families are isolating themselves from their loved ones to protect them, others are including them in the shelter in place orders.

May you and your family find peace, joy, and common ground on which to move forward. Wished.

Will the bank accept your Power of Attorney?

As the adult family caregiver named as power of attorney, I had an incredibly difficult time getting my Mom’s banks to recognize her power of attorney so I could officially support her. It was less than 2 years old, I provided the original, but since my Mom was alive, they wanted her to come with me to the bank and to sign their power of attorney documentation.

My Mom was so unsteady on her feet she needed a wheel chair. It was difficult and uncomfortable for her to go out. She never wanted to be in a wheel chair and half our journey’s out were battles over getting her to sit down. She was also incredibly frail and the task of just getting into the car would wear her out.

Wasn’t that the point of the Power of Attorney (POA)? I was very frustrated when the banks just failed to recognize my POA. In Virginia I could have pursued a legal suit … but I was already busy enough as my Mom’s family caregiver.

I am not alone as The New York Times story “Finding Out Your Power of Attorney is Worthless” confirms. Sadly, it is not just an issue of the Power of Attorney, but family members are still reporting difficulty getting banks to release funds after death. Here is a recent NBC News story about how difficult it was for Maggie Mulqueen when working with Citibank.

For years, I just used the online banking access to manage my parent’s finances. When I ran into issues, I would either have my Mom sign checks to move the money or just shut down the accounts. When USAA wouldn’t recognize the POA, I didn’t pay to renew my parent’s insurance and moved the account to a new insurance provider. There are some ways to end-around the roadblocks, but it seems ridiculous to have to out- maneuver the bank.

This past week, I walked into two banks to establish myself as Power of Attorney for a client. I need to get her past banking history since no taxes were filed since 2017, and need to be able to sign checks on the days when she is too weak to help. Remarkably, both banks (SunTrust and Wells Fargo) were extremely accommodating. I even had a note from the doctor stating she was unable to manage her own affairs, but did not have to provide it.

I learned two things:

  • You can’t have an active credit freeze. As Power of Attorney, they will create a new bank profile (requires a credit check) for you that is attached to the individuals bank account(s).
  • They view adult children differently than professionals that act as Powers of Attorney.

My logical brain understands this, but my journey as the adult child who was trying to help my parents DETESTS this varied treatment.

Maybe things are changing? Adult family caregivers … what are you finding? Curious.

THANKS to Ashley — Good food for thought and was a tactic I used when I was caring for my parents. Her lawyer suggested she not disclose the information to the bank. Thankfully, her parents added her to their bank account. After I hit a few roadblocks, I just set up online access to most of my parents accounts and did as much as I could digitally and in the spirit of their Power of Attorney. When I hit roadblocks and went to the bank with my POA was when I learned how difficult it was to get them to honor it.

Gaining Mom’s trust.

Many of us have been seeing a parent struggle with their memory and ability to manage their own affairs long before there is ever a diagnosis.

It took time for my Mom to adapt to having me pay the bills and help her. She felt that she was managing just fine. My Dad recognized she was having trouble and asked me to help. When I started I had trouble learning how to assist without offending my Mom. My Mom never recognized that the stroke she had impacted her memory or her ability to manage. She would tell me her “brain is bad today” but that wasn’t impacting her ability to manage her life (in her own mind). When I reminded her that she did have a stroke, she would accuse me of making it up.

I slowly worked to gain her trust by doing things in tandem that she asked for help on. I found the less I pushed, the more opportunity to help I was given.

When it came to the mail and the bills, I would take the piles of mail that were lying around and triage issues as I uncovered them. Thankfully, my parents added me to the bank account so I could reverse engineer many of their household finances. I visited with a large purse that allowed me to easily drop in piles that were dispersed around their home.

One day I walked in to visit, and my Mom had created a mail pile for me that included a bill and a check. She even put a label on the pile for me. Earned.

Just because I’m having trouble with my short-term memory doesn’t make it OK to exclude me from discussions about me

I’m writing this post recognizing that I’m really kinda angry. I know I can get a little “righteous” but I’m seeing families work around their loved ones instead of with them.

I know often, it’s easier to to just do things for someone. Please imagine how you would feel if you suddenly found yourself on the outside when choices about your health and finances were made for you?

Maybe you had a discussion about the topic, but for someone with short-term memory loss they won’t remember that, so are there other ways to help include and remind them of the discussion and decisions made? A notebook, email or texts?

I’m working with a new client and she told me she went to the bank to get a copy of her last statement and her daughter and POA had changed her statements to paperless. She knows she can’t recall the amount of money in the bank and is having trouble managing the finances, but I could only imagine how awful it would make me feel if my loved ones were doing this around me. To be fair, they may have had the discussion and she didn’t remember. However, she was expressing how frustrating it was to be left out. She can still make good decisions and had managed to care for all these things for more than five decades. She wants her daughter to help her do it, not take it away from her and manage it for her. Short-term memory loss on it’s own doesn’t mean you can’t make good decisions or understand their consequences.

Don’t discount your loved ones ability. It is their life and if you love and respect them, assisting them when they need help navigating difficult choices is how you can show it.

I know I didn’t do this well when I started to help my parents. However, now that I have worked with so many families and individuals with varying stages of mild cognitive impairment and diagnosed dementia’s, I see a how devastating it can be to suddenly lose so much for the individual with a memory issue.

For those individuals just starting out, I always talk about us working in tandem. I will help with them organize and schedule, and they will review the bills and sign the checks. Usually, by the end of our first meeting they are breathing a sigh of relief. They see they are still involved and have control, and now have help to manage the components of paying their bills that was challenging.

You can apply this to the scheduling of medical appointments and follow ups as well.

Walk alongside, support and give your loved ones the opportunity to be involved. You might be surprised how much better things can progress when you do it together instead of “for them”. Advocated.

What I Wished I Knew When Dementia Was Diagnosed: Anosognosia(#1)

I was recently asked this question at a Caregiver Advisory Panel and there are 3 things I wish I had known when dementia was FINALLLLLYYYY diagnosed.  The reality is that many things can cause memory issues and it’s important to seek out a doctor to help determine if there is something that could easily resolve cognitive issues. There are many times when a medication conflict or a vitamin deficiency can be a root factor.

I had two parents who were simultaneously diagnosed with different types of dementia (Mom was Vascular/then Multi-Infarct; Dad was Alzheimer’s). While my Dad seemed to understand something was wrong, and a few times over the course of being his adult family caregiver he asked me about Alzheimer’s, my Mom patently denied having a stroke which led to her initial vascular dementia diagnosis.

anosognosia-1

I thought she was just being stubborn which made things pretty difficult for all of us. When I learned about anosognosia, a word of Greek origin that roughly translates to “without knowledge of disease,” things made a lot more sense to me. I had learned to adapt because my Mom would not, but then once I learned of this, I understood that she really COULD NOT adapt.  In general, the person is unaware of their condition and unable to accept it.

My Mom was not simply in denial or being stubborn, her brain could not process the fact that her thoughts didn’t reflect reality. I did recognize that she would often confabulate information. Sometimes it was hilarious and other times it was tragically sad.

Knowing this can provide some insight into how you can best help someone diagnosed with dementia. I hope it can help make your journey with your loved one a little easier. Reflected. 

Document your Medical History and Extended Family Histories – Healthy Aging Habit 29

familyhealthhistory

Have you ever been asked to recite your medical history and been a little fuzzy on a few of the dates?  The longer I live, I feel like the harder it is getting to know exactly when I had specific surgeries. Thankfully I have kids so it has been easier to track based on their birth since two of them coincided with their births. However, I know this is going to get harder the longer I live.

I know when I had to help my parents, knowing the familiar history of their families was important. Thankfully, my cousins could help out when we were faced with Dad’s cancer.

In general, having this done in advance will benefit you. So often these questions are asked of us, and most often, we don’t really know of our extended families history.

As we move into the holidays you can find ways to learn more about your extended family. WebMD offers this family health checklist, but I sure hope you can figure out how to better ask these questions. I’ve always gone in a little soft to ask about their lives and their passions and in that, if there were a health issue, it usually gets mentioned and from there you can go a little deeper.

Just having this written down about yourself will help you and may assist a loved one. Seventy percent of us will need someone to be their health advocate — and I want to make sure my loved ones have what they need to help me. Prepared. 

Talk to your Children about your Healthy Aging Choices and Listen to What They Say – Habit #22

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As an adult child that lived through caregiving for two parents over 5 years, and as a parent of two children, I have been very open about how I believe families should function in terms of support and care.

My parents planned well thinking that they would never “be a burden” to their children. However, when they both ended up with dementia, a family member needed to be intimately involved in their care and well-being. The hard part for me was that my parents firmly believed they never needed any help and half of my caregiving battle was managing around their inability to see how they were failing.

As my children grow and one now has flown the coop, I plan to be open with them when it comes to discussions about our care and well-being. If and when they are managing their own careers and raising their own children, I will make sure to regularly check in to listen to them on how and if they could help. I want them to have their lives, but I do also hope that I can rely on them to at least have general oversight if my husband and I should we need it. There are options for us if they can’t help.

I know that I can hire specialists to help with the day to day needs. I don’t expect my kids to do it for me. But I also know that family knows best and would prefer if one or both of my children would be a POA or Trustee for us when they are ready to step into that role.

What I find most interesting is how many adults with children over 30 are reporting that their kids won’t listen to them when they try to share their plans or discuss their finances. Maybe for many it feels like a weaponized conversation about inheritance or their adult children just aren’t ready to have it.  What I do know is that you better have had this conversation with the people you are counting on to help you before the help is needed. Experienced.

Dementia and it’s troublesome sidekick Anxiety

anxiety

The speed at which my Mom could bring me into her anxiety was one of the most alarming shifts in our familiar dynamic. Growing up, my mom was the calm, low-key fixer. In the military life in which I was raised with a dad that was often gone, mom ran the household and raised four kids. She was as adept with a hammer and nails as she was with a spatula and pie pan. So when I started to get panicked calls from her, I usually found myself jumping in a car and driving over to visit. I figured it was now my turn to be the fixer.

There were a lot of personality changes over the years, but the anxiety was one of the issues that troubled me most. I learned when she was anxious how to not join her where she was and redirect to a calmer option. I learned to not disagree or debate what she believed, but also not join in the alarm. In the beginning, I would just excuse myself for a few minutes so I could reset my demeanor. Later, I would suggest something we could do together that would change the setting and take her focus to something else.

Puzzles were a regular feature of mom’s room in Assisted Living. The simple act of setting it up, finding a piece or putting it away always brought calm. When it was nice, we would go for a walk in her community, and some days we just got in the car and would complete a simple errand.

The “therapeutic fibs” are often recommended for those that can’t break the cycle of anxiety they are in. I really struggled with this idea initially but found that the truth teller in me was not helpful in many situations. The most difficult were my mom’s calls about dad being in the hospital and needing a ride to visit him after he died. Neither of us needed to relieve his death over and over and I found the suggestion of a visit to dad calmed her down and let her focus on what to do before I would be coming over.

As a last resort they may prescribe medicine that can help. There were several times in the early days when the doctor encouraged us to use the Ativan she prescribed. When the Life Care Community my parents lived in forced their migration from Independent Living into Assisted Living, I dissolved the pill in a glass of Coke. I started out offering the medication to her, but she was suspicious and would refuse any medication. It’s kind of humorous to me now to tell you that she was so anxious, she wouldn’t take the pill that would help her anxiety, but that was our reality.

Dementia is hard on more than just the individual diagnosed with it, and because our loved ones are usually unable to adapt to the changes happening in their brain, it’s up to us to adapt to help them. Encouraged. 

When we can’t find the right words …

Cole&PoppopYesterday was my son’s college graduation. As I drove up, I struggled to shake the feeling of loss that swept over me as I faced another big event without my parents. Since they both battled different forms of dementia, it is a blessing they are no longer on this earth, but how I miss them being able to celebrate another engineer in the family bloodline. My Dad and Cole always ended up in giggles when the two of them got together and he would have reveled in the graduation. 

As I sat at the ceremony listening to the Valedictorian, it became clear that no matter what your age, education, or beliefs, we are all struggling to find the right words to enter into civil discourse. As she and her classmates are preparing to continue their quest to make our world a better place, the things she shared with her peers felt immediately valuable to me as I work with many who have lost the ability to handle the complications of balancing a checkbook, negotiating a contract, or even planning a meal. The added complexity in helping a loved one is that there are the familiar habits and patterns that may put your assistance out of the realm of ‘normal’ and cause discomfort. The best way for me to start a fight with my Mom was to ask if she wanted help with the bills and the checkbook. She didn’t sense any short coming in her abilities so my words felt like a betrayal when I reminded her of the missed water payment or the fact that she signed two contracts for the same home repair with two different vendors.

“Approach with humility and a desire to understand,” suggests Kate Hill. Give ‘space to silence’ and ‘don’t lock the doors’ — two ideas that I think can be applied simply to the role of caregiving.

I know the impatience I felt when I was working, raising two young kids, and also trying to help out my parents. I wanted to just take over and get things done. I needed to allow more time to cross the item off of the task list and include them in the process. So too must we apply this same approach to problems we are facing in our communities, states, and country. 

When our loved ones are already losing so much, the last thing we need to do is to add to the list of losses. I’m excited to see what this generation will do for all of us and appreciate the on words she used to suggest how to be better citizens, friends, colleagues, parents, children, and caregivers. Impressed.

What to do if my siblings won’t help?

barney-stinson-self-five
Do what you can to support yourself.

A reader made a fair point when I posted I’m Overwhelmed and my Siblings Are Not Helping (Thank you Monique).

My siblings helped … eventually. I felt very alone the first few years when they didn’t see the issues I was seeing regularly because I was the only one that lived near my parents. I start from the premise that if you try, you may find that your siblings may join you. So first, I hope you will give them the chance to step up by over-communicating and for asking for specific help.

I had given up before my siblings stepped in and bonked me on the head to reengage.

Should your siblings fail you, do the best you can and move on. We can only control what we do, and the job you have is difficult enough. If you are in this place, my suggestions are to:

  1. Find a local caregiver support group. Go online and search and you will be amazed to find support groups for children, spouses, and even by diagnosis.
    • Try the Alzheimer’s Association, they usually offer all types of support groups and you search by zip code.
    • Contact your county Area Agency on Aging. They should know of some local resources.
    • Contact the local retirement communities, assisted living, and memory care communities — they usually host the support groups and know what is offered locally. Usually someone in the sales department can help you.
  2. See if there is a local village that can help your loved ones and provide recommendations for local vetted resources.
  3. Contact an Aging Life Care Manager.  Nurses and social workers by training, these individuals can help navigate health issues and find quick solutions to care needs. While they do have an hourly rate from $150 to $200, they might be able to find a solution to something that might take you days and weeks to navigate. You don’t know what you don’t know and it’s nice to have an expert on aging in your back pocket.
  4. Meet with a Daily Money Manager. They typically specialize, and you will want to find one that serves seniors. I have been doing this service for other families after my caregiving journey ended. I focus on the financial issues like paying bills, reviewing invoices, and maintaining the home and reporting back to adult children who aren’t near mom and dad.  I find that within the first month I find a variety of ways to eliminate robo-calls, save hundreds of dollars on unused services, and even access unused benefits for care services. I can also make a direct introduction to the right solution, be it a personal care assistant, elder-law attorney, or auction house.
  5. Tell your siblings what you are doing and offer a summary of accounts … and oh, yeah, compensate yourself for your time if you are able to do so. The reality is that caregivers on average give up over $324,0044 in lost wages and retirement compensation. My husband and I added in compensation for those individuals who are supporting us a DPOA and trustee — and are working toward ensuring that we can afford to compensate our loved one for stepping up because we know it not only can result in lost wages and opportunities, and is a job that would be compensated if we hired someone to do it for us. Thanks for your comment DW, I can’t believe I forgot to include this!

Whether you are an only child, or your siblings have let down mom and dad and aren’t stepping up to help, find ways to support yourself in helping your loved ones.

I regret not bringing in more help when Mom was alive. Instead of spending time following up with the community nurse, I could have been out enjoying a meal or and event with my Mom.  Hindsight is 20-20. Reflected.