Coping with Dementia: Dementia and Mental Health
About two weeks ago, a man arrived at a memory care facility in Citrus County, took his wife out for a walk — as he had done before — produced a gun, killed her, then killed himself.
The community at which this happened has received “deficiency free” ratings for ten years in a row, so nothing I say is intended to imply that this community was to blame.
The next day, a similar dementia-related murder/suicide took place in Sumter County.
Two days later, a Citrus County woman whose husband had died with dementia a year prior, died by suicide in the courtyard of her apartment complex.
Dementia and Mental Health
While dementia is not classified as a mental illness, there is a clear nexus between the two. The former too often contributes to the latter. Why?
I believe that dementia care is possibly the most stressful kind of medical care. Eventually, it requires 24/7 attention, possibly for years! It destroys whole families with its physical, emotional, and financial demands.
Likewise, I believe that placing a loved one in professional care is one of the most difficult and stressful decisions a person or family can ever face. And it does not end when the decision is made. The loneliness, guilt, loss, and grief can continue, even after our loved one has passed on.
Our professional senior care providers are trained to perform the tasks of physical care, but how many are trained to see the signs of mental distress that emerge within the spouses, loved ones, and families? It is a missing piece in our system that leaves behind human wreckage, after which we usually say, “I had no idea they were having such a hard time!”
Let’s Address the Emotional Toll of Dementia and Caregiving
We need to address this gap in our systems, and, in fact, we may have a model solution right here in Citrus County in another field of high-stress medicine. We have in our county an oncologist who has included on his fulltime staff for more than a decade a licensed clinical social worker. She is available to patients not only when they have received a cancer diagnosis, but throughout their journey, to help them understand and manage the stress and fear associated with cancer.
While not every assisted living or memory care community can justify or afford such a person on their staff, there is no reason they cannot have policies and services in place to help their residents and families cope with the emotional aspects of dementia.
This could include care staff who have been trained in how to recognize the telltale signs, and when to pass those observations up the chain of command. And when signs of excessive stress reach the Directors of Nursing and the Administrators, they would know how to involve services or mental health professionals who can address these problems.
With dementia having become the Disease of our Time, we must create better and more effective response mechanisms that address the mental – not just physical – demands of the disease. We need emotional as well as physical care because we all deserve the best.
About Debbie Selsavage
Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Trainer and Consultant in the Positive Approach to Care and a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She authors a monthly column to assist caregivers in coping with Dementia. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.