Pets and Quality of Life

With so many forms of dementia—it is increasingly difficult for caregivers to provide quality of life as their loved ones enter the final stages of brain change. Strategies that once worked, no longer do. Research shows a consensus on what caregivers’ value for their loved one at end-of-life:

  • family involvement
  • living in the present
  •  pragmatic expectations
  • autonomy and individuality1

Yet family involvement often diminishes as the loved one declines; expectations are often not realistic, and autonomy limited due to physical and cognitive changes. 

Several studies found that individuals in later stage dementia were positively affected by animal-assisted interventions.2 In a study comparing nursing home residents who received a 30-minute session twice a week with a companion-trained dog had significantly lower depression scores than the control group. The dog group showed a significant increase on quality of life ratings also. 

Companion pets have been shown to not only impact the individual with dementia’s mental health but also physical health.3 Studies showed companion pets were associated with marked increases in physical activity and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate variability.

If orchestrating a trained dog visit or having a companion pet is not feasible, consider a robotic pet.  A meta-analysis of numerous studies showed use of a robotic pet with people with dementia was associated with a significant decline in behaviors and psychological symptoms of dementia including depression.4  Robotic pets are available on-line with a price range manageable for most budgets.

As your loved one moves into the final stage of brain decline, comfort can come in the form of a pet to touch and cuddle; often providing the whole family with a sense of well-being.

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Fall In Florida

A recent meme beautifully stated “trees are God’s way of showing us that good things can come from letting go.” Our Florida falls are less about surrender and more about preparation. Though I think the two work in synergy. Coming off of Dorian’s energies, I realized how little I had prepared for fall in Florida. We had just changed RV’s , trading engine for size. Meaning we would not be able to hit the road with our home. I was in MD. We had not provisioned. We had no evac plans though in an A zone for evacuation. Mike was prepping, but we were worried . . . The provisioning I had was the bevy of professionals who were committed to the survival and security of Mike and I. I had my team in place.

Having a diagnosis of dementia, is like living life in the path of a hurricane. There are predictable changes that will affect our home, our security and our relationship. Short of another diagnosis overtaking dementia’s path, there will be categorical change. Like hurricane season, a dementia diagnosis will require both preparation and surrender.

Preparation means education, consultation and training. Dr. Cate Dementia Coach will

  • Calm your fears and provide expert coaching on preparation
  • Train you to adapt to dementia changes
  • Provide the best strategies and resources to thrive despite the diagnosis

Realizing you need help means letting go of your fear:

  • Fear that others will know (they already do);
  • Fear that you will be unable to afford help
  • Fear of knowing the truth of dementia’s path

If you are living with dementia either as an individual or a caregiver, start preparation–call or email Dr. Cate as a first step in being ahead of the categorical changes ahead.


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Not There Yet

This is a common refrain. A caregiver asks Dr. Cate for dementia guidance. I answer a specific question and then outline strategic plans they may want to consider. The response is always “We are not there yet.”

The question to ask yourself is “where is there?” When your relationship is enough overwhelmed with brain change to ask for help—where are you? As a caregiver myself, I hear myself saying “not there yet”. This is an answer that comes from my desire to be anywhere but here—and my fear of there. It is my fear of financial struggle, and my fear of needing to adapt even more than I already have. But fear will keep me stuck in an increasingly difficult reality. And stuck for a caregiver leads to failing self-care; failing health and, in over 60% of Alzheimer’s caregivers, death.

So let’s not go there. Let’s open ourselves to solutions that are offered now even if we are not sure we need them yet. In over 40 years of experience, I have never seen anyone get help before they needed it.

This disease is progressive and unrelenting. Instead what I have seen is those who were “not there yet” are suddenly in a crisis with few options. The crisis inevitably leads to reactive decisions that are regretted.

Let Dr. Cate be your go-to for more than the one quick question. Come to Dr. Cate for the game plan development; the team building; and the on-the-job training that will minimize the crises and the reactive decisions. Then when you are there, I guarantee a much bigger scrapbook of positive memories and far fewer regrets.

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Objectivity & Perspective

This month has been a big month for me because I was challenged to practice what I preach. I needed objectivity for Mike, something I have none of, simply because I desire for him what may not always be in his best interest. A looming neurology apptmnt and my business coach’s reading of my last blog . . . . congealed into reaching out to a trusted professional whom Mike adores. The day of his apptmnt with his “au pair” as he calls her was both freeing for me and worrisome. I enjoyed my marketing calls without worry of rushing back to rush to the tension of yet another fruitless neurologist appointment.

I had provided a detailed list of what I wanted tested, answered, etc. I was hopeful. Until I was almost home, then I felt like it had been his first day at school–how did it go? What would I walk into?

But I parked a block from home and connected with our care manager. She gave a glowing report. She had accomplished what would have taken me another two years to accomplish.


She is a highly trained, highly observant, and highly objective professional. Mike did not fight her on each question, refute her statements. Instead he bantered, he probably flirted, and he was assessed and observed by the neurologist for a full two hours. A record in our experience. Next steps are in place for driving, for neuropsych, for MRI. That night he diligently started taking the medicine he had fought me about for the last month. Compliance. When I asked him how it went, he was quite pleased with the apptmnt, best yet. And the “au pair”, well over the moon.

When it comes to our loved one, we are unable to be objective no matter what degree, experience or commitment we possess. Our loved ones can divert, mislead and charm the neurologist, the neuropsychologist, the nurse. Our caregiving stress becomes the dominant take-home for the doctor. We can leave frustrated and empty-handed.

This walk of Dr Cate is one of honor and humility. I am honored to be the trusted and objective dementia coach for individuals and families. I am humbled to be on this path with my spouse.

My care team is expanding, and will continue to expand–because I know that a strong coach and a strong team can pull us through the toughest times.

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As a business owner, a woman, an individual, a mother, a caregiver—sometimes I forget who I am. I have found the anecdote is daily time in nature, practicing mindfulness. The beauty of this is I am gentle enough with myself to allow this to not include a certain place, pose or structure. This morning’s church was at Lee’s Travel Park pool. By myself, with the company of a mockingbird. Back floating, water-bugging, floating and watching this fella belt out one tune after another. A repertoire fit for a king or queen.
Perhaps he was waiting for a drink, or maybe simply bng present in nature–doing his job, singing his heart out. Caregivers often lose track of who they are. Our lives seem overtaken by the alien dementia that inhabits the loves of our lives. But a mockingbird can bring you back to yourself. Song can bring you back to yourself. Take time to listen for your Who.

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Independence without Direction

My trip to MD is always a highlight of my month, but this one was particularly interesting due to a phone collapse. Bricked is the tech term. It was evident first by the android image on its back with a belly flap open and legos showing through. Then Nidric from Google support confirmed, yep, brick. So my marketing efforts got interesting. Even visiting family got interesting. So much so that I thought it called for a blog.

I grew up in MD, have lived in FL for 15 years but have been a frequent visitor because of family and now business. But I have never had a good sense of direction. N, S,E,W—mean little to my brain, short of what’s South of MD. An example, I started the blog before leaving for the airport and got lost for 40 minutes on the way there. I had carefully written them down, but alas the directions I wrote were to an overflow rental car lot, not the rental car return lot. So I turned around and fumbled through. First reminding myself that I had been on 100 E, so now would need to go 100W. This after traveling far enough to feel very lost on Hanover Rd. All of these roads and directions were familiar, yet I was lost.

The same thing happened on my way home from family. I missed an exit, it was dark, I was so close, and yet. This must be what it feels like in early stages of dementia. So much is familiar and yet, not. I remember that, but not –what is that? I saw a bus with the company logo, I turned and followed it. Until it dawned on me that it was going away from the company. I would see a familiar landmark but then not have it in context to the journey.

And then the anxiety and the fear that accompanies feeling so close and yet missing the mark. The map I had was not focused on the area I was in. Even finding a pen and paper and writing directions seemed archaic and not trustworthy. I honestly limited my time on the road based on the lack of directional assist.

Is it any wonder that an individual with dementia is often more comfortable not leaving the house?

Is it any wonder that a caregiver becomes their anchor, their entire focus–their guardian angel?

They shadow us for safety. We are the GPS, the smartphone and Google all rolled into one. And yes, they forget that we need recharging to do it well.

On a positive note, I was far more outward focus. I peacefully sat at the Southwest gate with only people watching to entertain me. On the plane, I guiltlessly slept, with no call to do work or listen to meditation. Just a chance to be.

The bad news, no one to know when I was lost . . . or had landed.

A few days without a phone and without GPS gave me a window into dementia world. It is good to be home, though small and tight with need. I am purchasing a MD paper map to reside in my luggage for the next trip, just in case.

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Orchestrating Self-Care

When a caregiver first receives the news of their loved one’s diagnosis, there is already a history of compensating for behaviors and memory change.  As a caregiver, you have already been a one-man band working alone to orchestrate life as it once was. Your loved one’s cognitive changes have changed the overall harmony into discordant noise.

Research shows that dementia puts caregivers at risk of overburdening. You understand this. In reality it probably was your own feeling of burden that precipitated seeking a diagnosis. Another statement that might resonate with you as a caregiver: “Caring for a relative or friend with dementia may lead to serious mental health problems.”1 What are the mechanisms that cause all this discord?

Caregivers report the strain of managing change.

  • Constantly having to switch
  • Keeping vigil for safety and social appropriateness
  • On-going need to re-direct or distract
  • Having others see a different side of the person
  • Knowing what to do but being unable to do it

Study has shown that a higher amount of caregiver involvement in care is significantly related to negative health outcomes for the caregiver.2 In fact, on average one hour extra of care per day was associated with a significant decrease in psychological well-being, self-rated overall health and health care use.  Caregiver variables that showed association with use of more health services included: older age; being married, higher education; depression; higher functional disability needs; less activity days due to illness; more medications; more symptoms and less hours on duty.

So, it is not just the dementia diagnosis affecting the harmony, but the changes and the personal variables together that produce unmanageable dynamics. The one-man band is overworked, underpaid and ready to fold.  So how do we add instruments and players to bring back harmony?

The Journal of Holistic Nursing published a study of self-care strategies that included self-nourishment, spiritual reliance; and seeking information about dementia.4 Self nourishment might include face-to-face coaching and tailored web-based modules as were shown successful in the study “Partners in Balance.”5

Orchestrating self-care might include guided self-help internet interventions6.  Your self-care strategies might be more basic:  looking for distractions, getting rest, and discussing feelings and experiences.7

No matter the study, all the outcomes point to the need for dementia caregivers to orchestrate self-care.  Let the new year be one of adding to your band.

Reach beyond the familiar solo to strategies you have never tried before. Maybe it is meditation, Tai Chi, or a new internet opportunity to grow or to express.  We must grow faster than the dementia progresses in order to achieve some kind of harmony.

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Hospitalization and Dementia

If your loved one with dementia has to be hospitalized, whole new problems present themselves. The home-like environment they have known either with you or in a memory care community has no equal in the world of hospital care. Often the very problem your loved one is admitted for is magnified by the emergency itself. Whether you drive them, or they are transported the experience is not one they can process. From gurneys to men in uniform, to people in white coats—all of these things and images can be interpreted with a fight or flight response.

Most of us have had few experiences with hospitals and those who have, may not have fond memories. Add brain failure to this, and the situation easily becomes unmanageable. Common responses to hospitalization are delusions, defined as the belief that something is occurring that is contradicted by reality. Often delusions are the impetus for fight or flight, with an individual convinced that someone is out to harm them with common procedures like intravenous medications, bedrails and even hospital gowns. Delusions are in fact common for individuals hospitalized regardless of a dementia diagnosis. One study termed the range of delusions as Cognitive Spectrum Disorder (CSD).1 CSD was present in 38.5% of all patients regardless of dementia diagnosis. Of the sample, 16.7% had delirium with no cognitive impairment. Because this study was retrospective, it was shown that individuals with dementia had the longest length of stay and a higher mortality rate one-year post-hospitalization. Sobering realities.

Additional research looking at behaviors related to healthcare utilization adds an interesting perspective. The study links the informant’s distress to an increase in negative behavior from their loved one with dementia which in turn resulted in an increase in healthcare utilization and costs.2 The take-home is that it is our distress as caregivers that magnifies their negative behaviors including delusions.

So how do we navigate hospitalizations? First, we prepare for one before it occurs.

A Hospitalization Supply List:
• Have an up-to-date medication list prepared and accessible.
• Along with this, have a list of those friends, family members and professionals that are a part of your care constellation. These are your go-to people who you can turn to for support, service, direction. If you have a smart phone, mark these as favorites, so that they populate your phone screen quickly in case of emergency.
• Reassuring objects like a favorite book, mp3 with favorite music, favorite puzzle book—anything that will give your loved one comfort
• Snack, paper and pencil, extra cash,
• An extra set of clothes, depends, wipes

Second, and most importantly, your loved one when hospitalized needs 24/7 personalized care. That might be you, might be a paid caregiver, and it might be provided by the hospital. Remember your loved one is already compromised by health changes that are precipitating a hospital visit. The environment, the procedures, the noise, the light all add up to a hostile environment. Which translates to fight or flight for any one of us regardless of brain failure. Your preparedness can cut the stay short and limit the impact.

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Listening Tree

You may have noticed that I am very fond of trees. From childhood on, they have offered me refuge from fears and solace for racing thoughts and worries. Well this Tuesday I lost one of my favorite trees. We live in a small park sharing trees lot-to-lot. But there was one tree that I have been particularly attached to–my listening tree.

This beautiful oak resided to the left of Lee’s pool and had done so for many years. Much like the Gulfport tree highlighted above. She would sprinkle the pool liberally with leaves, it is true. But that just made swimming that much more magical to my way of thinking.Chlorine plus leaves–a win-win. Swimming for me is always done head up, eyes to the sky. Which put my tree in the range of sight for most of my laps. As I pulled myself through the water, I would silently talk to her, reviewing good things, praying through some struggles, overall inventoring my life. Seeing this tree as a sign of God’s presence. She always stood proud, majestic, allowing the squirrels and birds to flitter and fuss without any resistance. She was deeply rooted and always present.

On Monday I noted to her that the summer had been hard on her. Her full branches were scanty this year compared to last. Her leaves fewer. On Tuesday as I drove in, I saw the road blocked. And then Mike told me about her loss of a big branch Monday night. As I drove by on Tuesday evening, she was already being dissected. I mourned her loss. Perhaps I was mourning the loss of a husband who understands, dreams set aside, or the loss of a mom who had died fourteen years ago the week past. It all came out with the cutting of my tree.

Several days out, I can be grateful for the tree’s presence, her strength. I am circumspect on the circle of life. And grateful that she was a symbol of an unconditionally loving God.

So now I look to the sky when swimming–knowing that deeply rooted and always present can be found in other natural forms. And the sky is the limit for my prayers.

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Validate Instead of Negate

At this time of year hauntings are not just in old homes.  If you are living with an individual with dementia, you may well be faced with ghosts and imaginings that are convincingly real in presentation. Some forms of dementia are more likely to have delusions and hallucinations as symptoms. Your challenge as a caregiver is to validate rather than negate the presence of the man in the bathroom or the re-written biography that includes new players, new scenarios.

It is helpful to define both a delusion and a hallucination. Delusions in dementia world are false beliefs.1 When your 94 yr old mother states that she is waiting for her mother to come home, this qualifies as a delusion.  What is critical for you to understand is that negating her belief will not work. In fact, to tell her that her mother died in 1999 will actually make things much worse.

Similarly, hallucinations are better left uncorrected. Hallucinations are incorrect sensory perceptions of objects or events, often visual or auditory. When the bumps in the laminate floor are called bugs, or the sound of a storm outside is called kids fighting—these are hallucinations.

Root causes of either delusions or hallucinations can include medical concerns like presence of a Urinary tract infection or a medication complication as well as social and environmental concerns. Questions to consider:

  • has there been a new medication added recently?
  • Have there been new people or changes in routine or environment?
  • Are there visual changes, or lighting needs?
  • Could it be sundowning, common to dementia, often at sundown and based on circadian rhythm2

Negative behaviors are often based in an unmet need that the individual can no longer express. This could be a physical need like thirst, hunger, rest, toilet or a social need like boredom, overstimulation. Take note of changes in the environment, routine, people in your loved one’s care circle. Often these trigger delusions or hallucinations. If you can determine the trigger, you will have

Delusions are often founded in the individual’s biography. Your loved one may be processing a piece of life story that has not yet been resolved. Because of the cognitive changes, the processing is garbled.  There may well have been someone under her bed at one point, or under someone she love’s bed. Whether you are aware of the biographical roots or not, the delusion will not dissipate if you dispute it. In fact, she will only get more agitated and adamant. Instead you need to validate.

Naomi Feil, a pioneer in dementia care shared this strategy in her book Validation Breakthrough.3 Her daughter, Vicki de Klerk-Rubin, reinforces it in the book Validation Techniques for Dementia Care.4 To validate your loved one’s delusion seems counter-intuitive unless you consider it from her perspective. She very much believes there is a man following her in the hall.  You know this is not true, and you want to clarify that.

But instead you offer her empathy, that must be very unsettling. And she feels heard, Yes unsettling? You aren’t kidding. As you ask her details about this man, you are affirming her. You are validating her reality.  Which is comforting. She feels heard and her anxiety will decrease over time.  Meanwhile you can re-direct your negative energy into the work of looking for the triggers. Done well, validation provides a win-win for you and your loved one.

Posted in #dementiathrive, caregiver research, dementia denial, Empathic Validation, Person-Centered Care | Leave a comment