WVAC: Alzheimer's patients living alone
from the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps
In recognition of National Alzheimer’s Disease and Awareness Month, the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Inc. (WVAC) is focusing on medical and traumatic injury risk awareness for those with Alzheimer’s living alone. We understand that emergencies with individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia require a calm, compassionate and knowledgeable approach by our emergency medical volunteers as well as every effort to preserve the patient’s dignity and serenity.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Today, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds. By 2050, there is expected to be one new case of AD every 33 seconds, or nearly a million new cases per year. And with an estimated 5.4 million Americans suffering from AD today, that projects to 11 million to 16 million with AD in less than 40 years.
Because the disease is, in all cases, progressively degenerative, many people with AD or other dementias will be cared for at some point by a family member, an in-home caregiver or at a nursing home or hospital facility. However, an estimated one in seven people with AD live alone, and up to half of them have no identifiable caregiver. Although many people with dementia can maintain basic aspects of self-care, according to the 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures report from Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, several studies indicate people with dementia who live alone are at increased risk of inadequate self-care, including malnutrition, untreated medical conditions, inadequate clothing or housing, and poor hygiene. As a result, there’s an increased need for emergency medical services for dementia patients who live alone.
It’s common for people with AD and other dementias to exhibit impaired judgment, problem-solving abilities, visual perception and spatial perception, as well as disorientation. This increases the risk for falls among this population, which are already a major cause of serious injury and emergency department visits among the elderly.
And older people with dementia who live alone are more likely to need emergency medical services because they’ve accidentally overdosed or forgotten to take the proper amount of prescribed medications, or have been involved in an auto accident when no one else was available to drive them.
It’s imperative for family and friends of elderly people experiencing signs of AD or other dementias to seek a proper medical diagnosis and develop a care plan for their loved ones. Providing regular care and supervision for a person with AD or other dementias is a major key to avoiding accidents.
WVAC emergency medical volunteers understand that Alzheimer’s patients can often become agitated when the environment around them becomes stressful. Medical treatment by emergency personnel and transport to the hospital via ambulance can present major stressors. Communication with an individual with Alzheimer’s can also be challenging and must be approached knowledgeably. Communicating with the person who has Alzheimer’s begins with patience, respect, and understanding. Following are some of the ways we work to ensure more effective and positive communication:
• Make sure the person has his/her glasses and hearing aid.
• Reduce background noise and distractions.
• Use positive body language: relax, lean forward, and smile.
• Touch the person gently and reassure him or her.
• Speak clearly and slowly.
• Repeat your message as often as necessary.
• Face the person, make eye contact, and speak directly in a calm, even tone.
• Keep sentences simple; focus on one idea at a time.
• Minimize questions, because they may make the person feel anxious or threatened.
• Offer nonverbal cues, such as pointing, demonstrating the desired action or nodding.
• Avoid talking to others about the person as if they were not present.
• Observe the person’s facial expressions, eye contact or lack of eye contact, as body language like this can help us assess comfort or pain, anger, hostility, and misunderstanding.
It is also imperative that an easy-to-find and up-to-date medication list and information on medical history be prominent in the individual’s home. Other helpful information for EMS personnel includes information about the individual’s particular routines, preferences and potential triggers. Creating an environment with accessible information and informed caregivers will provide EMS providers the best opportunity to deliver exceptional care for your loved one in an emergency.
For information on Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org.
For local resources, WVAC recommends Wilton Social Services, which may be found under Departments at wiltonct.org.
The Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. Information: wiltonambulance.org, facebook.com/WiltonVolunteerAmbulanceCorps.