BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
BOUNTIFUL — Fifty percent of people over 80 suffer some form of dementia. The most common types are Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
By time the staff at Lakeview Hospital’s Senior Pathways program becomes involved, patients are often combative, and may be suffering from psychosis, hallucinations or delusions, said Lynda Perkins, a licensed professional counselor who works with the program.
Senior Pathways is part of the Behavioral Medicine unit at Lakeview. It is specifically for geriatric psychiatric patients.
Dementia is increasingly recognized as a problem most seniors will face, said Dr. Austin Imus, who works with patients in the program. This is increasingly true with life expectancy on the increase.
“In the past, many people died before they exhibited symptoms of dementia,” he said.
Seniors who keep themselves physically and nutritionally fit may decrease their chances of dementia, Imus said, and engaging in exercises for the brain, such as word puzzles and Wii games, can delay the onset of dementia and preserve cognitive abilities in those already diagnosed with some form of it.
Often, patients admitted to the Senior Pathways program do not speak, Perkins said.
Such activities as music therapy will have a positive effect, and often the patient sings along or even plays the piano.
Senior Pathways is an eight-bed unit, and it draws patients from all along the Wasatch Front and beyond, even from Idaho and Wyoming, Perkins said.
Patients are first stabilized with medications, then counselors and therapists work with the patients to improve their cognitive function and help them with depression or other issues they may be dealing with, Perkins said.
Imus said Senior Pathways is careful not to over-medicate. Doing that can result in relatively functional patients needing extra assistance.
“You hear of patients who walk into a program like this and leave in a wheelchair,” Imus said.
Social workers help the family and the patient to educate them on resources available to help the patient, getting the elderly person ready to move back home or to a skilled nursing home or assisted living center.
The staff works with patients to set daily goals and to work on whatever is going on with them, whether it be depression, anxiety or other issues, Perkins said. With such a small unit, Lakeview staffers are able to give more personalized care, she said.
The typical stay for a patient is between 10 and 14 days.
Many ideas used by therapist translate very well into the home environment, and can easily be used by caregivers.
Dementia patients often focus on one topic to the exclusion of all others. One technique therapists use is called redirection, in which the therapist may change the topic of conversation.
Another idea is to relocate the patients. If they seem to be stuck on one topic, move them to another room that may bring other thoughts to mind, Perkins said.
Getting them involved in a common household activity can also help. Within the Lakeview program, therapists use exercises such as folding a batch of clothes.
“We, come back later and mess it up again and ask someone else to fold it,” Perkins said. “Keeping them busy and giving them tasks helps,” she said.
Other ideas include encouraging patients to sing songs that may hold fond memories or having them look up addresses or maps on a computer.
“With men, we find keeping their hands moving helps” Perkins said. “They tend to be fidgety, so we use puzzles or boxes with locks and things to keep them busy.”
Imus acknowledges that many of the therapies and activities used are similar to what a mother may use to keep a small child busy.
“They (dementia patients) live in their moment, much like a child,” he said, often with no real remembrances of the past, or thoughts for the future.
Patients come to the program through referrals from physicians, nursing homes and assisted living centers, and sometimes through the emergency room, if a family brings a loved one in who has become combative or aggressive.
For more information, call 801-299-2428.