Looking after a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can be an all-consuming, physically, and emotionally demanding journey. Seeing your loved one’s functional and cognitive abilities diminish overtime is heartbreaking, but the process of caring for a family member with dementia can also bring you a lot of joy and personal growth.
The good news is that you don’t have to go through it alone. Professional help is always available when you need it. In the meantime, going over these dementia care tips will help you cope and step up to the responsibility.
1. Educating yourself
Unless you’re a doctor or a professional caregiver, then you probably don’t have the faintest idea on how to care for a family member with dementia. Like most things, it’s not intuitive. You have to take the time to learn about the disease – from books, videos, and consultation with physicians.
One important thing you need to understand about dementia is that it’s so much more than memory loss. The progression of the disease can be very difficult to predict, and it often comes with mental and personality changes.
Caring for someone with dementia demands compassion, empathy, and an endless supply of patience.
2. Creating a Safer Home
When the condition of a dementia patient progresses from mild to moderate stage, you will have to make some changes around the home to make it safer and more convenient for them.
Prevent wandering. Dementia patients tend to wander off. You need to supervise them closely; else they can get lost or hurt. Try as you may, though, you can’t keep an eye on them every single second. Fitting the home with safety and security devices like stairway gates, locks, and CCTV cameras will help prevent wandering.
Prevent accidents and injuries. Loss of stability is common in dementia patients, that’s why it is crucial to make the house as safe as can be for them to reduce fall risks and injuries. Putting handrails and grab bars in the more accident-prone areas of the house like the kitchen, bathroom, or shower is highly recommended.
3. Coping with daily life
Due to the decline of their mental functionality, a person with dementia may fail to seek or ask for help even when they really need it.
Follow a daily routine. Following a set daily routine will help limit confusion in dementia patients. You can start by setting waking-up/bedtime and mealtime hours. You may also designate schedules for activities or exercises like walking, stretching, gardening, reading crossword puzzles, etc. to keep them physically and mentally active. Most importantly, try to avoid napping as this will only disrupt their sleep cycle and give them a hard time sleeping at night.
Maintain a positive attitude. Caring for a loved one with dementia will feel a lot easier when you have a positive attitude and outlook. Positive affirmations, facial expressions, and body language help keep them in a good mood throughout the day. It’s also a great way to show and reassure them of your love and affection.
4. Communicating with a dementia patient
Communication can become a challenge for dementia patients, especially those whose conditions have already progressed to moderate or severe stages. Here are some tips to keep in mind when communicating with your loved ones:
Speak clearly. Most dementia patients have a hard time understanding complicated words and fast sentences. Speak slowly and use simple when communicating with them. If they don’t get what you mean the first time, repeat it for them.
Ask simple questions. If possible, only ask questions answerable by yes or no, as it can be difficult for them to respond to open-ended questions. If you notice your loved one having a hard time forming a reply, you can help them find the answer by suggesting words.
Have patience. It’s pretty common for people with dementia to get agitated when they can’t get their message across. If this happens, you can try changing the subject or divert their attention to something else.
Taking care of a loved one suffering from dementia requires a lot of patience and compassion. Instead of getting frustrated at their inability to communicate, show them support and understanding through this very confusing phase of their lives.
5. Handling aggression and manipulative behavior
Aggression. A lot of times, dementia patients exhibit aggression in response to feeling helpless or afraid. They hit, kick, punch, or bite, but all of these can be coming from pure fear or frustration.
The worst thing you can do is get into an argument or use force on an agitated person with dementia. Instead, try to identify the cause of their aggressive behavior and address that. Don’t try to forcibly restrain them, unless you don’t have any other choice.
Manipulative behavior. Many dementia patients lose the ability to distinguish truths and falsehoods. On most occasions, they may not even realize they’re lying.
A person with dementia often exhibits manipulative behavior to fulfill the need for trust, security, or control, but sometimes, it’s also a cry for help. When this happens, separate the patient from the behavior and try not to hold it against them. Also, refrain from using accusatory remarks.
Therapeutic lies. Honesty isn’t always the best policy when dealing with a loved one with dementia. Sometimes, a therapeutic lie is more effective. It can be hard to reason with dementia patients. Telling a lie that would make them feel safe and secured can be better than the harsh truth.
6. Practicing self-care
Caring for a person suffering from dementia can demand all of your time and attention, but it’s important that you don’t forget yourself in the process. The responsibility will take both a physical and emotional toll on you, so make sure to take care of yourself and not let your stress levels get out of control.
Exercise. Join a support group. Plan a life outside caregiving. And don’t hesitate to bring in professional help when necessary. Looking after your health and making time for self-care activities will make you feel good and help you better fulfill your caring role.
About the Author
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.