Caring for Someone with Dementia
Educating yourself about dementia and maintaining a positive but realistic attitude allows you to maintain an element of control as a caregiver. Below we outline a few of the top recommendations we’ve found while researching how to best care for someone with dementia.
- Accept Support
Whether you are caregiving for someone in your family, or whether you provide care professionally, never be afraid to ask for help. Support groups allow caregivers to vent in a group setting with people who understand what one another is going through. It also allows caregivers to hear what is working for other caregivers and learn about local Alzheimer’s and dementia resources. Caregiving for someone with dementia is not easy and there will certainly be moments when professional caregivers need a hand or someone to talk to as well.
Care starts with compassion and empathy. This holds true in all human relationships but may be especially salient for dementia caregivers. For example, people with dementia are prone to becoming confused about their whereabouts and even the time period in which they are living. Imagine how you would feel and would want to be treated if you suddenly found yourself disoriented in an unfamiliar place, not even sure of the year or your own identity. Many times anger is the first reaction for someone feeling fear, although someone is expressing anger, there is likely fear beneath that surface.
- Be Realistic
The definition of success will be fluid as the dementia progresses. Success is helping to assure that the person you are caring for is as comfortable, happy and safe as possible. Most experienced dementia caregivers will tell you that the person they care for has good days and bad days. Try your best to foster the good days and even the good moments for the person with dementia. Also, be realistic about the course of the disease. Remember that most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, are irreversible and progressive.
- Dementia is More Than Memory Loss
Memory loss is a classic dementia symptom. But some types of dementia, particularly frontotemporal dementia and Pick’s disease, manifest themselves as personality changes rather than memory loss. The symptoms depend on the areas of the brain that is affected by the disease. Even when memory loss is the most apparent symptom, the person with dementia is experiencing a neurological decline that can lead to a host of other issues. A patient may develop difficult behaviors and moods. Formally trusting gentleman may come to believe that his family is plotting against him or experience other delusions and hallucinations. In the latest stages of most types of dementia, patients become unable to attend to activities of daily living (such as dressing and toileting) independently. They may become non-communicative, unable to recognize loved ones and even unable to move about.
- Plan Ahead
The only inevitable is change when you are caring for someone with dementia. Never get too used to the status quo. That means that family caregivers should prepare for a time when their loved one may need professional memory care in a residential setting. This involves both financial planning and identifying the most appropriate care options in your area. Professional caregivers and memory care providers also need to plan ahead. They should be mindful to continually reassess the care needs and health status of clients and residents with dementia. Remember that care needs will inevitably increase and plan ahead for any transitions that the resident may require in the future, such as a move to a skilled nursing provider or hospice care.
It's easy to become overwhelmed quickly when a loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that others are experiencing a similar path you’re now finding yourself on. There will always be challenging times, remember to care for yourself during these times. Self care is not selfish, it’s necessary. As Tim McGraw said “Use the oxygen mask theory, put it on yourself first”.