Monday, February 13, 2012

We're All In This Boat Together

Several times lately (twice in one recent trip to Wal-Mart), I have commiserated with others who are balancing the care of an elderly loved one with their own lives and responsibilities... and to some extent, the care of grandchildren or other little ones.  Some are dealing with similar issues to mine with my own grandmother - the challenges of aging, dementia, depression, and grief over the loss of peers. Just since the first of this year, five residents of my grandmother's ALF have passed away... and four of those were her close friends.  Another dear friend who lived across the street at the skilled care nursing facility died last week.

Losing five friends in less than five weeks is enough to drag anyone into a deep depression.  So it comes as no surprise that my grandmother has not thought clearly in recent weeks.  One of her table mates sunk into a deep depression over the loss of their dear friend, Ruth, who had been a next-door neighbor to this lady when they were still living at home.  I visited with the grand-daughter of this sweet lady one afternoon at Wal-Mart.  She said, "We could write a book!"  I told her... "My mom already has!"  I also shared a link to this blog, and she has e-mailed me to say she read several posts, and she felt better knowing that others were having similar experiences to hers with her own grandmother.

So I thought this would be a good time to mention my mom's book again.  It's called When Heads and Hearts Collide, and it chronicles much of the journey with my maternal grandparents, both of whom lived out their days in a skilled care nursing facility.  I have shared this book with several friends, and to a person, they have all said, "This could be me!"  So many of the themes of the book are universal among those caring for elderly loved ones.

I would also like to mention a phenomenon that is quite common among the elderly, and that is something called "Sundowning."  Information found at says that... "the term "sundowning"  refers to a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning isn't a disease, but a symptom that often occurs in people with dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. The cause isn't known."  The website lists several contributing factors:  fatigue, low lighting, increased shadows, and disruption of the body's "internal clock".

An article at defines "Sundowners Syndrome" as "a cluster of signs and symptoms that occur as darkness falls. The onset can be abrupt and the behavior can have a paranoid quality to it. The person may have delusions they are being watched. Very often they become severely agitated and argumentative. It is common for them to lash out at their caregiver as well. There also may be pacing, wandering, cursing, yelling and hallucinations."

Not all people who "sundown" are what I would consider "elderly."  The husband of my mother's cousin is experiencing this condition in his early 70s, following chemotherapy for lung cancer and other medical procedures.  But the symptoms are very similar...and one of the worst for caregivers is agitation - often to the point of beligerence.  My mom's cousin said that during a recent episode, her husband required medication to calm him... and it took more than one person just to administer the medication.  This can be extremely trying for the caregivers and other loved ones who are standing helplessly nearby.

There are a couple of things that we should remember...
  1. Fatigue may play a big role in "Sundowners Syndrome."  Ask yourself whether your loved one has been unusually stressed... perhaps hospitalized and out of the normal routine... or overly tired or run down from an illness or injury.
  2. Don't take it personally... even if your loved one lashes out and says it's your fault.  Remember, your loved one is not himself/herself for whatever reason.  This behavior is not deliberate... nor something either one of you can necessarily fix.
I am continually surprised when I talk with others and discover how amazed they are to learn that others experience much the same thing.  There are a lot of you out there who are lonely and isolated... and this is really sad.  Look around when you visit your loved one.  Find someone who is visiting another resident and strike up a conversation.  See if maybe you can befriend each other.  If you know of someone who is dealing with much the same situation as yours, reach out to them.  We really are all in the same boat... and somehow, knowing that we aren't alone is of critical importance.

My  mom's book can help, too.  You can order it from her blog by clicking here.  Look on the left-hand sidebar for the order button.  And sometimes it helps to share your own story.  Please feel free to contact me and tell me about your experiences.  If you permit, I will publish some of them here.  Sharing your own frustrations and loneliness might be the turning point for someone else who is walking this journey... and maybe keep a few of us from jumping overboard!

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