Kristy: Managing Delirium from a Caregiver’s Perspective
At 68, my mom is losing her battle with Alzheimer’s. It is not fair and to make matters worse, she has endured a couple of painful surgeries in the past couple of years. She is a strong woman, but after breaking her hip at a swimming class, she has had two separate, but related surgeries. First, the doctors had to put pins in place, but then the pain was too much for her to bear and she ended up needing a total hip replacement. For anybody this is a lot of major surgery, but for a senior citizen struggling with Alzheimer’s it is just that much more – for my mom and for my brother and me, as caregivers – to manage.
My brother and I have partnered all along to help my mom. We try to be two steps ahead of any needs she may have. That’s really important when caring for Alzheimer’s patients. We were organized and made lists of her medications to discuss with the doctors prior to her first surgery. We made sure she had someone to be with throughout the process and tried to make her feel as secure as possible. We tried to do everything “right.” Experts will tell you these are important and helpful steps, but still patients of her age and particularly in her condition can experience negative effects from surgical procedures and anesthesia at higher rates than younger patients. My mom was one of those patients who experienced delirium.
After the first surgery, my mom’s delirium lasted a full week. We found it was really important to have a caregiver with her to advocate for her needs through this experience, and the doctors worked with us to ensure she could remain hospitalized. It was important for her to be hospitalized because it was impossible to properly care for her at home in that condition. It was frightening to see my mom have no idea where she was or what was happening, but we were grateful for the medical care she received to get her through the experience.
Several months later, my mom lost all of her short-term memory and it became impossible for us to care for her at home any longer. She moved into a specialty care assisted living facility that made sure she was hydrated, well-nourished, that her mind was stimulated and that she was as healthy overall as possible. Unfortunately, the pain in her hip remained at an intolerable level and she required total hip surgery. She again experienced delirium post-operation. However, this time, the duration was shorter. I credit this to the fact that the facility was taking such good care of my mom prior to the surgery. She entered the surgery as healthy as possible.
One thing my brother and I would change, if possible, was to spend specific time talking with the anesthesiologist caring for my mom. We would have asked more questions and I believe it would have helped us prepare even more for managing through the delirium. That said, we had excellent medical care and appreciate the terrific work the entire medical team has done to help our mom.