What To Do About Behavioral Changes In Older Loved Ones

Medically Reviewed by Jacque Parker, RN

Someone with a spouse showing signs of dementia

The red flags seem to be everywhere. This adult, mature person whom you've loved forever seems to be doing some pretty strange things and doesn't seem to realize it. At first you thought it was your imagination, but it's getting worse and you're stumped. You just don't understand how this previously methodical, logical person can behave in this manner, and asking why seems to bring either denial, blank stares, or aggressive protest. Is it dementia or Alzheimer's?  What to do about it?

There are privacy laws, making it nearly impossible to discuss someone with their health-care professional. You may not be able to convince your loved one that they need a medical or psychological assessment, or, if you do, they might strongly object to your presence at the appointment. It's not a pretty corner to be in, but you know you must do something.

The good news is that there are ways to bring attention to this situation. Almost everywhere in North America there are agencies whose job it is to assess and assure the health and safety of every citizen, from cradle to grave.

You can begin with your computer. On sites like this one, you can research any number of health issues. Look under the headings and pick one, following links and narrowing your search until you arrive at where you want to be. Keep in mind the loved one's age, medical condition and recent medical history as you negotiate each link.

Your own doctor's office is another good resource center. Any practice worth it's salt will provide a variety of pamphlets on different topics, all of which will direct you to other sources of information.

Every community has a library, and most have an "information" telephone number listed under their jurisdictional or municipal contact numbers. The vast majority of these calls are answered by a real human voice who can listen to and direct you to the proper information or agency.

Once you have determined that a real problem exists, contact the loved one's physician, either by telephone or by fax. Make sure you identify yourself and state your concerns in as brief and direct a manner as possible. Provide your own telephone/contact numbers and request an acknowledgment from the doctor. The physician may not wish to discuss the patient with you, but a simple acknowledgment confirms that the information has been received, and will be acted upon. Very few doctors will ignore such information, and, if they do, you have the option of registering a complaint to the local medical association.

We all need help from time to time. Advocating for someone else can avert problems down the road. Your loved one may not appreciate your "interference" at the time, but if the problem turns out to be something progressive, you will have been instrumental in keeping them safe and accessing the necessary help, and that alone is thanks enough.

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Claudette Mancini is the co-author of Red Flags: A Practical Family Guide for Recognizing the Onset of Dementia. She has been an active family caregiver and advocate for the elderly and those who care for them. Longevity is now a fact of life, but dealing with it is often discouraging, isolating, and fraught with enormous potholes. Everyone will either become a caregiver or a person requiring care, so the more we come to know, the easier it will be.

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