Kristen Mauk

About Kristen Mauk

President/CEO - Senior Care Central, LLC

Alzheimer’s Disease

Elderly woman with medications

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia seen in older adults. An estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages had Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. Nearly half (45%) of people over the age of 85 have AD. By 2050, the number of individuals age 65 and over with Alzheimer’s could range from 11 million to 16 million unless science finds a way to prevent or effectively treat the disease. One in eight older adults has AD, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012). Those affected with AD may live from 3–20 years or more after diagnosis, making the life span with this disease highly variable.

Risk factors

Advanced age is the single most significant risk factor for AD (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012). More women than men have AD, but this is because women live longer than men, not because gender is a risk factor. Family history and heredity are also identified risk factors for AD, as are head trauma and poor cardiac health.

Warning Signs

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by progressive memory loss. The person affected by AD is gradually less able to remember new information and memory lapses begin to affect daily function. It is a terminal disease that over its course will eventually leave a person completely dependent upon others for care.

Diagnosis

Initially, the clinical progression of the disease is slow with mild decline; however, deterioration increases the longer the person lives, with an average life span of 8 years after diagnosis (Cotter, 2002; Fletcher, Rapp, & Reichman, 2007). The underlying pathology is not clear, but a growth of plaques and fibrillary tangles, loss of synapses, and neuronal cell loss are key hallmarks of AD that interfere with normal cell growth and the ability of the brain to function. Absolutely definitive diagnosis is still through autopsy, although clinical guidelines make diagnosis easier than decades ago when less was known about the disease. Primary care physicians generally make the diagnosis through a thorough history, physical exam, cognitive testing, and labs. New criteria for diagnosis include staging the disorder and biomarkers (beta amyloid and tau in the cerebrospinal fluid and blood) (Alzheimer’s Association, 2012b). An MRI of the brain may be ordered to rule out other causes of symptoms.

The clinical course of AD is divided into several stages, depending on the source consulted. In the early course of AD, the person may demonstrate a loss of short-term memory. This involves more than common memory loss, such as where the keys were put, and may involve safety concerns such as forgetting where one is going while driving. The inability to perform math calculations and to think abstractly may also be evident. In the middle or moderate phase, many bodily systems begin to decline. The person may become confused as to date, time, and place. Communication skills become impaired and personality changes may occur. As cognitive decline worsens, the person may forget the names of loved ones, even their spouse. Wandering behavior as well as emotional changes, screaming, delusions, hallucinations, suspiciousness, and depression are common. The person with AD is less able to care for her- or himself and personal hygiene suffers. In the most severe and final phase, the person becomes completely dependent upon others, experiences a severe decline in physical and functional health, loses communication skills, and is unable to control voluntary functions. Death eventually results from body systems shutting down and may be accompanied by an infectious process. Although there is no single test, and the diagnosis may be one of exclusion, early diagnosis is important to maximize function and quality of life for as long as possible. Persons experiencing recurring and progressing memory problems or difficulties with daily activities should seek professional assistance from their physician.

Treatment

Treatment for AD is difficult. There are several medications (such as Aricept, Namenda, Razadyne, and Exelon) that may help symptoms (such as memory), but they do not slow the course of the disease. There is currently no cure; however, research continues to occur in pharmacology, nonpharmacology, and the use of stem cells to manage symptoms and perhaps one day eradicate the disease.

Treatment will focus on symptom management, particularly in the areas of behavior, safety, nutrition, and hygiene. Behavioral issues such as wandering and outbursts pose a constant challenge. Many long-term care facilities have special “memory care” units to care for Alzheimer’s patients from the early to late stages of the disease. These units provide great benefits such as consistent and educated caregivers with whom the patient or resident will be familiar, a safe and controlled environment, modified surroundings to accommodate wandering behaviors, and nursing care 24 hours a day. Additionally, nurses are present to manage medications and document outcomes of therapies. However, many family members wish to care for their loved ones at home for as long as possible.

Thus, another important aspect of care in AD is care for the caregivers. Howcroft (2004) suggested that “support from carers is a key factor in the community care of people with dementia, but the role of the caregiver can be detrimental to the physical, mental, and financial health of a carer” (p. 31). She goes on to say that the caregivers of persons with AD would benefit from training in how to cope with behaviors that arise in these patients and how to cope with practical and legal issues that may occur.

Research has shown that ongoing skills are needed by family caregivers to deal with the progressive decline caused by AD. In fact, “a 63% greater risk of mortality was found among unpaid caregivers who characterized themselves as being emotionally or mentally strained by their role versus noncaregivers” (National Conference of Gerontological Nursing Practitioners & National Gerontological Nursing Association, 2008b, p. 4). Adapting to stress, working on time management, maximizing resources, and managing changing behavior were all skills caregivers needed to develop in order to successfully manage home care of their loved ones. When interventions and resources were not used by caregivers in the early stages of the care recipient’s AD, the risk of a healthy patient being institutionalized due to caregiver burden was higher (Miller, Rosenheck & Schneider, 2012). Caregivers needed not only to acquire knowledge and skills, but also to make emotional adjustments themselves to the ever-changing situation.

Such findings suggest that nurses should focus a good deal of time on educating caregivers of persons with AD to cope with, as Nancy Reagan put it, “the long good-bye.” Scientists continue to explore the causes of AD and hope in the near future to be able to isolate the gene that causes it. In the meantime, results from a fascinating longitudinal study (called the Nun study) on aging and AD, which used a group of nuns who donated their brains to be examined and autopsied after death, has suggested that there is a connection between early “idea density” and the emergence of AD in later life. That is, essays the nuns wrote upon entry to the convent were analyzed and correlated with those who developed AD. It was found that those with lower idea density (verbal and linguistic skills) in early life had a significantly greater chance of developing AD (Grossi, Buscema, Snowdon, & Antuono, 2007; Snowdon, 2004). The nun study has allowed researchers to examine hundreds of brains so far in nuns who died between 75 and 107 years of age and discover other important facts such as a relationship between stroke and the development of AD in certain individuals, and the role of folic acid in protecting against development of AD (Snowdon, 2004). Scientists from a number of fields continue to research the causes and possible treatments for AD and the Nun study project is continuing at the University of Minnesota. Snowdon’s research suggests that early education, particularly in verbal and cognitive skills, may protect persons from AD in later life.

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at: http://www.alz.org/

 

Adapted from Mauk, K. L., Hanson, P., & Hain, D. (2014). Review of the management of common illnesses, diseases, or health conditions. In K. L.
Mauk’s (Ed.) Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Used with permission.

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By |2018-12-12T10:00:44+00:00December 12th, 2018|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Alzheimer’s Disease

Thanksgiving is Good for Your Health

Close-up of Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

This time of year, many people pause to give thanks for the good things in their life, but did you know that giving thanks is good for your health?

Having an optimistic outlook on life and using positive coping skills to manage stress has been linked in numerous studies to a longer and happier life. One of the common themes among people over age 85 who report very good to excellent health (in spite of dealing with chronic illnesses) is just that – thinking positive. Norman Vincent Peale, in his famous book, “The Power of Positive Thinking” said:

The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.

But what if you are not naturally a positive thinker, but more of a “the glass is half empty” kind of person? The good news is that you can begin to change your thinking to improve your health. If you are not sure where to start, consider some of these suggestions as a place to begin:

Count your blessings. There is an old hymn that was sung when I was girl. When I felt down and discouraged, I would sing this song. It went like this:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed. When you are discouraged thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings every doubt will fly. Then you will be singing as the days go by. Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your many blessings. See what God has done.

Sometimes it helps to list what you are grateful for on paper. If you need a place to start, an excellent resource is the book “One Thousand Gifts: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces” by Ann VosKamp. Through a series of 60 short devotionals, the author walks you through a journey to greater appreciation and thankfulness for all that you have.

Learn to be content with what you have.  At the holidays, especially, it is easy to get caught up in thinking about what we wish we had and those things we don’t have. Try looking at it the other way- even in relationship to your health. For example, several years ago I had a catastrophic skiing accident, breaking my leg and tearing all of my knee ligaments. A subsequent blood clot complication meant that I couldn’t have surgery to repair the knee right away. After being in a wheelchair, on crutches, and in awful pain for months, with the help of countless hours of painful therapy and surgery a year later, I was finally able to walk almost normally again. Every day since then, when I am tempted to complain that I will never ski again, cannot kneel or squat, or do not have complete range of motion in that knee, I remind myself of those months when I couldn’t walk at all without help and how it felt to be completely dependent on others for everything. Each step I take, each walk in the sunshine, each little jaunt to the car, and the ability to ride a bicycle is a blessing. Every movement without pain is a bonus I never thought I would have again. Take time to recall when your situation was worse, and express joy that things are better than they were then.

Help others.  One of the best ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself and cultivate an attitude of gratitude is to serve others, especially those who are less fortunate than you. Volunteer to help serve food at the community Thanksgiving dinner or participate in Operation Christmas Child by making a shoebox for a boy or girl in a developing country who would otherwise have no gifts. Take food to your local food pantry. Mow the lawn or shovel snow for your widowed neighbor. Invite the single and lonely person to share Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Buy gifts through the Angel Tree Ministry for children of those in prison. Adopt a needy family. Even if you are homebound, you can encourage others by simple but meaningful tasks such as sending birthday or holiday cards to the people in your church or community group. A simple encouraging phone call can change a person’s day. By giving to others, you focus on positive parts of life and meaningful activities that in turn promote your positive mental health.

So, this Thanksgiving, push the pause button for a little while and take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for. You may just find that Thanksgiving is good for your health.

 

By |2018-11-16T10:57:19+00:00November 16th, 2018|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Thanksgiving is Good for Your Health

Be informed about Stroke

May is National Stroke Awareness month, so this is a good time to reflect on stroke prevention and treatment. Consider these facts about stroke from the American Stroke Association (2013): Be informed about stroke.

• Nearly 800,000 Americans annually suffer a new or recurrent stroke.
• A stroke occurs about once every 40 seconds. About every 4 minutes, someone dies of a stroke.
• Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 137,000 people a year.
• Risk of stroke death is higher for African American males and females than for whites. Females have a higher rate of death from stroke than males.
• In 2010, Americans paid about $73.7 billion for stroke-related medical costs and disability.

Stroke is simply defined as an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. It is most often caused by a clot that either originated in the brain or traveled from another part of the body. Warning signs of stroke include (National Stroke Association, 2013):
• Sudden weakness or paralysis, usually on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, speaking or understanding
• Sudden changes in vision
• Sudden dizziness, incoordination, or trouble walking
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you or someone you love experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Do not delay. New medical treatments may be able to reverse the effects of stroke, but time is critical. Note the time that the symptoms started so that you can inform the medical professionals who are providing treatment.
The effects of stroke depend on the area of the brain that is damaged. Some common results of stroke are weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, difficulty walking or dressing oneself, aphasia, trouble eating or swallowing, bowel and bladder changes, cognitive changes such as memory problems, and emotional issues such as depression and mood swings. Stroke affects the entire family, so be sure to seek out resources and support in your community if a stroke has touched your family.

For stroke survivors, treatment in an acute rehabilitation facility with an interdisciplinary team approach is highly recommended and results in more positive outcomes. The rehabilitation team works together with the survivor and family to accomplish personal goals and achieve the highest level of function possible. Although some of the effects of stroke may be long-lasting or permanent, there is hope of continued progress and good quality of life after stroke.

By |2018-10-29T14:04:33+00:00October 31st, 2018|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Be informed about Stroke

The 6-Step Process of Stroke Recovery

Caring For Husband

 

According to the CDC, nearly 800,000 persons in the United States have a stroke each year. This is about one every 4 minutes, resulting in over 130,000 deaths annually. Stroke is simply defined as an interruption to the blood supply to the brain and is caused by a clot or hemorrhage. It can be a devastating problem for survivors, resulting in changes in mobility, cognition, speech, swallowing, bowel and bladder, self-care, and general functioning to varying degrees.  Some people recover completely after a stroke, but others experience lifelong challenges.

The good news is that there is hope and quality of life after stroke. In my research with stroke survivors, I discovered 6 phases that survivors reported as they made the journey through rehabilitation towards recovery. These steps can be used to see where a person is in the recovery process, help us understand how they may be feeling, and help guide the way we interact with them.

Agonizing:  In this first phase of the process, stroke survivors are in shock over what has happened to them. They can’t believe it, and may even deny the warning signs of stroke. The important task during this time is survival from the stroke itself.  Call 911 if you see the warning signs of facial droop, arm weakness, or speech difficulties.

Fantasizing:  In the second phase of the stroke process, the survivor may believe that the symptoms will all go away. Life will return to normal, and there is a sense of the problem being unreal. Time takes on a different meaning. The way to help is to gently help them recognize reality, and without taking away hope for recovery.

Realizing: This is the most important phase that signals a turn in the recovery process. This is when the survivor realizes that he/she may not fully recover from the effects of the stroke and that there is work to be done to rehabilitate and reclaim life. Common feelings during this phase of realizing are anger and depression. The way to help is to encourage the person to actively engage in rehabilitation. The real work of recovery is just beginning.

Blending: These last 3 phases in the process of stroke recovery may be occurring at much the same time. This is where the real work of adaptation to life after stroke begins. The survivor begins to blend his “old life” before stroke with his new life as a stroke survivor. He/she may start to engage in former activities even if it requires adaptations to be made. He/she will be actively engaged in therapy and finding new ways to do things. The way to help is to promote education. This is a time when survivors are most ready to learn how to adjust to life after stroke. Listen to your rehab nurses, therapists, and physician. Be active in the recovery process.

Framing: During this phase, the individual wants to know what caused the stroke. Whereas in the Agonizing phase they were asking “why me?”, now they need to the answer to “what was the cause?”  Stroke can be a recurring disorder, so to stop a subsequent stroke, it is important to know the cause. Interestingly, if the physician has not given the survivor a cause for the first stroke, patients often make up a cause that may not be accurate. Help the survivor to learn from the health care provider what the cause of his/her own stroke was. Then steps can be taken to control those risk factors.

Owning:  In this final phase of stroke recovery, the survivor has achieved positive adaptation to the stroke event and aftermath. The survivor has accomplished the needed grief work over the losses resulting from the stroke. He/she has realized that the effects may not go away and has made positive adjustments to his/her life in order to go on. Survivors in this phase have blended their old life with the new life after stroke and feel better about their quality of life. While they still may revisit the emotions of the prior phases at times, they have accepted life as a survivor of stroke and made good adjustments to any changes that resulted. They feel that they have a more positive outlook on life. At this point, survivors can use their experience to help others cope with life after stroke.

For more information about stroke recovery, visit www.seniorcarecentral.net and view Dr. Mauk’s model for stroke recovery.

By |2018-10-29T13:59:48+00:00October 29th, 2018|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on The 6-Step Process of Stroke Recovery

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors and Treatment

bigstock-bladder-cancer-6900693

Background

This type of cancer occurs mainly in older adults, with an average age at diagnosis of 73 years, with 9 out of 10 cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in persons over age 55. The American Cancer Society (ACS)(2012) reported that over 73,000 cases were diagnosed in 2012 and that this diagnosis rate has been relatively stable over the last 20 years. Men are three times as likely to get cancer of the bladder as women (American Foundation for Urologic Disease, 2008) and the incidence increases with age.

Risk Factors

Risk factors include chronic bladder irritation and cigarette smoking, the latter contributing to over half of cases. Male gender and age are also risk factors.

Warning signs

The classic symptom of bladder cancer is painless hematuria (blood in the urine). Older adults may attribute the bleeding to hemorrhoids or other causes and feel that because there is no pain, it must not be serious.

Diagnosis

Assessment begins with a thorough history and physical. Diagnosis may involve several tests including an intravenous pyelogram (IVP), urinalysis, and cystoscopy (in which the physician visualizes the bladder structures through a flexible fiber-optic scope). This is a highly treatable type of cancer when caught early. In fact, the ACS (2012a ) estimates that there were more than 500,000 survivors of this cancer in 2012.

Treatment

Once diagnosed, treatment depends on the invasiveness of the cancer. Treatments for bladder cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy (ACS, 2012). Specifically, a transurethral resection (TUR) may involve burning superficial lesions through a scope. Bladder cancer may be slow to spread, and less invasive treatments may continue for years before the cancer becomes invasive or metastatic, if ever. Certainly chemotherapy, radiation, and immune (biological) therapy are other treatment options, depending on the extent of the cancer.

Immune/biological therapy includes Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) wash, an immune stimulant that triggers the body to inhibit tumor growth. BCG treatment can also be done after TUR to inhibit cancer cells from re-growing. Treatments are administered by a physician directly into the bladder through a catheter for 2 hours once per week for 6 or more weeks (Mayo Clinic, 2012a). The patient may be asked to lay on his/her stomach, back, and or sides throughout the procedure. The patient should drink plenty of fluids after the procedure and be sure to empty the bladder frequently. In addition, because the BCG contains live bacteria, the patient should be taught that any urine passed in the first six 6 hours after treatment needs to be treated with bleach: One cup of undiluted bleach should be placed into the toilet with the urine and allowed to sit for 15 minutes before flushing (Mayo Clinic, 2012a).

If the cancer begins to invade the bladder muscle, then removal of the bladder (cystectomy) is indicated to prevent the cancer from spreading. Additional diagnostic tests will be performed if this is suspected, including CT scan or MRI. Chemotherapy and/or radiation may be used in combination with surgery. When the cancerous bladder is removed, the person will have a urostomy, a stoma from which urine drains into a collection bag on the outside of the body, much like a colostomy does. Bleeding and infection are two major complications after surgery, regardless of type, whether a TUR or cystectomy is performed. Significant education of the patient related to intake/output, ostomy care, appliances, and the like is also indicated.

For more information on Bladder Cancer, visit National Cancer Institute at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/bladder/

Adapted from Mauk, K. L., Hanson, P., & Hain, D. (2014). Review of the management of common illnesses, diseases, or health conditions. In K. L.
Mauk’s (Ed.) Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Used with permission.

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By |2018-10-19T15:26:03+00:00October 21st, 2018|Dr. Mauk's Boomer Blog, News Posts|Comments Off on Bladder Cancer Risk Factors and Treatment