My father just turned sixty and recently retired. He doesn’t socialize as he did before, and I often can’t get him to go out, even to sit on a park bench. He has missed two of our lunch dates in the past three months. Recently I brought him to a gathering of his old friends. They were discussing the latest crisis in the news and he just sat there without saying anything. Afterward, he told me that he didn’t know what they had been talking about. What could be the cause of this? How should I handle these changes?
Director of Helpline
Your loving concern for your father is evident. You point out a number of things that raise red flags. Is his change of behavior caused by giving up his life’s work? What might be the reason for his lack of interest in friends and activities? Are we talking about a problem with his physical health, mental health or, perhaps, both? And what role does memory play in all of this?
A thorough medical evaluation might be the best next step in order to better understand what might be causing the changes you’re seeing in your father. Consulting with his primary doctor is a good place to start. If the doctor notices a significant change in your father he might suggest further testing. There are diagnostic centers in each of the five boroughs where Helpline Specialists can refer you. There your father will be seen by a variety of specialists over a few visits. It would be best if you or another family member accompanies him, since he will be asked to give a thorough family history. Physicians may request a CT scan or an MRI. The diagnostic evaluation covers many aspects of health in order to rule out other illnesses and focus on what might be the cause or causes of your father’s memory issues and personality changes. Medicare will pay for those over the age of 65; otherwise, other insurance will be accepted. With a full evaluation you will be better able to deal with your father’s changes in the most appropriate way. For more information about these resources, please call our 24-hour Helpline at 646-744-2900.
My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago and has declined every year since. At this point she is bedbound and cannot speak. Sometimes she seems to be in distress, and it’s hard for me to connect with her. Is there anything I can do to try and bring her comfort?
We are so glad you reached out to us for support. There are many families caring for someone in the later stages of the disease. As your wife is unable to speak and bedbound, if she seems distressed you should check for bedsores on her lower back, her elbows, and the heels of her feet. Remember it is important to change her position every few hours and consider using a special mattress pad, such as the foam “egg crate” model. If she is unable to easily leave the house, know that we can refer you to doctors who make house calls.
Learn about palliative care, a type of medical care that focuses on relieving symptoms of a disease instead of trying to treat an illness. Palliative care’s main emphasis is in the quality of life of the patient, in this case, your wife. When you feel she may be in distress, try putting on soothing music in her room and sitting with her; she will feel your presence. You know her best, her likes and dislikes. Touch is very powerful. Holding her hand or brushing her hair may be very comforting to her. You may also want to speak with her physician about a referral to a palliative care specialist who can assist in alleviating any discomfort your wife may have.
You are certainly welcome to call our 24-hour Helpline at 646-744-2900 and schedule a meeting with a social worker to discuss future plans. Encouraging Comfort Care: A Guide for Families of People with Dementia is another great resource; you can find it on our website or we'd be happy to send you a copy. It is important that both you and your wife are comfortable at this important time in your lives.