By Amy M. Collins, editor
A few weeks ago I visited my grandmother, who suffers from dementia, at her assisted living home. In her room, my family and I noticed a complicated form with instructions for residents to get their flu vaccination. Residents had to fill it out, sign it, and bring it to the person administering the vaccine on a certain date. For my grandmother, this would be impossible—she can no longer remember what day it is, when or if she has eaten, who she’s spoken to within the last five minutes, or where her room is located.
When this concern was broached with the front desk of the facility, they seemed to be adamant that she needed to have the form with her on the day of vaccination. We could, of course, help her fill it out—but since it had been given directly to my grandmother, who was to say we would have ever learned of it except by chance? And who would make sure she brought it with her on the day of vaccination?
While the facility offers assisted living, they often remark that they are not a “dementia facility.” Looking around, however, one is hard-pressed to find a resident without some form of dementia. In our case, something was eventually worked out about the form, but it was frustrating that a home that deals so regularly with people with memory issues can’t understand why certain requests are unreasonable.
And it’s not just the home that has this problem—many health care facilities do as well. A large responsibility is placed on people with dementia when they are asked by a clinician to give an account of what brought them to the facility. Depending on the person’s stage of dementia, she or he may not be capable of answering, of being a proactive patient navigating the complicated health care sea. These patients are not likely to remember their personal histories. They don’t remember where they have to be and when, or what happened to warrant their hospital visit.
Last summer, for example, my grandmother had a fall. As part of her facility’s protocol, she was brought to the ED, where, until I got there, she was left alone to give her own personal account of the event. Dementia is listed in her health record, but I’ve seen multiple providers still ask her what’s happened or what seems to be wrong—questions she cannot accurately answer. On this particular occasion, I caught the end of what she was telling the nurse when I arrived. Read the rest of this entry ?