If the somewhat daunting term 'Electroshock Therapy' has been recommended by your loved one’s medical team, you might be wondering how it will affect their ability to live at home. Here's a quick guide on what to expect, including how to ensure they remain safe and comfortable at home during treatment.
If a loved one is experiencing life-limiting symptoms due to their mental health issues, their medical team might suggest a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), or electroshock therapy. While this treatment can be used to treat people of all ages suffering from mental health disorders, in older people, this is typically recommended for those who suffer from severe geriatric depression or aggressive or agitated behavior due to dementia and its related illnesses.
If difficult or unsafe behavior is having a significantly negative impact on your loved one’s quality of life, ECT might be recommended, as it has been shown to be effective in changing or reversing some psychiatric symptoms.
Your loved one’s electroconvulsive therapy will take place under general anesthetic, but they will only need to be “asleep” for around 10-15 minutes, so some of these sessions can be done on an outpatient basis. Other times, they may be required to stay in the hospital either the night before, the night after, or both. In general, your loved one should be able to return home in a relatively short amount of time, and the good news is that a prolonged stay in a general or psychiatric hospital shouldn't be necessary.
What Does ECT Involve?
During the treatments, small electrical currents pass through the brain, but as well as the anesthetic, your loved one will have also been given a muscle relaxant to minimize muscle movement.
Following the treatment, your loved one would be moved to a recovery room for a further 20 minutes, to be monitored as they regain full consciousness. Family members are usually allowed to be present to support and reassure their loved ones during this time.
Your loved one will be advised to undergo a series of treatments, and it usually takes up to six treatments to see an improvement in the symptoms, but they can occur in quick succession, sometimes several times in a week.
Caring for a Loved One Undergoing ECT
While not having to stay in the hospital will certainly be a comfort to your loved one and to yourself, there are some things to consider regarding making them safe and comfortable at home.
Most obviously, if your mom, dad, spouse or other relative is leaving hospital between sessions, as is often the case, they will need someone to drive them home from the hospital and to provide care at home while they fully recover from the treatment. Some of the side effects of ECT include:
- Muscle pain
If you notice that your loved one is suffering from any of the following, you should contact their medical team:
- Severe headaches that are not eased by medication
- A stiff neck
- Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Shortness of breath, chest pains or a fast heartbeat
Your loved one won't be able to drive themselves anywhere before and after treatment, and will probably need a doctor's clearance to get back behind the wheel. One of the practical ways you can support them at this time is to make sure they have regular reminders and transportation options to get to their appointments on time. You may also need to help with medication reminders, and tend to daily chores such as meal preparation as your loved one may not feel able, or willing, to perform these tasks.
If you are the primary family caregiver to your loved one, their medical team will talk to you in some detail about the progress of the treatment, and will need your feedback to monitor levels of success. Your input is vital, as it will help the doctor’s determine how successful the ECT has been, and will help determine how many more treatments are necessary. You should, therefore, take detailed notes of changes in behavior or mood, as well as any of the above-mentioned side effects.
Making the Home Safer
On the day of an ECT treatment, your loved one could also feel quite drowsy, which will increase the risk of a fall in the home. You should therefore look for ways to reduce fall risks, starting with the following:
- Making clear paths throughout the house by removing obstacles such as low tables and cables or electrical chords
- Removing area rugs that could present a risk of slipping
- Making sure the home is well lit
- Ensuring everything needed for recovery is easily accessible – medication, phone, etc
How Home Care Can Help
If you can't be there to support your loved one throughout their treatment, consider hiring a Home Care company who can provide a Home Health Aide to come to the home and assist them while they recover.
Hiring a reputable Home Care company with a dedicated psychiatric program means your loved one will be cared for by somebody with experience in the role of caregiver to people undergoing ECT. You can, therefore, be reassured that they will be able to monitor your loved one’s behavior and give them all the support that the need when you can't be there, including:
- Supporting daily activities
- Assistance with medication management
- Personal care and assistance
- Light housekeeping and household chores
- Meal planning and preparation
- Appointment escort and transportation
ECT is a safe, and very often - successful, treatment option. The results are short term, so those who do experience success may need to return and repeat the course in the future, but a tailored Home Care service means you can arrange for the support you and your loved one need at home, as and when you need it.
Find out how Ezra Home Care can provide the assistance your loved one needs during their ECT treatment by contacting our compassionate and experienced team.