Some patients who seem to have Alzheimer's disease are actually suffering from symptoms caused by the wrong medications, a nurse practitioner at the Utah State Hospital said.
"It is really important to look at the medication the patients are on," said Peggy Grusendorf. "Certain medications cause real dementia and illusion in elderly patients." Using the right medication or no medication at all may cure the problem, she said.Grusendorf, a participant in the "Understanding Alzheimer's Disease" seminar Tuesday, said the first thing the state hospital does when patients come in is take them off all medications and monitor them.
"They come in because they are agitating someone somehow," she said. "We look to find the cause. Many times when we take them off their medication we find that they are not `crazy' anymore."
During her presentation, Grusendorf explained the different diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease and gave family members suggestions for dealing with the Alzheimer's patient.
Before the diagnosis, the state hospital puts patients through a number of tests ranging from the glucose tolerance to a brain biopsy.
"After all the tests, if they continue to be demented they are diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, but we will never know until an autopsy is performed," Grusendorf said.
The key to dealing with the behavior of an Alzheimer's patient is to know what they were like before, she said.
"It is most difficult to deal with patients that have illusions or are suspicious of family members. You try to understand them, but when it's a family member, it's hard to remember 24 hours a day. Just remove whatever is causing the problem."
Grusendorf told a story about one Alzheimer's patient who at times imagined his wife was "that boy" and would chase her around the house trying to kill her. She removed herself from the situation by locking herself in the bathroom.
Alzheimer's patients are also known to repeat words and motions. They are easily agitated and like to hoard, cling onto or fondle things. They should be given something good to hoard like coupons or bolts, she said.
A patient who is easily agitated can be given a simple task like raking leaves or vacuuming.
Some patients become preoccupied with one task and have a tendency to put things away. But sometimes where they put those things is disastrous - like putting dentures in a toilet or garbage can, she said.
Grusendorf said Alzheimer's patients may seem childlike but should not be treated like children. She advised family members to keep them on an adult level and let them be involved in decision-making when possible.
"Don't give them complex directions or compound sentences. It confuses them and agitates them because they forget. Use low tones, short words and short sentences.
"As the chief caretaker, it is important to take time off and get away from the situation for a while, even if it's only a few hours. You have a life, too. It's difficult when it is a loved one you have lived with for 30 to 60 years."
The most important thing to say to family members dealing with an Alzheimer's patient is that it's a tough role, but they need time for themselves and should try to cope as best as they know how, Grusendorf said.
The seminar, at the Excelsior Hotel, was sponsored by the state hospital, Carewest Orem Nursing Center and Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center.