FTD – No Need To Explain!

I could really write this post in three words –

STOP.  EXPLAINING.  YOURSELF.

But let me elaborate.

By the time your loved one reaches the middle stages of FTD, they are, generally speaking, often beyond comprehension of most of what you are saying. That’s not to say they don’t understand the individual words.But their understanding of what they mean all joined together and in context is very skewed.

Blackadder-Confused-Look

Their grasp on the social niceties for example, is almost non-existent. So asking them to speak quietly, or stop staring will fall on deaf ears most of the time. You see, it’s not that they don’t know what you said, it’s just that they don’t understand why it’s important. They think that they have as much control over their behavior as they always did. And therein lies the problem. They have the ability to make you think that too.

As I have discussed before, we tend to give our loved ones the respect and consideration that we have for the last twenty, thirty or forty years.  It’s a natural thing to do. It’s the same if the FTD’er is your parent. Any relationship based on love and respect falls back on these things during times of stress. You have an invisible understanding that you just don’t do or say certain things. FTD takes that away.  The FTD brain has so many holes caused by the degeneration that appropriate and seemly behavior become a thing of the past. But not to them. Not to your loved one. They behave just as their FTD Taskmaster tells them to. It’s like having that little devil sitting on your shoulder. “Go on, do it!”. But now there is no angel on the other shoulder – their conscience, telling them not to. Everything is fair game. Even to the point of hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally. grotesqueringmaster

The bastard disease is the Ringmaster in the circus that has become your life.

So, if you accept that your FTD’er is no longer capable of deciding what’s best, you must come to the conclusion that you know what is. Yes, I know it’s not the position you want to be in. Deciding someone’s fate is overwhelming. But one of you has to make decisions and that someone has to be you. Here’s the thing. Once you accept that, you must also accept that your decision is final. No do-overs, no “well maybe’s”, no “we’ll see”. You can say those to your children. Your children can tell when you are undecided. But when it comes to decisions for you and your loved one’s safety, you cannot compromise and dither. The ultimate end to this is that you must not stop to explain. Explaining leaves room for choices. You know that your loved one can’t choose. They think they can, but when they do, it’s often a poor choice. Why else do we have advance directives? Because at the time the person makes those decisions, they are have a clear mind and are making rational decisions.

Explanations leave you vulnerable to “No” .

Explanations offer a chance for the person with FTD to make a poor choice.

Explanations answer the “What?” with “Because” and the because will probably be unacceptable.

Because they don’t understand the “Why” or the “How”.

Because FTD has addled their brain and their thoughts can’t get through the tangled mess.

You explain because it makes sense to you.

Because you have done it for years. Because it’s respectful to give the “Why”.

Because you love them.

Yes No

Explanation can cause more confusion and provide fuel for outbursts of defiance. You’re explaining because it makes sense to you. I have said many times before – “Don’t ask -tell” and this tags on to explanation. Don’t ask a question, don’t give an explanation other than “we are going in the car”, or “Sit down. Put on your shoes”. Anything more complicated will illicit either a blank stare or “No”. If they do ask “Why?”, keep it simple. Say “We have to go somewhere”, or “We are going out”. Try to keep these conversations short, keep them busy but don’t hurry them or they will get flustered. Let them put their shoes on/take a shower/walk to the car at their own speed. Your frustration will rub off believe me. Just make sure you allow enough time for slow movement and bite your tongue.

Explaining comes naturally to us. We are accustomed to people needing to know why we want them to do something or what we are talking about. Your loved one with FTD no longer has the capacity to rationalize these things. For them, it’s about the here and now. You may have heard the term “WIFM?” – “What’s In it For Me?”. This is the perfect acronym for your FTD’er. They are not being selfish. Their sense of self is diminishing fast. Selfishness relies on a purposeful action that will benefit only one. FTD brings out instincts in a person that are usually controlled by social mores and respect for others. Filters and inhibitions are eventually so eroded in the FTD brain that thinking of anything other than mere existence is impossible. There comes a point when even that is gone and risky behaviors result. The concern for self-preservation deserts your loved one and it will be up to you to protect them. It’s a jaw-droppingly scary position to hold – Protector of the Vulnerable. But you can do it. You will make all the right decisions. Trust your love and your instinct.

Just don’t explain why.

There is another aspect to the explanations also. In a perfect world, your family would respect and understand why you do the things you do. Sadly, people in your family may not appreciate your now-seemingly bombastic approach to caring for your loved one. If they are not around FTD much, your behavior may seem akin to that of Attila the Hun. Their denial may lead them to the conclusion that you’re a know-it-all control freak, with Hitler-like tendencies. I have to say here that my own experience was not like this at all. My family and friends were nothing but supportive and helpful and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, to hell with those people if they refuse to accept your explanation, demonstration, literature and.or pleading. They are human yes, but they should respect your decisions. They are not entitled to an opinion unless they are there 24/7, see what goes on in an FTD house and contribute to the s**tstorm that your day can be.This goes for those curious people at the grocery store too. I hear time and again about families who just flatly refuse to accept that it’s as bad as it is. But they don’t ever want to come over to your house and experience it either. I know of many people whose already effed-up lives are further disrupted by constant denial or even obstructive behavior such as encouraging ‘normal’ activities in an person with FTD who cannot possibly understand the why or how.

Don’t explain anything to them once you have come to the conclusion that they are ignoring your advice and wishes. Stop validating your actions with people who are ignoring the inevitable. It’s not worth the energy. They will either come around or they won’t. But you have enough on your plate.

Stop explaining.

When you’re down and confused…….

Love the one you’re with 🙂

FTD – Frontotemporal Tastes and Delights

oliver-twist-o

 Food, glorious food!

Food is such an important part of our lives.

Some of us have too much, some of us don’t have enough. Everyone has their favorite. Everyone has the stuff they hate.

The many variants and stages of FTD are related to food in so many ways. Like most phases, the food phase is insidious in onset. You suddenly realize that your loved one is raiding the kitchen cabinets, the cookie jar, the fridge, and eating everything in sight. If they are home alone for much of the day, it may take you a while to realize this. Many FTD’ ers develop an extremely sweet tooth and will devour ice cream, candy, chocolate, puddings and pies.

As is the habit of many of us who have hit the cholesterol and sodium awareness phase of our lives, we are accustomed to watching what we eat. We try to maintain a somewhat ‘healthy’ diet and exercise when we can. Many of our loved ones have always been fit and healthy and remain so throughout their encounter with FTD. So it rather goes against the grain (if you’ll pardon the pun) to rein those habits in and let someone eat and drink whatever they like.

I learned to deal with this via a mentor and expert in all things terminal, including FTD. Her philosophy is “chocolate is love to someone who is dying”. They don’t care if they eat healthily. They don’t even know what that means anymore.

Chocolate

The truth is, many of us are comforted by food. Not necessarily sweets either, although they seem to be popular with FTD’ers. We all have our ‘turn to” favorites. Mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, chicken soup – sometimes it’s something that evokes a comfortable memory or just a general feeling of security.

We are consumed with the preservation of life. But I am here to tell you that my husband would never have thanked anyone, including me, for extending his life one more day in the condition that he was. As healthy as he had always been, he would prefer to eat his candy and cookies and to hell with it.  I am sure that many people in the midst of FTD, if they could tell you, would say the same.

I listened to psychiatrists, psychologists and other people talk about “quality of life”. What the heck is that when you have an untreatable, incurable disease that no-one really knows much about? Comfort should be the only priority. If comfort comes in the shape of a Hershey bar, then so be it. Quality of life, like pain, should be what the patient believes it to be. This may be the single most important thing that you advocate for – what your loved one believed to be “Quality”, when they still understood their life.

Only you can hold out and give them what they want. If your goal is to make their last years, months, weeks, days as pleasurable and comfortable as possible, then, in the words of Marie Antoinette:

“LET THEM EAT CAKE!”

(I always imagine her saying this with “Daaahling” at the end, in a voice like Zsa Zsa Gabor)

Marie Antoinette

At least until they can’t anymore. Then you are faced with another decision. It may be easy for you, as it was for me. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt (and had it in writing), that the last thing my husband wanted was any form of life-extending procedure, such as a feeding tube. Our thoughts were simple. If you need a feeding tube to save or prolong your life and there is no hope of recovery from your dreadful condition, what exactly are we saving you for?

This may sound extreme or heartless, but believe me, saving someone and keeping them in what can only be described as a state of purgatory, with no hope of rescue, is a decision that many people come to regret. I see it every day in my work. Because making the decision to pour liquid down a tube into someone’s stomach, is only temporary. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the decision will need to be reversed. Then you have a completely different set of emotions to deal with.

It feels like you’re killing them, starving them to death. You yearn for the cake days. The days when they would only eat Cheerios or whatever.

As odd as it sounds, that happened to me quite often through our journey. As hellish as each stage was, the next was worse. I found myself longing for days when it was only the clothes-changing that drove me crazy. Or the washing of dishes, or filling boots with rocks. Every time a new, worse period began, I would have gone back gladly.

And when it was all over, I even found myself looking back fondly on days when we drove to Day Care, or I visited one of the different facilities where my husband eventually lived. Without me. Even the most hellish of days was missed. Still is.

Funny what you think is okay. It changes every day.

Cake is okay. Chocolate is okay. Respecting someone’s wishes is okay.

Doing the right thing is okay. The right thing for you. The right thing for the one you love.

It might not be the thing or things you want to do, but that’s okay too.

Your standards of okay are different now.

Whatever, whenever are the golden rules. Long may they reign!

candy cake

Decisions, frontotemporal decisions……..


DNR2

One of the best things you can do when you first see the symptoms of any cognitive change (or preferably before that)  is to sit down with your loved one and have them write exactly what their wishes are. One piece of paper can save you from a world of hurt down the line.

Your love will be tested enough.

Have the dreaded discussion.  If you don’t, even if you know what they would want, when it gets to the time when they can no longer make those decisions for themselves, there are a million (well a lot anyway) legal and moral hoops to jump through. The hoops are mostly made of ‘red tape’. But not having the right paperwork will seriously inhibit your ability to take care of your loved one’s best interests.

Some of the written information may not be official paperwork. It may be just a handwritten summary of what they would like to happen. But at least you will know. At least you will be armed with their choices, their decisions. And not be forced into making them yourself.

Especially at a time when you feel least able to make them.

Having been a nurse for many years before the onset of my husband’s FTD did not help at all let me tell you. Having medical knowledge just makes you more angry at the morons (I’m sorry, I did think that sometimes) who purport to care for your loved one. Obviously they’re not all morons. Quite the contrary. The people who took care of my husband for the last four months of his life did a far better job than I ever could. They were wonderful. As the old saying goes “You have to kiss a few frogs before you get your prince”

Same principle, applied to caregivers. Unfortunately you don’t always have that much time to kiss the frogs. Or appease the morons. Even being in ‘the system’ did not help me. The minefield of decisions was just as terrifying for me. Even with my inside knowledge.

Often before you find the great place for your loved one to end his/her days, you will endure 101 requests for those vital pieces of paper. For example, before they can be admitted to any kind of facility for psychiatric evaluation you will need at least 3 copies of each. Pretty much every person you speak with will want to see them. Especially the Medical Power of Attorney. I thought it might be helpful to have a glossary of the various terms and paperwork that you will need to give you the power you need (no pun intended).

So here it is…….

Last Will and Testament.

I’m sure that you all know what this means, but I just want to make sure that you understand that this is most definitely NOT the same thing as a Living Will or Advance Directive. The Will is generally about documenting wishes in regard to belongings and property.

Advance Directives  are written instructions that document a person’s wishes in the event that they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Advance Directives include:

Advance Directive umbrellaPower of Attorney (POA) – this is the document that your loved one signs to say that, in the event of them being incapable of making their own decisions about their life, a designated person (usually the spouse or children or a close friend) has the authority to do so. The Power can be “Durable” –  meaning it  gives the designated family member of friend the power to advocate for the patient, or limited to a specific aspect such as Financial or Healthcare/Medical. In the United States, there may be variances according to State Law. For example, in Arizona, Healthcare (Medical) Power of Attorney must include Mental Health on a separate document. Good to know in relation to dementia.

Even with a signed Mental Health Power of Attorney, I still had to have my husband’s physician sign paperwork to say that he was not competent to make his own decisions before an in-patient psychiatric facility would admit him.

The Durable Power of Attorney gives the authority to make decisions, but does not specify what those decisions should be. Holding Power of Attorney may not give specific rights to a spouse or child if it does not include a Living Will or other Advance Directive. The Medical Power of Attorney and Financial Power of Attorney can be different people. Even if you’re not hugely rich, you need a Will and some Advance Directives, just so everyone knows what to do.

P.O.L.S.T (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment)

The POLST form is a set of medical orders, similar to a DNR order.  POLST is not an advance directive.  POLST does not substitute for naming a health care agent or durable power of attorney for health care. It results from considered, shared discussions with the doctor, family, spouse, other caregivers, and sometimes the patient to ensure that their medical wishes are clear to all concerned. It takes into account the personal desires of the patient, including religious values, beliefs and goals for their remaining life. This shared decision-making ensures clear and unambiguous care.

POLST  is for seriously ill or frail patients for whom their physicians would not be surprised if they died in the next year. POLST is not for everyone, it is not a Living Will per se. What the POLST does is give direction – doctor’s orders,  to health care providers – EMT’s, paramedics, ER doctors and nurses, in the event that your loved one ends up in an ambulance or the emergency room.

Click here to find forms for your state

Guardianship

If there is no POA – especially for Mental Health, in place at the time a person becomes declared incompetent, you may need to apply to the court to gain the Power of Attorney you need to access your loved one’s funds, healthcare records and make decisions that they are now unable to make. The guardianship process  can be long and drawn out and cost quite a lot. You will need to use a lawyer to help you through the process. Again, there are differences from state to state. When completed, you effectively become the guardian and advocate of your loved one’s interests.

The court will decide if you are fit to do so. So isn’t it better for your loved one to decide first? You can’t assume that it will automatically be conferred on to the spouse or next of kin. If there is no family available, the court will appoint their own Guardian to advocate for the person.

Living Will

Living WillThis is an Advance Directive that specifies a person’s wishes in the event of a catastrophe that causes that person to be unable to make healthcare decisions. This includes a traumatic event – heart attack, stroke, or in our case, a debilitating illness affecting the mind. Even people who are not sick should have one of these. There is less ambiguity when it comes to the various family members agreeing (or often, disagreeing) on for example, a feeding tube, CPR or other life-saving procedures. If everyone knows what you want, there can be no ambiguity. In extreme cases, if it comes down to “pulling the plug” (sorry, that’s a horrible phrase, but one recognized by everyone) – if it is written and signed by the unconscious or incompetent person, then there should be no arguing among the family about whether it should be done or not.

As you move forward into FTD, it will become very clear that your loved one absolutely cannot make financial or medical decisions (or even what they’re eating for lunch today) by themselves. You will have some tough choices to make. You will have to stand your ground and advocate for them. It will be so much easier if they have done it for you.

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)DNR

The Living Will should specify exactly what, if any, life-saving measures be taken in the events described above. DNR means that the person will be treated only to ensure a comfortable, natural death, without heroic intervention to prolong it.

Life saving/preserving measures include:

Resuscitation (CPR)Resuscitation

This is when the medical staff will attempt to restart  the heart when it has stopped beating (cardiac death). It includes chest compressions (someone rapidly pushing down on the heart firmly through the chest wall), ‘bagging’ – air being pushed into the lungs manually via a mask over the face and probable defibrillation – an electric shock delivered by a device to stimulate the heart back into action. It’s not pretty. And the outcome is not guaranteed.

Even in a hospital setting, with a witnessed event,  the chances of surviving are quite small. If there are more than about three minutes between the cardiac arrest and the start of resuscitation, there is a greater chance of brain death due to lack of oxygen.

Mechanical ventilation

  • A machine that takes over your breathing if you’re unable to do so. This involves the insertion of a plastic tube through the mouth down into the lungs (intubation) You may hear this called an “ET tube”. This is the machine that is referred to when you hear TV reporters and newspapers talk about “Pulling the plug” The ventilator pushes air into the lungs at a prescribed rate and pressure. It is only used when the person is unable to breathe for themselves. While intubated, the person is usually sedated as they are unable to speak and they are often restrained – tied at the wrists –  to counteract the natural instinct to pull out the tube. Some people don’t realize that it is the machine keeping the person alive and not the person themselves. For example, there is a case in the news right now about a thirteen-year old girl who is brain dead, but because her heart is beating, her parents are convinced she is alive. She has no brain activity to tell her heart to beat. The machine is keeping her “alive”.

Nutritional and hydration assistance.

  • Fluids and or food can be infused intravenously or via a tube inserted into the stomach. The tube can be inserted via the nose (NG tube) or through the wall of the abdomen (PEG tube). In FTD, this may be suggested to you when your loved one’s swallowing becomes more difficult and eventually goes away altogether. As the swallow reflex disappears, there is a chance of aspiration – the food or fluid gets inhaled into the lungs instead of being swallowed down the esophagus into the stomach. Obviously, this is not good. The resulting ‘foreign body’ in the lungs can cause an infection – pneumonia. Then you will have another decision to make. Antibiotics or not?

Dialysis

  • This is a process that removes waste from the blood and manages fluid levels if the kidneys no longer function. If your loved one can’t remember or doesn’t want to drink or eat, they may become dehydrated and have some kidney failure. Dialysis involves the permanent insertion of a two-way intravenous catheter. One side for removing the blood and one for putting the clean blood back in. Dialysis takes about 3-4 hours, 3 times a week, attached to the machine that pulls out and pushes back the blood.

I’m not trying to scare anyone, but clearly, all of these procedures and processes require a great deal of forethought. Going through any of them for a person with FTD would be quite horrifying in my mind.

If people ever asked me about my husband’s DNR status, I would always say – “If we resuscitated him what would we be saving him for? More of the same? Worse?

If I’m very honest, I would have to say that my husband would definitely have preferred having a heart attack and being dead to suffering as he did for five years and then being dead anyway.

One other thing I would like to tell you that many people don’t know is to check your loved one’s life insurance policy. I found out that I had been paying premiums on my husband’s policy for two years and there was a premium waiver clause in the case of terminal illness. I only found out because I was looking for another clause – an accelerated death benefit.

The insurance company did refund the premiums I had paid since the time he was diagnosed.  I just had to send them a letter from his neurologist with the diagnosis and prognosis. Interesting that they had denied increasing his death benefit about a year before, due to his diagnosis but never told me about the premium waiver!

The accelerated death benefit can pay you part or the entire death benefit for documented terminal illness ahead of time. Good to know. Worth checking into.

There is also something called a “viatical settlement” in which you can sell part of the anticipated death benefit of the life policy to another company in return for cash, which you may well need now rather than in the future, to help with medical or caring costs.

You may also want to consider organ donation if your loved one is physically fit and healthy. Or think about donating the brain for research which could help to find out more about the bastard disease and find treatment and cure more quickly.

So there it is. Some things to think about. Rather a lot really.  It can seem quite overwhelming. Yu should also be sure to have your own set of Advance Directives, in the event that something happens to you before your loved one.

But do it sooner rather than later. You need to protect yourself and your loved one. No-one likes to think about it . Some people think it’s morbid.

It’s not morbid. It’s loving, caring and sensible.

Love drop