Managing Illnesses of the Brain: It Takes a Solid Care Team

By: Tiffany Cloud-Mann, M.Ed.

 

Unlike physical illnesses, it’s often difficult to know if someone has an illness of the brain and even harder to understand it when you are on the outside. Maybe you have no personal or family experience with what they are dealing with and when you can’t see the changes happening in the brain, it makes it even harder to empathize. 

Illnesses of the brain can sometimes be more debilitating that physical illnesses. Whether it’s a type of dementia or mental illness or some other neurological disease, it can rob the person of who they are and the healthy life they want to live. I have seen a very close up view of what it’s like for the caregiver and the person experiencing changes. No matter the brain disease, I think it’s key to have a solid team of professionals working with the person affected and the caregiver. I will share how a psychiatrist, neurologist, therapist and care manager are all important members of the care team. 

Members of the care team

Psychiatrist

It’s important to have a psychiatrist on board when anyone is experiencing symptoms that require on-going management of psychotropic drugs. For example, if your loved one has a severe mental illness or is experiencing behavioral symptoms related to dementia, they will need a psychiatrist skilled in that specific area, that understands the disease, possible medications to try and even a non-pharmacological avenue. Although the psychiatrist is not a therapist, I have seen firsthand the importance of finding that good fit; someone who will take the time to listen to both the patient and the caregiver, as well as be compassionate to those experiencing the symptoms. 


Neurologist

Specifically, for those experiencing a type of dementia, it is important that that person see a doctor who specializes in the field of dementia. This could be a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist. The patient should be seen by their doctor at least every 6 months, or maybe even every 3-4 months. If a doctor gave a diagnosis of dementia and then said call me if you need me, I would say find a new doctor. Yes, we know there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementia causing diseases, but ongoing consultation is needed to review how medications are going, new symptoms that have came up and how the caregiver is doing. 

Therapist

Therapy or counseling can be a good thing for all of us. For someone with a mental illness like Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, it allows them time to talk through what’s on in their mind or concerning them. If they are seeing a psychiatrist, this doctor may not have the time for or forte in talk therapy, therefore a therapist will be key. If someone is in the early stages of dementia, therapy can allow them to share the emotions they are experiencing with the changes occurring. 

As well, they may find group counseling helpful, to share with others that have a similar diagnosis. Finally, caregivers can find therapy and support groups helpful in dealing with emotions related to their role and relationships around it. 

Care Managers: The Glue to the Care Team

Care Managers can help families and individuals who may be living with a type of dementia or mental illness. LifeLinks can coordinate care, by increasing lines of communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. Care Managers can provide education to caregivers as well as tools for communicating with their loved one. Our nurse Care Managers can provide medication management to ensure safety and compliance. We can assist also with assessment and monitoring, planning and problem solving and advocacy. Call us today if you would like to brainstorm over your concerns, your loved one’s needs and how we might help. 

 

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