Caring for the Caregiver


Older adults, especially older adults with an underlying dementia are more vulnerable to developing delirium. The presentation of delirium characterized as an abrupt change in mental status caused by physiological consequences of a medical condition is very frightening to family caregivers. The change in the level of functioning, abrupt behavioral changes sometimes marked by psychosis and agitation, and altered confusion is devastating. It is not uncommon for caregivers to believe that the presentation of symptoms is a rapid acceleration of the dementia. At times this can delay treatment and subsequently increase the risk of mortality in the patient.

Caregivers often feel guilty they did not seek treatment quicker. They may start making plans for a higher level of long term care in the face of the acute decrease in functioning. It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel burdened and burned out by frequent changes in mental status. The waxing and waning of symptoms exhibited by the patient can be both exhausting and confusing.

Helping caregivers better identify the change in mental status as potentially being a delirium can help them to feel more secure in the caregiving role. In addition supporting them during the often turbulent transitions between care settings can help with more favorable outcomes for them as well as the patient.

The inclusion of the family caregiver cannot be overlooked. This teaching strategy can be used to help students better learn how to help the family caregiver with education about dementia and delirium, resources for situational decision making and emotional support.

Caring for the Caregiver

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