The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Understanding and Managing Fluctuations

This blog is based on a 2019 IDLBC presentation about fluctuations. This week's is by Tanis Ferman PhD, who is based at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Tanis is a pioneer in the work with LBD and one of our mentors.

Our bodies all have natural cycles of fluctuation in sleep, appetite, body temperature, hormone controls, alertness and blood pressure.

The fluctuations related to Lewy body diseases are different. They don't necessarily have a regular cycle or rhythm. They affect cognition but they can also affect motor function, communication and even behaviors. These fluctuations are not natural. They are caused by the loss of
  • dopamine, important for movement, attention and reward centers
  • acetylcholine, important for cognition, wakefulness and attention.
These fluctuations are not due to, but may be worsened by:
  • age, dementia severity
  • delirium (infection, dehydration, intoxication or withdrawal, metabolic issues)
  • medical conditions, neurologic conditions (stroke, seizures)
  • sleep issues, alcohol use, pain, discomfort
  • mood, catastrophic emotional reactions
  • medication side effects, including but not limited to:
    • anticholinergic agents,
    • dopamine agonists,
    • sedating medicines,
    • opiates,
    • oral steroids
Care partners talk about the "Good Times" and the "Bad Times." Loved ones may fluctuate between these two poles several times a day. They start out with mostly Good Times and occasional short bouts of "Bad Times." Eventually this changes to the opposite, with mostly Bad Times and occasional Good Times.  During the Bad Times, a person is drowsy, zoned out and unaware. They are easily distracted, tend to use words out of context if they can communicate at all, and find performing tasks difficult or impossible.  During the Good Times, a person is awake, lucid, and aware. They are able to focus (pay attention), can communicate better and can perform tasks more easily.  Managing fluctuations involves:
  • accepting them as a part of the LBD disease. Accepting allows you to let go of negative emotions that can make the symptoms worse and last longer.
  • looking for patterns so that you can adjust activities to fit your loved one's more aware parts of the day. When is your loved one's most alert time of the day? That might be the best time to plan personal care. When is the time of the day when Bad Times are more likely to appear? That might be a good time to schedule naps.
Thank you, Tanis. Next week's blog will be a review of Showtime, which is probably the most difficult to deal with kind of cognitive fluctuation.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books: A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia Responsive Dementia Care: Fewer Behaviors Fewer Drugs
Lewy Body Dementia: A Manual for Staff

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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