Category Archives: aging drivers

Driving Dilemmas: Risk vs. Independence

by Dwyer

images (3)Driving a car is a symbol of independence and competence and is closely tied to an individual’s identity. It also represents freedom and control and allows older adults to gain easy access to social connections, health care, shopping, activities and even employment. At some point, however, it is predictable that driving skills will deteriorate and individuals will lose the ability to safely operate a vehicle. Even though age alone does not determine when a person needs to stop driving, the decision must be balanced with personal and public safety. Driving beyond one’s ability brings an increased safety risk or even life-threatening situations to all members of society. Statistics show that older drivers are more likely than others to receive traffic citations for failing to yield, making improper left turns, and running red lights or stop signs, which are all indications of a decrease in driving skills. Understandably, dealing with impaired older drivers is a delicate issue.

The road to driving cessation is anything but smooth. Each year, hundreds of thousands of older drivers across the country must face the end of their driving years and become transportation dependent. Unfortunately, finding other means of transportation has not noticeably improved in recent years, leading to a reluctance among older drivers to give up driving privileges and of families to remove the car keys. The primary issue facing older drivers is how to adapt to changes in driving performance while maintaining necessary mobility. Despite being a complicated issue, this process can be more successful when there is a partnership between the physician, older driver, family or caregiver.

Dramatic headlines like these have ignited national media debates and triggered the pressing need for more testing and evaluation of elderly drivers, especially with the swell of the Baby Boomer generation: “Family of four killed by an 80-year-old man driving the wrong way on Highway 169.  86-year-old driver killed 10 people when his vehicle plowed through a farmers’ market in southern California. 93-year-old man crashed his car into a Wal-Mart store, sending six people to the hospital and injuring a 1-year-old child.”

According to the Hartford Insurance Corporation, statistics of older drivers show that after age 75, there is a higher risk of being involved in a collision for every mile driven. The rate of risk is nearly equal to the risk of younger drivers ages 16 to 24. The rate of fatalities increases slightly after age 65 and significantly after age 75. Although older persons with health issues can be satisfactory drivers, they have a higher likelihood of injury or death in an accident.

Undoubtedly, an older adult’s sense of independence vs. driving risk equals a very sensitive and emotionally charged topic. Older adults may agree with the decline of their driving ability, yet feel a sense of loss, blame others, attempt to minimize and justify, and ultimately may feel depressed at the thought of giving up driving privileges. Driving is an earned privilege and in order to continue to drive safely, guidelines and regulations must be in place to evaluate and support older drivers.

Dementia and Driving Cessation
Alzheimer’s disease and driving safety is of particular concern to society. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in later life and is a progressive and degenerative brain disease. In the process of driving, different regions of the brain cooperate to receive sensory information through vision and hearing, and a series of decisions are made instantly to successfully navigate. The progression of AD can be unpredictable and affect judgment, reasoning, reaction time and problem-solving. For those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is not a matter of if retirement from driving will be necessary, but when. Is it any wonder that driving safety is compromised when changes are occurring in the brain? Where dementia is concerned, driving retirement is an inevitable endpoint for which active communication and planning among drivers, family, and health professionals are essential.

Current statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association indicate that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and this number is expected to rise to 11-16 million by the year 2050. Many people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s can continue to drive; however, they are at an increased risk and driving skills will predictably worsen over time. The Alzheimer’s Association’s position on driving and dementia supports a state licensing procedure that allows for added reporting by key individuals coupled with a fair, knowledgeable, medical review process.

Overall, the assessment of driving fitness in aging individuals, and especially those with dementia, is not clear cut and remains an emerging and evolving field today.

Physician’s Role in Driving Cessation
While most older drivers are safe, this population is more prone to vehicle accidents due to decreased senses, chronic illness and medication-related issues. The three primary functions that are necessary for driving and need to be evaluated are: vision, perception, and motor function. As the number of older drivers rises, patients and their families will increasingly turn to the physicians for guidance on safe driving. This partnership seems to be a key to more effective decision-making and the opinions of doctors vs. family are often valued by older drivers. Physicians are in a forefront position to address physical, sensory and cognitive changes in their aging patients. They can also help patients maintain mobility through proper counseling and referrals to driver evaluation programs. This referral may avoid unnecessary conflict when the doctor, family members or caregivers, and older drivers have differing opinions. (It should be noted that driver evaluation programs are usually not covered by insurance and may require an out-of-pocket cost.)

Not all doctors agree that they are the best source for making final decisions about driving. Physicians may not be able to detect driving problems based on office visits and physical examinations alone. Family members should work with doctors and share observations about driving behavior and health issues to help older adults limit their driving or stop driving altogether. Ultimately, counseling for driving retirement and identifying alternative methods of transportation should be discussed early on in the care process, prior to a crisis. Each state has an Area Agency on Aging program that can be contacted for information, and referrals can be made to a social worker or community agency that provides transportation services.

Resources do exist to help physicians assess older adults with memory impairments, weigh the legal and ethical responsibilities, broach the topic of driving retirement and move toward workable plans. The Hartford Insurance Corporation, for example, offers two free publications that make excellent patient handouts: At the Crossroads: A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Driving and We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers. These resources reveal warning signs and offer practical tips, sound advice, communication starters, and planning forms. Other resources can be found through the Alzheimer’s Association. Physicians can also refer to the laws and reporting requirements for unsafe drivers in their state and work proactively with patients and their families or caregivers to achieve driving retirement before serious problems occur. Ultimately, assessing and counseling patients about their fitness to drive should be part of the medical practice for all patients as they age and face health changes.

Driver’s Role in Driving Cessation
“How will you know when it is time to stop driving?” was a question posed to older adults in a research study. Responses included “When the stress level from my driving gets high enough, I’ll probably throw my keys away” and “When you scare the living daylights out of yourself, that’s when it’s time to stop.” These responses are clues to a lack of insight and regard for the social responsibility of holding a driver’s license and the critical need for education, evaluation and planning.

Realizing one can no longer drive can lead to social isolation and a loss of personal or spousal independence, self-sufficiency, and even employment. In general, older drivers want to decide for themselves when to quit, a decision that often stems from the progression of medical conditions that affect vision, physical abilities, perceptions and, consequently, driving skills. There are many things that an older adult can do to be a safe driver and to participate in his or her own driving cessation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that older adults:

  • Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Limit driving only to daytime, low traffic, short radius, clear weather
  • Plan the safest route before driving and find well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Preplan and consider alternative sources and costs for transportation and volunteer to be a passenger

Family’s or Caregiver’s Role in Driving Cessation
Initially, it may seem cruel to take an older person’s driving privilege away; however, genuine concern for older drivers means much more than simply crossing fingers in hopes that they will be safe behind the wheel. Families need to be vigilant about observing the driving behavior of older family members. One key question to be answered that gives rise to driving concerns is “Would you feel safe riding along with your older parent driving or having your child ride along with your parent?” If the answer is “no,” then the issue needs to be addressed openly and in a spirit of love and support. Taking an elder’s driving privileges away is not an easy decision and may need to be done in gradual steps. Offering rides, enlisting a volunteer driver program, experiencing public transportation together, encouraging vehicle storage during winter months, utilizing driver evaluation programs and other creative options, short of removing the keys, can be possible solutions during this time of transition.

Driving safety should be discussed long before driving becomes a problem. According to the Hartford Insurance survey, car accidents, near misses, dents in the vehicle and health changes all provide the chance to talk about driving skills. Early, occasional and honest conversations establish a pattern of open dialogue and can reinforce driving safety issues. Appealing to the love of children or grandchildren can instill the thought that their inability to drive safely could lead to the loss of an innocent life. Family members or caregivers can also form a united front with doctors and friends to help older drivers make the best driving decisions. If evaluations and suggestions have been made and no amount of rational discussion has convinced the senior to cease driving, then an anonymous report can be made to the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, strategies that may lead to driving cessation when less drastic measures fail include:

  1. Family meetings to discuss issues and concerns
  2. Disabling or removing the car
  3. Filing down the keys
  4. Placing an “Expired” sticker over the driver’s license
  5. Cancelling the vehicle registration
  6. Preventing the older driver from renewing his or her driver’s license
  7. Speaking with the driver’s doctor to write a prescription not to drive, or to schedule a formal driving assessment

Finally, it is suggested that family members learn about the warning signs of driving problems, assess independence vs. the public safety, observe the older driver behind the wheel or ride along, discuss concerns with a physician, and explore alternative transportation options.

Solutions

There are a multitude of solutions and recommendations that can be made in support of older drivers. Public education and awareness is at the forefront. An educational program that includes both classroom and on the road instruction can improve knowledge and enhance driving skills.

The AAA Foundation provides several safe driving Web sites with tools for seniors and their loved ones to assess the ability to continue driving safely.  These include AAAseniors.com and seniordrivers.org.  They also sponsor a series of Senior Driver Expos around the country where seniors and their loved ones can learn about senior driving and mobility challenges and have a hands-on opportunity to sample AAA’s suite of research-based senior driver resources. Information on the Expos is available at aaaseniors.com/seniordriverexpo.

AARP offers an excellent driver safety program that addresses defensive driving and age-related changes, and provides tools to help judge driving fitness. Expanding this program or even requiring participation seems to be a viable entry point for tackling the challenges of driving with the aging population.

CarFit is an educational program that helps older adults check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them and if the safety features are compatible with their physical characteristics. This includes height of the car seat, mirrors, head restraints, seat belts, and proper access to the pedals. CarFit events are scheduled throughout the country and a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each participant to ensure their cars are properly adjusted for their comfort and safety.

Modification of driving policies to extend periods of safe driving is another solution. Older drivers nearing the end of their safe driving years could ‘retire’ from driving gradually, rather than ‘give up’ the driver’s license.  An older adult can be encouraged to relinquish the driver’s license and be issued a photo identification card at the local driver’s bureau.

The Alzheimer’s Association proposes several driving assessment and evaluation options. Among them are a vision screening by an optometrist, cognitive performance testing (CPT) by an occupational therapist, motor function screening by a physical or occupational therapist, and a behind the wheel assessment by a driver rehabilitation specialist. Poor performances on these types of tests have been correlated with poor driving outcomes in older adults, especially those with dementia. Requiring a driving test after a certain age to include both a written test and a road test may be an option considered by each state.  Finally, continued input and guidance will be necessary from AARP, state licensing programs, transportation planners, and policymakers to meet the needs of our aging driving population.

It is appropriate to regard driving as an earned privilege and independent skill that is subject to change in later life. In general, having an attitude of constant adjustment until an older individual has to face the actual moment of driving cessation seems to be a positive approach. Without recognizing the magnitude of this transition, improving the quality of life in old age will be compromised. Keeping our nation’s roads safe while supporting older drivers is a notable goal to set now and for the future.

In Raleigh , NC, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, member of The Aging Life Care Association for a free 15 minute telephonic consultation, 919-803-8025

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Moving in With Family: Issues to Consider

_77183535_77183027~Helen Hunter

Too often, the decision to move into a family member’s home is made when a crisis develops or as a last resort. Sudden illness or injury strikes and the family is left without a plan for long-term care for their loved one. Experts suggest that all families discuss the possibility of the need for long-term care, and the possibility of family members living together as a solution to the daily care situation. The following are some items to discuss with all members of the family before making such a move.

Accessibility

Is the home “elder friendly”? It is necessary to review the setup of the home, in terms of stairs, additional bedrooms, bathrooms and general safety issues. If home modifications are needed, they should be completed prior to the move.

Care

How much care will the relative require? Daytime supervision, medication management, meal preparation and entertainment are just a few examples of important issues to consider. Assess the level of assistance needed now and in the foreseeable future. If the relative is in poor health, who will be in charge of providing the care? Will other family members share in the caregiving duties? Establish basic rules and a care routine to help prevent conflicts and caregiver burnout.

Emotions

How do family members get along with each other? How are conflicts dealt with? All families have their share of problems and each family handles them differently. The loss of independence is difficult for anyone and reactions or behavior change is to be expected. It is important to be able to talk about how everyone is feeling and encourage the relative to continue with a life of their own. Communication skills, including active listening, are necessary in handling and resolving conflicts successfully.

Finances

How will the change in household expenses be handled? An increase in family size usually means an increase in family expenses. Will the relative contribute? Are there other family members who can help with financial support?

Responsibilities

What is expected of the relative? What responsibilities will they have for care of the home? If there is a separate apartment, will everyone dine together? What about family outings – will the relative always be included?

Avoid the feeling that the situation is permanent.

Start with a limited “trial period,” then review the situation.

Once the move has been made to live together, it is very important for all family members to have continual open and honest communication with each other on all matters. Don’t hold in your feelings – both positive and negative feelings need to be shared.

If the health condition of the relative changes, and additional care is needed, it is crucial for the family to review the daily plan. If the situation requires help outside the family, there are a number of alternatives that the family and the relative can explore together. Make sure that the relative is included in decision making, if they are able. Some other options for care include: daily home health aide or homemaker care, which would also provide respite relief for family caregivers, home based community care programs, friends and neighbors, church outreach programs and dividing the care responsibilities among the family by rotating care, with the relative going to others’ homes, or by allowing other relatives to come into the home to provide the daily care.

Families who maintain open and honest communication and are willing to share in the financial and caregiver responsibilities for a needy relative can successfully reside together in the same home. Support can and should be a two-way street. Where better to get the daily support that we all need than from our family!

Contact a Geriatric Care Manager/Aging Life Care Professional™ www.rgcmgmt.com for a free 15 minutes telephonic consultation.

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Considerations for Caregivers

By Arthur N. Gottlieb

Caregiving is not for everyone. Remember, it’s not about you. If the relationship is too emotionally charged or patience is not your best virtue, find someone else to take over the primary role of caregiver.

It is important to reflect upon your motivations for being a caregiver and to make an honest assessment of your limitations.

As a caregiver you may at times feel powerless and sad. But an experience laden with difficulty may also provide opportunities to strengthen relationships with loved ones, and for the development of one’s own personal and spiritual growth.

About Visits
Focus on the quality of interactions with a loved one, not on the quantity.

Consistency and predictability of visitations are important, especially for the homebound.

Communication Skills
Learn the healer’s art of “bearing witness.” This means listening empathically and suppressing the urge to intervene with solutions.

When speaking to someone in bed or in a wheelchair, sit down or otherwise lower yourself so that you are at the same eye level as they are. This will distinguish you from others who remain standing, essentially looking and speaking down to them with the unspoken but inherent power differential this implies.

Choose your battles wisely. Attempting to address an irrational situation with rationality is generally futile, and will increase conflict with no resolution

The hearing impaired are often too prideful to admit that they haven’t heard most of what you just said, and are hopeful that they can eventually figure it out.

Those with mild cognitive impairment are still quite capable of comprehension, but the thought process may have slowed down a little. Be patient and speak slowly.

Restoring Dignity
Asking for a senior’s opinion about a non-provocative issue may offer them an opportunity to feel respected and still relevant.

At the dinner table when others are present, if a person needs to have their food cut for them, discreetly take the plate back into the kitchen and cut it there. This will add an unspoken but important element of dignity for those being cared for.

Residential and Financial Concerns
The attitudes and behaviors of many seniors are oftentimes driven by an unspoken fear of abandonment.

When parents do not feel that their children have made wise decisions for themselves, they are naturally hesitant to turn over financial control to them.

It was not uncommon for senior women to have deferred to their husbands’ judgment when choices were being made about financial and property issues. If now widowed, they may feel more comfortable acting in accordance with someone else’s say-so for important decision-making.

It may be illuminating to discover what memories a senior has of his or her own parent’s convalescence. What would they, as caregivers, have done differently? Had they promised themselves they would never go to a “nursing home”?

When a senior is facing the prospect of moving to a continuing care or assisted living community, speak to them about what they think this will be like. Many will have a stark vision of facilities from many years ago when options were relatively limited.

About Moodiness
Seniors will experience good days and bad days due to effects of pain, adjustment to medications and or emotional issues.

Seniors who seem short-tempered may be responding to the frustrating lack of control of not being able to think as quickly, and remember as well, as they once had.

Psychology of Seniors
Understand and be prepared to recognize the issues that trigger depression and anxiety for seniors.

Be sensitive to anniversary depressions. Birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays evoke memories of those who have passed, and independence lost.

For most, losing control of physical functioning is difficult. Experiencing the steady loss of friends and relatives leads to sadness and isolation. For those with dementia, witnessing the gradual loss of one’s own self can be the ultimate loneliness.

If a senior is grieving the loss of a loved one they think died yesterday, even if that person actually died years ago, their grief will be as deep and painful as though it just happened.  This is legitimate suffering and must be handled with empathy.

Oftentimes, a parent will have a set of expectations of how they deserve to be treated by their children based on the sacrifices they made on behalf of their own parents. When children do not meet these expectations, resentment, depression and various forms of acting out behavior are the result.

Some seniors harbor lifelong prejudices that were carefully concealed. It can be quite distressing for a caregiver to discover that their parent has “all of a sudden” developed a shocking taste for racial bias. The gradual loss of mental functioning allows one to become “dis-inhibited”; thoughts, formerly suppressed due to social constraints, are now out in the open. This applies for latent sexual desires as well, especially for men.

Denial
If the person you are caring for continually puts off medical diagnosis, they are using the defense of denial in the service of their fear. If they are never diagnosed, then they never have to face the reality of being sick.

For Senior Men
More often than not, senior men went along with the social arrangements made by their wives. If a man becomes a widower, he may feel out of place socializing with others on his own. Additionally, since women outnumber men of this age group, a man may feel he is betraying the memory of his wife when engaging in social situations involving mostly women.

Religion and Spirituality
It is important to understand what a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs are. Does he or she believe in an afterlife? Are they concerned over what is in store for them when their mortal life ends? Are they disillusioned  or angry with God?

Restore and Maintain Balance
It is essential for you, as a caregiver, to leave time for your own introspection and emotional balance. Engage in activities that serve to cleanse toxins and stress from the body and spirit.

Engage the help of others when necessary to de-stress and achieve perspective.

Rest and relaxation are critical in order to prevent “caregiver burnout.”

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management Aging Life Care Professional  www.rgcmgmt.com

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Geriatric Care Manager—>Aging Life Care Professional

WHAT IS AN AGING LIFE CARE PROFESSIONAL?

An Aging Life Care Professional, also known as a geriatric care manager, is a health and human services specialist who acts as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. The Aging Life Care Professional is educated and experienced in any of several fields related to aging life care / care management, including, but not limited to nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.

The Aging Life Care Professional assists clients in attaining their maximum functional potential. The individual’s independence is encouraged, while safety and security concerns are also addressed. Aging Life Care Professionals are able to address a broad range of issues related to the well-being of their client. They also have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality, and availability of resources in their communities.

Aging Life Care Professionals become the “coach” and families or clients the “team captain,” giving families the time to focus on relationships rather than the stress. In Raleigh, Durham, and surrounding area, contact Raleigh Geriatric Care Management, an Aging Life Care member.


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Are You the Middle of a Triple Decker Sandwich?

Kathy Birkett, Senior Care Corner

Many baby boomers have grown to think of themselves as part of what has been termed the “sandwich generation”, caring for their aging parents or grandparents and their children at the same time. Calling that simply a sandwich overlooks a very important part of the equation, unfortunately the same part many boomers overlook — yourself.

Sharing information about the Triple Decker Sandwich Generation is an attempt to get boomer caregivers to realize the portion of the sandwich in the middle needs care as well. So often we find family caregivers putting their own needs on hold to address the sometime overwhelming needs of their children and senior loved ones.

No one in the multiple layers of the sandwich benefit when a caregiver ignores her or his own needs to focus totally on the needs of others. For some reason, though, we have been taught to feel like we’re being selfish when we think of ourselves. Just the opposite is true however.  When we take time to take care of ourselves, we put ourselves in a better position to give our best to others.

What happens when you shove your needs aside for too long? There are many reports of stress related disease and depression among boomer caregivers. Certainly being the middle “deck” of the sandwich can contribute to that. Focusing on the health care needs of others but ignoring your own can have serious consequences, especially for those entering a time in their lives where medical visits should be growing more – rather than less – frequent.

Being a Caregiver to Yourself

Taking care of that middle deck of the sandwich doesn’t mean simply looking after yourself, but those aspects of your life that are also necessary to your well being.

  • caring for a relationship with a spouse, partner or friends who help complete your life
  • putting appropriate focus on the job that provides the income needed to support the other aspects of your life (and hopefully some fulfillment)
  • hobbies, sports or other activities that let you get away from the rest of your life for a while
  • anything other aspect of your life that is important to you and allows you to decompress

The first step in caring for the middle deck of your family sandwich is to recognize that you and your needs are important and need to be met. Take some time for yourself and think about those needs putting plans in place to address them, just as you do to meet the needs of your children and senior loved ones for whom you care.

How do you care for yourself and your needs when it already feels like there are too few hours in each day? Can you substitute technology for some of the effort you put in already? There are a growing numbers of devices and programs that bright people have developed to meet the needs of people like you. There might just be an app for that!

In order to fully care for yourself to care for your family, you have to give yourself permission to put yourself in the sandwich instead of on the side of the plate. Some days will be harder than others to find time for your needs, but don’t give up. You will feel stronger when you have met your needs and be more able to be a loving and competent caregiver to the rest of the sandwich layers in your life.

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Caregiver Burnout

By Dr. M. Ross Seligson

Being able to cope with the strains and stresses of being a Caregiver is part of the art of Caregiving In order to remain healthy so that we can continue to be Caregivers, we must be able to see our own limitations and learn to care for ourselves as well as others.

It is important for all of us to make the effort to recognize the signs of burnout, In order to do this we must be honest and willing to hear feedback from those around us. This is especially important for those caring for family or friends. Too often Caregivers who are not closely associated with the healthcare profession get overlooked and lost in the commotion of medical emergencies and procedures. Otherwise close friends begin to grow distant, and eventually the Caregiver is alone without a support structure. We must allow those who do care for us, who are interested enough to say something, to tell us about our behavior, a noticed decrease in energy or mood changes.

Burnout isn’t like a cold. You don’t always notice it when you are in its clutches. Very much like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of burnout can begin surfacing months after a traumatic episode. The following are symptoms we might notice in ourselves, or others might say they see in us. Think about what is being said, and consider the possibility of burnout.

  • Feelings of depression.
  • A sense of ongoing and constant fatigue.
  • Decreasing interest in work.
  • Decrease in work production.
  • Withdrawal from social contacts.
  • Increase in use of stimulants and alcohol.
  • Increasing fear of death.
  • Change in eating patterns.
  • Feelings of helplessness.

Strategies to ward off or cope with burnout are important. To counteract burnout, the following specific strategies are recommended

  • Participate in a support network.
  • Consult with professionals to explore burnout issues.
  • Attend a support group to receive feedback and coping strategies.
  • Vary the focus of caregiving responsibilities if possible (rotate responsibilities with family members).
  • Exercise daily and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Establish “quiet time” for meditation.
  • Get a weekly massage
  • Stay involved in hobbies.

By acknowledging the reality that being a Caregiver is filled with stress and anxiety, and understanding the potential for burnout, Caregivers can be forewarned and guard against this debilitating condition. As much as it is said, it can still not be said too often, the best way to be an effective Caregiver is to take care of yourself.

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Should You Tell a “Fiblet” to a Parent With Dementia?

From our earliest days we are taught never to lie, especially to our mother or father. However, a recent survey of aging experts reveals that telling a “fiblet” can actually be therapeutic when adult children are faced with telling painful truths to aging parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) recently surveyed 285 professional geriatric care managers about the most common and difficult situations faced by families who are helping aging parents. Geriatric care managers help these families deal with some of the most sensitive and challenging issues.

More than 90 percent of the professional geriatric care managers surveyed said they have used or recommended the “fiblet” strategy to relieve stress and anxiety and protect the self-esteem of an elderly person. The situation cited most by experts in the survey as an appropriate and helpful use of a “fiblet” is when a senior is refusing clearly needed care or assistance at their home. For example, telling an aging parent with Alzheimer’s that a paid caregiver is coming to their home for their spouse’s benefit or for another concrete role can help the elder maintain pride and reduce anxiety.

The following were identified by care managers as situations when it can actually be therapeutic to tell a “fiblet” to an aging parent:

  • When they are refusing needed care and assistance at home. Telling them the caregiver is there for their spouse’s benefit or for another concrete role can help them maintain pride and reduce anxiety (identified by 83 percent of those surveyed).
  • When they can no longer safely drive, yet insist on doing so. Telling them their car is in the shop getting repaired can reduce confrontations (68 percent).
  • When knowing the cost of in-home care prevents them from accepting the needed service (68 percent).
  • When it would only cause worry and stress to tell them about family problems they can’t solve, e.g., unemployment, financial upheaval, divorce, drug abuse, incarceration (64 percent).

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease, and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. Americans feel increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia.

“A therapeutic ‘fiblet’ is just that—it is therapeutic because it calms and reassures, reduces anxiety and protects self-esteem,” said NAPGCM President Emily Saltz. She added, “You would use a ‘fiblet’ only with parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Geriatric Care Managers Share Their Experiences

As part of the survey, geriatric care managers were asked to provide comments about their own experiences in recommending the use of a “fiblet.” A universal theme of the comments was that family members should navigate this clearly delicate area with help from a support group or from an experienced professional care manager. Care managers also stressed that one should only use a “fiblet” to protect and support a family member rather than for personal benefit or gain.

The following are from among more than 200 stories collected through the survey about geriatric care managers’ experiences of using a “fiblet” in the course of their practices:

  • “I’ve used therapeutic ‘fiblets’ in many instances, but probably (most often) when the death of a loved one is beyond a person’s capacity to understand. For example, if a person is looking for a deceased loved one, I tell them that I haven’t seen that person today but when I do, I’ll tell them that the person is looking for them. This serves to validate their experience and provide reassurance that someone cares.”
  • “When an adult son was diagnosed with cancer, the decision was made to not inform his frail, memory-impaired nursing home-bound father of the diagnosis. At the same time, the son increased his visits to his father during treatment, as he had more free time available for visits. The son and father enjoyed more time together without stressing the father with a scary diagnosis.”
  • “A client wanted to see their mother who had passed away many years ago. Instead of telling her that her mother had died and causing her to grieve again, we told her she was out and would return later. She accepted that and went on with her day.”

Source: The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM). NAPGCM was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families. Geriatric care managers are professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. For more information, visit http://www.caremanager.org. –

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management in Raleigh, NC  www.rgcmgmt.com

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