An emergency doctor at Peace Arch Hospital, says it’s becoming more common for the department to treat dementia patients after they’re found lost, wandering the community.
“We’re seeing more and more of it now because we have an aging population,” Paulina Gasiorowsa said. “It’s just the beginning, unfortunately.”
Gasiorowsa says her medical experience doesn’t include a lot of geriatric care, but she’s a frontline doctor when a confused senior is brought into the hospital.
“If they’re lucky they’re found by another civilian person who’s seeing a confused elderly person wandering around, often not wearing appropriate clothing for the temperature.”
When an elderly, disoriented person is brought into the ER, doctors have to find the cause of the confusion before writing it off as dementia-related.
“When the family comes in, then we find out that this is (the patient’s) baseline. They are not more confused than they were a few days ago and their disease has progressed.”
After a doctor confirms that an ER patient has dementia, one of the first steps is to calm the person down, she said.
“They don’t really snap out of it but they can become a bit more calm… Usually when I have a patient with dementia my goal is to get them home as quick as possible because I know the longer they stay the more agitated they will be in the unfamiliar place.”
Earlier this month, White Rock RCMP contacted Peace Arch News to promote BC Silver Alert, a program that circulates information on missing individuals if they have dementia or other cognitive disabilities that could put them at risk.
Shortly after the article was published, public relations specialist Serena Bonneville contacted PAN to promote the Missing Senior Network. The tool, launched by Home Instead Senior Care, enables family caregivers to alert a network of friends, family and businesses to be on the lookout for a missing senior via text or email.
The programs, Gasiorowsa said, are important, but equally so is the education. Chaos in the household or disruption of sleep cycles are known to cause a patient to wander.
“We stress the importance of prevention of (dementia patients) wandering, but also having a system in place of where to look for their loved ones. Often, they’re going somewhere, these patients… In a way, it’s very hard to predict, but often they’re going somewhere like the home where they raised their children, or the place they used to work.”
Gasiorowsa says it’s common for dementia patients to act out their old memories, or “sort of behave like they crave their old life.”
She said it takes a level of patience to care for a loved one who suffers from dementia, and it’s important to know your limitations.
Gasiorowsa said paranoia is a dementia-related symptom that could challenge family members.
“Often they will accuse a family member of stealing from them. That’s often hard for family members to understand. Even though you could have a million doctors tell you that it’s normal, it’s part of the disease. But, when it’s your mom who you have known your entire life, behaving erratically or accusing you of things, it’s hard to digest that and make peace of it.”
According to BC Seniors Advocate, approximately 20 per cent of B.C. seniors over the age of 85 have dementia.