Linden Oaks at Edward is one of the few behavioral health hospitals in the Chicago area offering inpatient care dedicated to adults 60 and older. There’s also a program track for adults 50 to 60.
“We’ve found the older patients prefer these smaller groups over our general program for 18- to 49-year-olds. They’re more likely to be with people who share similar issues,” says Zenny Floresca, a nurse manager on Linden Oaks’ geriatrics unit.
What the older patient might have in common with their younger counterparts is a struggle with depression, chemical dependency, anxiety or other common mental health disorders. But dementia is one problem that’s much more common in the 60-plus group, though it can strike younger people as a result of head injuries, certain illnesses or early onset Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is a group of symptoms that may include problems with memory and other mental functions, trouble performing routine tasks and personality changes.
“Unlike dementia, a case of delirium is temporary, and may be caused by dehydration or an infection,” according to Floresca. “That’s why ruling out physical causes is the first step in assessing someone with symptoms that could mean dementia.”
Certain types of dementia worsen over time. Alzheimer’s disease, which affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans, is the most common cause of this type of dementia in people older than 64.
“An inpatient stay for dementia is needed if the person is posing a hazard to themselves or others, or if their mental state makes it difficult to perform daily tasks, such as getting dressed,” Floresca says. “Some patients may need to be hospitalized while their medications are being adjusted. We want to help the patients to feel better and become ready to safely return to their homes or long-term care facilities.”
Dementia patients may experience periods of extreme agitation, especially late in the day.
“We don’t restrain these patients. A non-stimulating environment such as our sensory room, which features soothing decor and music, often can help,” Floresca says. “Participating in the programs other patients enjoy can also be calming. A visit from a therapy dog, a spirituality group or a creative activity, such as sculpting or reminiscing. We encourage family members to visit and participate in activities. Caring for the geriatric patient, especially those with dementia, is not just from the book, it’s from the heart.”
In keeping with that philosophy, Katie Andersen and other staff from Linden Oaks offer the Virtual Dementia Tour at area senior centers, memory care clinics and assisted living facilities. Participants perform assigned tasks in a cluttered room while wearing gear that generates confusion and discomfort, including bulky gloves, shoes with popcorn inserts, swim goggles with hazy lenses and a headset playing distracting noises.
Participants experience feelings common to dementia when coupled with other ailments fairly common in aging, such as arthritis, neuropathy and macular degeneration. Staff at these facilities and caregivers of relatives with dementia are invited to participate in the simulations.
“This experience gives participants first-hand insight into the frustrations people with dementia face daily,” Andersen says.
For more information, visit www.edward.org/geriatrics. For immediate assistance and a free, confidential mental health assessment, call the Linden Oaks 24/7 Help Line at 630-305-5500.
Health Aware is a weekly column submitted by Edward Hospital.