You expect LBD to fluctuate. That’s one of its defining symptoms. But, then there comes a day when functioning takes a long slide downward, with a lot more confusion, agitation, sleep problems and less mobility.
When this happens, the caregiver won’t be able to think clearly either. “I told myself that fluctuations happen and upturns follow downturns,” Mary said. “Until that last slide, Lloyd still had wonderful periods of alertness. I couldn’t believe that would end anytime soon. I knew that with LBD, a downturn could be steep and that a person seldom returned to their former functioning. But I guess that I felt that planning for such a slide was inviting it to happen. And so when it did happen, I wasn’t prepared. I was overwhelmed with the extra work and the additional worry but I didn’t even recognize that I was in crisis too until a friend asked me if I didn’t think it was time for more help.”
Any number of situations can bring about these sudden downturns: A simple cold or a serious kidney stone attack; a fall or a painful injury; ongoing problems like UTIs, dehydration or even a supposedly good thing like too much excitement over a happy event. Or even nothing identifiable. A healthy, low stress lifestyle can extend cognition and improve quality of but it does not necessarily extend life. When reserves built up by careful living are gone, mind and body degenerate very quickly. It is no one’s fault. It is simply the nature of the disorder.
As when your loved one can no longer make their own decisions, this is another turning point for which it helps to prepare, earlier than later. Like Mary, it is easier to think that things will go gradually downhill, with expected fluctuations but nothing drastic. They likely will, perhaps for years. But the chances are that eventually, a slide will happen. What will you do then? How will you deal with it when all of your energy, time and attention are taken up in dealing with these new, overwhelming problems? Preparation for a downturn does not mean that you expect or want it to happen. It means that you know it could and that by being prepared, you won’t add to the problem by being so stressed. Think of such preparation as insurance—something you hope you never need but will be very grateful for if you do need it.
As it did with Mary, a downslide tends to sneak up on you, adding work and worry. Before you realize it, you will be so embroiled in just getting by day to day that you may not recognize how stressed you really are—or know what to do about it if you do recognize your stress. Thus, the first step in preparation is setting up a system that will help you recognize that this downturn is different from those in the past.
Make a list that you check daily. If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is time to call for help:
• Has it been more than a week since the slide, with little or no recovery or worse, more decline?
• Am I are feeling overwhelmed by the physical requirements of caregiving?
• Am I getting so little sleep that my caregiving has suffered. Am I less patient or easier to anger?
• Do I feel that there are not enough hours in the day for everything I need to do? Do I seldom take anytime just for me? Am I too tired to enjoy it when I do?
• Am I still un-revived by a few hours of respite? Do I come back still feeling overwhelmed, anxious or tired?
Of course, knowing that you are stressed simply creates more stress unless you know what to do about it. Next week will continue some ways you can prepare for that long slide, and have the information you need ready to use when the time comes.
For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson’s & Lewy Body Dementia
Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a physician's advice.