RSSAll Entries Tagged With: "Dealing with difficult patients"

Dealing with Difficult Patients: Helping patients sleep better

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

A cat eats and sleeps. Then maybe it plays with some string. A cat eats and sleeps. Then maybe it stretches. A cat eats and sleeps. Then maybe it curls up on your lap. A cat eats and sleeps.

If only our patients were cats, sleeping and eating without any concerns. Unfortunately, our patients are people. And many people suffer from two very common conditions: problems sleeping and problems eating. As a nurse, you need to have a tool kit of helpful hints and tricks to help your patients.

Catch up on your zzz’s
The normal sleep cycle is about one-and-a-half hours in length and includes passing through five stages of sleep: Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 are sometimes called non-rapid eye movement sleep, and are followed by a period of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Stages 1 and 2 are periods of light sleep during which eye movement, heart rate, and breathing slow down. Stages 3 and 4 are deeper periods of sleep. People awakened during these stages often feel disoriented and groggy. It is the deeper stages of sleep—REM sleep—that refresh the body. It is a time when breaths quicken, the heart beats faster, muscles become immobile, and the person experiences vivid dreams.

In search of some rest
People of all ages can experience trouble sleeping. Parents complain that babies and children have erratic sleep patterns; teens are notorious for staying up all night and wanting to sleep during the day; adults complain of not getting enough sleep; and older adults complain that they have trouble staying asleep.

Activities that help promote sleep are the same throughout a person’s life­span. First, make sure your patients have careful and comprehensive assessments of their sleep problems. For example, if a person is having trouble sleeping because of allergies or enlarged tonsils and adenoids, these need to be addressed. People with restless leg syndrome or other limb movement disorders need to be evaluated and treated properly. Obstructive sleep apnea, a serious cause of sleep problems, also needs prompt attention.

Here is a list of hints that you can give your patients to help them sleep and feel rested in the morning:

Avoid stimulants. Cutting caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime can help a patient fall asleep easier. Caution them to avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol may initially help a person fall asleep, but it also causes disturbances in sleep resulting in less restful sleep. Restrict nicotine, as it too is a stimulant.

Relax before bedtime.
Provide time for quiet activities in the hour before bedtime. Try reading something light or doing some light stretching. Many nurses use aromatherapy for its relaxant effect, and commonly used essential oils include oils of chamomile, jasmine, lavender, neroli, rose, and marjoram. Add a few drops to a warm bath or sprinkle a few drops on a handkerchief or pillow. It is important to understand the difference between essential oils and fragrances.

Other bedtime relaxation rituals that might work include asking the patient to gently wiggle his or her toes. You could also give him or her a head message, and/or ask the patient to apply lotion to his or her hands and feet.

Provide for a comfortable bedroom situation. Keep the patient’s bedroom as quiet, dark, and comfortable as tolerated. For many people, even the slightest noise or light can disturb sleep. Ear plugs and eye masks may help. Ideal room temperatures for sleeping are between 68°F and 72°F. Temperatures above 75°F or below about 54°F can disrupt sleep (Kryger et al.).

Eat right, sleep tight. Help the patient to eat sensibly during the day and to avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Foods high in tryptophan, such as milk, can promote sleep. The patient can also try a bit of carbohydrate in the form of cereal or a banana, and should avoid overeating, as this may cause indigestion.

Caution the patient to avoid drinking fluids after 8 p.m. Waking up to go to the bathroom may disrupt sleep and the patient may not be able to fall asleep again once disrupted.

Start a routine. Do not allow the patient to nap during the day. Waking up at the same time in the morning helps develop a sleep rhythm.

Just (help them) relax!
Progressive relaxation and relaxation breathing exercises can also aid in sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) was described by Edmund Jacobson, MD, PhD, in the 1930s, and is based upon his premise that mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation. It is a deep relaxation technique that has been used to relieve insomnia as well as aid in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and pain. Simply stated, PMR is the practice of tensing (tightening) a muscle group and then releasing (relaxing) it, followed by moving on to another muscle group and repeating the process until you have systematically tensed and relaxed all muscles in the body.

Almost anyone can learn PMR. Usually it is best to start at the head or the feet. For example, start at the head and work down through all the body muscle groups, or start at the feet and work up to the head. Practicing relaxation breathing at the same time you practice PMR adds benefit.

Many people like to practice PMR in bed just before sleep, but it can be practiced in a sitting position as well. Sometimes PMR is a useful technique to use during long and tedious meetings.

Here’s how to start PMR:

  • Inhale and contract all your facial muscles, squeezing your eyes together, puckering up your mouth, and scrunching up your face. Now exhale and relax your facial muscles.
  • Inhale and tighten your neck muscles, and then exhale and release.
  • Inhale and contract your upper chest and upper back, and then exhale and release.
  • Inhale and contract the muscles in your left arm and hand, and then exhale and release.
  • Continue working your way through your body, contracting each muscle group and then releasing.

During PMR, keep your breath calm and do not hold it. Breathe in when contracting or tensing your muscles, and breathe out during release. As you practice this technique on your own or with your patients, gradually pay more attention to the release of body tension, as well as emotional tension.

Relaxation or diaphragmatic breathing
Using the diaphragm and not the chest is the most efficient and relaxing way to breathe. Chest breathing elicits anxiety. Try it: Breathe only with your chest and see how you gradually become more and more anxious. Now, switch to breathing with your diaphragm, bringing in your breath through your nose, allowing it to slide through your chest without raising your chest, and continuing down to the area just above your navel. Some people have difficulty pushing out their abdominal area when inhaling and it may take some practice. But with practice, you and the patients you teach will find that it comes more naturally and that it results in a more alert and relaxed feeling.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, try the following:

  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdominal area. Spread your fingers open, put the little finger near the navel, and put the thumb near the end of the sternum.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing the breath to flow through the chest (keeping the hand over the chest still) and flow down toward the other hand, filling up the space under that hand.
  • Continue to breathe in and blow up that space below the diaphragm like a big balloon.
  • Now, exhale through the nose or mouth, sucking in the abdominal area to expel as much air as possible.
  • Do not hold your breath, but continue with an inhalation through the nose again. Repeat this process for five to 10 minutes to feel a relaxation response.

Caring for sleepwalkers
Most sleepwalkers are children, but occasionally a teen or adult will sleepwalk if he or she is sick, has a fever, is sleep deprived, or is under stress. Sleepwalkers tend to go back to bed on their own and don’t usually remember sleepwalking. However, sometimes nurses need to prevent injury and help a sleepwalker move around obstacles in their way. Sometimes nurses may need to help them find their way back to their bed, especially if they are in unfamiliar surroundings. Sleepwalkers may startle easily, so it is best to guide them back to bed gently without waking them.

 

Dealing with Difficult Patients: High-octane energy

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Mania or an elevated mood is hard to miss. People who are manic have lots to say; have lots of places to go; have a wealth of ideas to share; and just don’t have enough time to explain all of their theories, schemes, and plans. Much like the Energizer Bunny, people with mania keep going and going, often after all of those around them have dropped with exhaustion, or walked away seeking quiet and solitude.

People with mania, especially those who have hypomania (a milder form of elevated mood and elation), love their episodes when they can say “I get so much done,” “I become super creative,” or “I am on the top of my game.” An episode can go something like this:

At first, when I’m high, it’s tremendous . . . ideas are fast . . . like shooting stars you follow until brighter ones appear. All shyness disappears, the right words and gestures are suddenly there . . . uninteresting people and things become intensely interesting. Sensuality is pervasive. The desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Your marrow is infused with unbelievable feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria. You can do anything . . .

But then things take a turn:

The fast ideas become too fast and there are far too many of them. Overwhelming confusion replaces clarity . . .  you stop keeping up with it—memory goes. Infectious humor ceases to amuse. Your friends become frightened. Everything is now against the grain. You are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and trapped (Spearing).

And therein lies the problem: While in manic episodes, people deplete all of their own bodily reserves, and the reserves of others. Those caring for the manic person become exhausted themselves, generally depleting all of their emotional as well as physical energy reserves.

Making sense of manic patients

Don’t panic: When we are faced with dealing with a manic patient who is out of control, it can easily make us feel out of control too. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The patient is being controlled by his or her disease. Control of behaviors and feelings is simply not possible.
  • The patient lacks any insight into his or her behavior. People in manic states do not realize they are sick, and they are unaware of the consequences of their behavior. They reject any idea that any illness is involved, and they find excuses to try to make sense of what is going on around them.
  • The patient with mania becomes frustrated, often with others who cannot keep up with him or her. The patient may lash out and show his or her frustration in inappropriate ways. It often appears that the patient knows exactly how to push your buttons, or knows the exact things about which you are most sensitive.
  • The patient with mania is hyperalert. People in manic states are hypervigilant and are often aware of things going on in the environment that others do not pick up on.

Ways to prevent cycling
When working with manic individuals, you need to help them prevent the exhaustive cycles they live through. Although that is not always possible, you can help them identify and attempt to avoid the triggers that may lead to a mood swing. One of the most important aspects of managing manic episodes is to stick to a routine.

You can also help patients:

  • Set realistic goals. Having unrealistic goals can set up the individual for disappointment and frustration, which can trigger a manic episode. Advise the patient to do the best he or she can to manage his or her symptoms, but expect and be prepared for occasional setbacks.
  • Get help from family and/or friends. Everyone needs help from family and/or friends during a manic episode, especially if he or she has trouble telling the difference between what is real and what is not real. Having a plan in place before any mood changes occur can help the individual’s support network to make good decisions.
  • Make a healthy living schedule. This is important for those with mood swings. Many people with manic episodes find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Some examples include regular meal times, routine exercise or other physical activity, and practicing some sort of relaxation each night before bed. Also, you can help to provide a balanced diet for the patient, focusing on the basics: fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar. Exercise uses up some energy and helps a person sleep better. Help the patient develop an exercise plan that fits his or her lifestyle. While in the hospital, taking walks around the unit during the day may benefit the patient.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep may be a challenge for a person with mania. Being overtired or getting too much or too little sleep can trigger mania in many people. While the patient is under your care, make up a schedule for rest and relaxation before sleep. Have the patient go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, and relax by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Do not allow the patient to watch TV in his or her room.
  • Reduce stress. Anxiety can trigger mania in many people. Ask the patient what helps him or her relax. It might be calming music or a meditation tape. Avoid those things that hype people up, such as watching violent shows on TV or listening to loud music. Helping the person reduce stress in general at home and at work might help prevent episodes. Advise the patient to ask for help: A young mother may ask her spouse, family, or friend to take care of some of the housework. If the person’s job is proving to be too much, he or she can scale back some responsibilities. Doing a good job is important, but avoiding a manic mood episode is more important.
  • Avoid stimulants, alcohol, and drugs. Many people with mania may turn to substances to try to avoid a manic episode, or stimulating substances to elevate their mood. Up to 60% of people with mood disorders also have substance abuse problems. This self-medication may give them some temporary relief, but it will make their condition worse over time. Tell the patient to eliminate the use of caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs (Spearing).
  • Stick with treatment. It’s essential for people with mania to continue their medication and get regular checkups. It can be tempting to stop treatment because the symptoms go away. However, it is important to continue treatment as prescribed to avoid taking risks or having unpleasant consequences associated with a manic episode. If the patient has concerns about treatment or the side effects of medicines, talk with him or her and caution the patient not to adjust the medicines on his or her own.

Reference
Spearing, M. (2002). “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Available at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/bipolar.cfm.

Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC is an HCPro author and contributed to the book Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.

 

Dealing with Difficult Patients: Suicidal behavior

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Many nurses don’t feel comfortable completing a suicide assessment. Some nurses can’t imagine anyone thinking that killing him or herself is the best solution to any problem. However, many of the patients we serve have thought that way and some are actively suicidal, and we are not even aware of it. Being aware of the signs of suicide, and making a suicide assessment, can save your patient’s life. As with many other assessments, practice facilitates mastery. This chapter will give you lots of guidelines and tips to help.

It is important to remember that most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. Also, any person who has expressed suicidal ideation should not be left alone and needs immediate treatment.

What if I think someone is suicidal?

One way to determine whether a person is thinking about suicide is to ask directly: “Are you thinking about suicide? Are you planning to kill yourself?” Doing this will not plant thoughts in the person’s head. Doing this will not cause the person to consider suicide if he or she was not thinking about it. Doing this will not cause the person to try suicide. By asking directly, you show you are not afraid to tackle the hardest of situations, and it is a way to show the patient that you can be trusted. Suicidal individuals seek out those whom they trust and feel connected to in some way. One of the most important factors in preventing a suicide is the presence of a supportive person.

Don’t panic: If a person does tell you that he or she is suicidal, here’s what you can do:

  • Stay calm and listen.
  • Let the person talk about his or her feelings.
  • Be accepting, and do not judge.
  • Ask whether the person has a plan, and if so, what it is.
  • Don’t swear secrecy.
  • Do not leave the patient alone. Take him or her with you if you must, so you can get help.

Don’t ignore the warning signs

All mentions of suicide must be taken seriously. Warning signs include:

  • Thoughts or talk of death or suicide.
  • Thoughts or talk of self-harm or harm to others.
  • Aggressive behavior or impulsiveness.
  • Previous suicide attempts, which increases the risk for future suicide attempts and completed suicide.

Assessing the possibility of suicidal thoughts

Ask the patient the following questions to assess the possibility of suicidal thoughts:

  • You have been through a lot lately: How has that affected your energy (appetite, ability to sleep)?
  • Many people in your situation may feel sad and blue or depressed: Do you feel that way?
  • Have you ever felt so sad and blue that you thought that maybe life was not worth living?
  • You have been in a lot of pain lately: Have you ever wished you could go to sleep and just not wake up?
  • Have you been thinking a lot about death recently?
  • Have you recently thought about harming yourself or killing yourself?
  • Have things ever reached the point that you’ve thought of harming yourself?

If the person says that he or she has thought about self-harm or suicide, the next step is to assess whether the person has a plan and the ability to carry out the plan. Ask questions such as these:

  • Have you made a specific plan to harm (kill) yourself? If so, what is it?
  • Do you have a gun (knife) available for your use? (Find out if the person has access to accomplish the plan.)
  • What preparations have you made? (This might include purchasing specific items, writing a note or a will, making financial arrangements, taking steps to avoid being found, and/or practicing the plan.)
  • Have you spoken to anyone about your plans?
  • Would you be able to tell someone if you were about to harm yourself?

Keeping the patient safe

Your next step is to make sure the patient is safe. Most facilities have policies about levels of observation or supervision for patients who are a suicidal risk. There is also a process for further assessment of the patient. Again, never leave a person who has expressed suicidal thoughts alone. Take him or her with you to get help. Always read and follow your facility’s policies.

In general, there are some universal safety measures to take with a person who is suicidal:

  • Keep the person on continuous observation, such as 1:1 or in your line of sight.
  • Restrict the person’s environment for safety. Ask the person to remain in a certain area where staff members can see him or her at all times.
  • Do not allow the person to be alone in a room.
  • Check the person at intervals of five, 15, or 30 minutes.

Staff supervision is necessary when a patient uses items such as sharps (nail cutters, razors, or scissors), cigarettes, and/or matches; is around potential poisons, such as cleaning supplies; uses the bathroom or kitchen; and/or goes off the unit for treatments, therapies, or tests.

Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC is an HCPro author and contributed to the book Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.

 

Dealing with difficult patients: defense mechanisms

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Using Freudian concepts to understand human behavior, one could say that the ego often has a hard time pleasing the id and keeping the superego in check. So, it has developed a way to reduce anxiety through the use of ego defense mechanisms, those things that unconsciously block or distort our thoughts and beliefs into more acceptable, less-threatening ones.

Defense mechanisms (sometimes called coping or protective mechanisms) are, in short, used to protect the ego from full awareness of the situation. Their purpose is to help the person cope with a situation that he or she might not be able to handle.

Using defense mechanisms is a common human trait. We all use them. Some defense mechanisms are considered to be more helpful than others. Others may cause more problems for the person using them, in terms of creating unhealthy or unfulfilled relationships or losing touch with reality.

Most nurses are very familiar with defense mechanisms, having learned them early in their nursing school careers. Let’s review a few of the most common ego defense mechanisms and see how they apply to patient situations.

  • Denial: Protecting self from reality. Example: Thinking the high cholesterol level was a lab error.
  • Repression: Preventing painful memories/thoughts from entering consciousness. Example: Forgetting what he or she was told about a chronic illness.
  • Rationalization: Justifying inappropriate behavior. Example: “I don’t come to every appointment late, traffic was just bad this time.”
  • Projection: Pointing the finger at others instead of ourselves. Example: “It’s your fault I didn’t take my medicine.”
  • Displacement: Taking things out on others. Example: Yelling at a nurse after being given a bad diagnosis.

Rational problem-solving is not a defense mechanism. Oftentimes, rational problem-solving is enough to resolve an issue. Then, the use of defense mechanisms is not needed.

Tip: A well-rounded person, a mature individual, usually has little need to use ineffective or maladaptive ego defense mechanisms. However, when people are sick, have just been given bad news, have a loved one injured, or are uncomfortable for whatever reason, even the most well-adjusted resort to the use of defense mechanisms to help them get through.

Find some common ground

How do you relate to a person who is using a defense mechanism?

  • Recognize that the use of defense mechanisms is to protect the mind from total awareness of the gravity of the situation.
  • Avoid hurrying someone along, as this only creates more frustration and confusion. Sometimes the person is able to develop awareness little by little.
  • Provide a safe environment for the patient so that he or she might feel more comfortable doing the emotional work that is needed given the situation.
  • Be aware of how you are reacting and try to maintain a professional stance. Don’t get hooked into the patient’s mini-drama.
  • Provide information that might help clarify the situation.
  • Stop giving information when you see that it frustrates or overwhelms the patient.
  • Maintain a quiet voice and comforting physical appearance.
  • Give the person some emotional space as well as the physical space needed to soothe him or her.
  • Provide for the patient’s basic needs.
  • Say things like “I am available if you want to talk about this more later.”
  • Work around the use of the defense mechanism if possible.
  • Avoid the tendency to take the use of defense mechanisms by others personally.
  • Be patient and wait to see whether the person is able to address the issue in a more mature fashion later.

Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC is an HCPro author and contributed to the book Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.