When a cognitively-impaired, often elderly person wanders away from home and gets lost and his or her care-givers alert law enforcement officials, a Silver Alert is issued.
Silver Alert, a California Highway Patrol program, is a quick response system to “speed the process and return them to safety,” according to information on the CHP website. Silver Alerts are a great tool in moments of crisis, when a vulnerable person has wandered off and become lost. In brutal California summers or during other extreme weather events, swiftly finding the person can be a matter of life or death.
When the crisis is over and (as happens more often than not) the missing loved one is back home, however, the struggle isn’t over. But there’s no Purple Alert called when they run a bath and forget about it, flooding the bathroom as well as the room below it. No Green Alert called when they try to heat food in the microwave – using a metal container. No Pink Alert for when the caregiver finally can’t cope anymore and has to walk away in order to not do something they’ll regret – struggling with a toxic blend of guilt and resentment.
No alert at all for the thousand tiny things that in themselves are trivial as a grain of sand, but when put together can become a blinding storm. For everyday life and the challenges it brings when dealing with dementia in its various forms, all too often caregivers feel alone.
But they don’t have to be, experts in elder care say. It’s one of the most important things to know in caring for those with dementia, or indeed anyone whose impairments, physical or mental, cause them to need a higher level of care to stay in their homes.
There are resources for care-givers struggling to provide for the daily needs of incapacitated loved ones, said Heidi Richardson, program planner for Senior and Adult Services in Sacramento County.
Richardson suggested a good starting place is the person’s health insurance to find out what it provides to help families caring for those with cognitive impairments. Asking if a case manager is available can save caregivers hours or days trying to research resources.
Adult day care, such as the Eskaton Adult Day Health Center in Carmichael, might be covered.
About half of the program participants of the Eskaton Adult Day Health Center in Carmichael are covered under Medi-Cal, said executive director Daisy Absalon. Another 20 percent get services through Alta Regional Center. The center offers many activities for adults, both for fun and therapy. Most are elderly, but the center serves younger participants as well, Absalon said. Participants currently range in age from 44 to 93.
Sacramento area experts suggested checking these resources:
● Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 hotline (800) 272-3900
● Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Section www.alz.org/care/overview.asp
In trying to maintain the delicate balance of preserving elders’ independence and dignity while keeping them safe, one of the thorniest questions to answer is when can they no longer be left home alone.
There are no simple tips or guidelines to answer this, Richardson said. Again, she advised not to try to do it alone. Consult with medical professionals, case workers, friends and family to find the right level of care necessary at each stage.
The second most important tip is to be kind and patient – not just to the elder, but to yourself.
“Caregivers need to be kind, forgiving and non-judgmental of themselves as they embark on this very difficult task,” said Richardson.
When it comes to wandering, tips include providing activities such as those at the Eskaton Day Center and various tracking devices. The Modesto Police Department recently partnered with MedicAlert Foundation to provide free medical
However, tips only go so far. Every situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Which is why tip number one, to seek assistance from friends, family, health care providers and social services agencies is so important, said Richardson.
However, long before families get to this point, Richardson advised they start the conversation about elders’ wishes before they reach the point of not being able to care for themselves without help. Children should listen carefully to their parents.
“It’s critical to develop a plan for incapacity,” said Richardson. And should the time come for the plan to be put into action, “Don’t take over and attempt to parent a parent,” she advised, adding it is important to listen to what the parent wants and honor it, within reason.
Care givers shouldn’t make promises they might not be able to keep – as in, don’t promise they will never go into a care home. With the best of intentions, caregivers might not be able to honor that promise due to illness or other contingencies.
“Avoiding promises keeps options open” said Richardson.
The answers to many questions about how to cope with dementia consist in not going it alone, including how to address the anger, violence and other mood swings that can arise. Picking your battles is an important concept. For example, if someone doesn’t want to bath every day, don’t push it. Latitude should be generously given in matters not crucial to health or safety.
If there are sensitive issues that absolutely must be addressed, consider whether you are the best person to address them. Would the information be better received if it came from another person in your social network? Having people you can call on for back-up, for assistance in a tight spot
“And don’t forget to have fun,” said Richardson. “...I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say again: kindness is critical,” she added. “For the older adult, of course, but also for the caregiver. Caregivers can be hard on themselves. They need to give themselves a break and be forgiving of themselves.”