Category Archives: Ideas to Float on

Lifting Dementia Patients

Lifting a dementia patient can be tricky business. During most of 2015, we’ve been lucky. Since February, my Mom’s been able to support her own weight and walk with assistance. But now she’s developed something we call “mermaid legs”. That’s our non-scientific term for collapsing limbs.

Lifting Dementia Patients

Mom’s mermaid legs first appeared this summer. She only weighs about a hundred pounds, so I’ve always lifted her out of bed in the morning. Once on her feet, my mom could take a supported turkey trot to her wheelchair. Even when wobbly, her walk was extremely helpful since the wheelchair wouldn’t fit through her bedroom doorway.

During August, however, we had a few episodes when Mom would stand for a step or two, then suddenly fold her legs up. The need for me to grab her sinking body weight put a terrible strain on my lower back. As long as it only happened occasionally, I could use yoga to heal my back between lifts. But in October, Mom’s legs were folding nearly every day and I felt like a broken doll.

Fortunately, we got approval through my mother’s insurance plan to have a physical therapist come to our home. The insurance provider approved six visits which began a couple weeks ago. The therapists offer range of motion treatments to my mom and teach us how to administer them, too. They also removed the external “steering” wheels from my mom’s chair since she lacks the ability to “drive” it. Now her wheelchair fits through the door and we can park it right next to her bed. Even if she can’t walk in the morning, I only have to lift her a few inches from the bed to her chair. My spine is so grateful! I no longer walk around stretching my back muscles all day. It’s also easier to sleep at night because I’m no longer in pain.

It’s pretty common for dementia patients to have problems with walking. My mom developed a “cautious gait” long ago. Her balance was off and so was her compass. She preferred to follow someone so she could be sure she was going in the right direction. According to Patient Info, a British site that provides detailed health information, frontal gait disorder is common in Alzheimer’s patients. The degree of impairment may depend on  “the severity of the disease…and factors such as age, sex, depression, obesity, and the presence of co-morbidities“. These things have a tendency to get worse over time.

If your loved one is losing their walking skills or can’t support their own weight, I encourage you to find resources to help you learn to lift them safely. Check your insurance plan and your Area Agency on Aging. In extreme cases, you may qualify to get a medically approved lift for your home.

I know that in many ways I’m lucky because my mom is tiny. There are lots of wives out there lifting husbands twice their weight. Caregivers: get the help you need so you can move loved ones around in a way that’s safe for them and for you. If you get hurt, everybody suffers.

Respite Care for Caregivers

Respite care is a resource that dementia caregivers may want to explore. Reader comments sparked by my piece on family support showed that many of you really need assistance. Respite care isn’t available everywhere, but I’m offering some tips for finding out if this life preserver is offered in your area.

Respite Care for Caregivers

The search begins at your Area Agency on Aging. The purpose of these agencies is to “help older adults and people with disabilities live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible”.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees the nation’s network of Area Agencies on Aging. Click on this link to find your home state and county. Most states have an Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in each county. If you reside in Arkansas, Delaware, Nevada, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Wyoming or the District of Columbia, you have no county agency. Your state AAA serves all communities.

If your county or state link doesn’t work (mine didn’t!), just do a Google search for your State/County Area Agency on Aging. I won’t vouch for the quality of agency services. The first time my mom lived with me, our local agency on aging was wonderful. They came to our house and did a prompt assessment. My mom was eligible for subsidized adult day care services. Her participation in the adult day program helped me keep working while caring for her in my home. Back then, she was walking and talking. I believe the adult day program kept her healthy longer.

After that period, my mother lived away from me for a while and my sister managed her care. Last year when Mom returned to my house, I called the Area Agency on Aging right away. Now the agency’s service is terrible. It has taken them to months to complete my mom’s assessment. I’m telling you this because you need to be ready to stamp your feet if you don’t get their attention right away.

Even if you have to wait, it’s worth it. Just get your name on their list. When it comes to programs that support dementia patients and their families, the Agency on Aging people know a lot. Services in states like New Jersey are pretty extensive. They have a Statewide Respite Care Program that provides services for elderly people and their caregivers. The program is designed to “relieve unpaid caregivers of stress arising from the responsibility of providing daily care”. You can also look at the ARCHRespite Care site to see if your state has received a grant to provide Lifespan Respite Care services.

If you or your loved one served in the U.S. Armed Forces, you may be eligible for respite benefits through the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA “provides inpatient respite coverage for up to 30 days per year for qualified veterans. In addition, when war-time vets care for their spouses, funding for in-home services are available on a state-by-state basis”.

To find the right program for your family, you may have to scroll through a lot of useless stuff. But one of these links may guide you to a site or service that can make a huge difference in your life. Next week, I’ll share some unconventional methods I’ve used to get support at home. In the meantime, best of luck in your efforts to find assistance.