Finding a starting point for the challenges ahead
Caring for a loved one can be difficult. Dementia makes it even harder
It starts with memory loss, but it can become so much more. Depending on what areas of the brain are being most affected by the disease, dementia can lead to personality and behavioral changes, loss of reasoning and judgment, and physical decline. The symptoms will vary from person to person depending on their age, health and other factors.
It’s certainly not easy to act as caregiver for a loved one with dementia, but by learning more about the disease, you can better prepare for the challenges ahead.
Learning how to communicate with them
Communication problems may be a source of frustration for both you and your loved one. Dementia can often cause verbal or physical aggression, and your role is to avoid escalating the situation and instead identify the source, whether it be physical discomfort or an unfamiliar environment. Aggression is a natural reaction to feeling helpless or afraid.
There are also going to be occasions where your loved one becomes confused as a result of their diminishing cognitive functions. Your responsibility is to either present them with a simple explanation or divert their attention elsewhere to help them regain some sense of control.
Above all, no matter the situation, empathize with your loved one. Be patient and try to understand their perspective. Forcing them to adapt to your communication style, rather than vice versa, is ultimately pointless and may do more harm than good.
Helping them with their everyday routine
Depending on which stage of dementia your loved one is experiencing, you will be asked to assist them with any number of daily activities that were once routine.
It can start with planning and managing their activities. You’ll need to establish a consistent routine but set realistic expectations for both of you. Don’t overstimulate them with new faces and new environments or especially difficult tasks. Keeping them active and on a routine will help with their general well-being.
More advanced stages of dementia will require greater care, from helping with personal hygiene to having to keep close watch on them, as they may be prone to wandering. Home modifications may also be required, including the removal of throw rugs, the installation of locks and safety latches, and ensuring all areas of the home are well lit to minimize shadows.
The more severe the dementia, the more demanding caregiving is going to become. Maintaining a positive attitude is important as these challenges present themselves.
Knowing when to ask for help
As the person responsible for providing help, it can often be difficult to ask for it yourself. But it is important to recognize when you can no longer shoulder the responsibility on your own.
There are a number of reasons that people decline to hire professional care for their loved one, including cost, logistics, and even conflict within the family. But there are also valid reasons to seek out resources, in-home professional support, or even hospice care.
Hiring a professional in-home caregiver ensures that your loved one is receiving expert-level care and also helps alleviate the pressures of serving as sole caregiver yourself, avoiding the potential for burnout. This can also work to resolve feelings of irritation or resentment, especially if you feel like you’re struggling to balance your own life with your caregiving responsibilities.
Ultimately, these are basic tenets to remember, and some may not apply to your situation. They provide a baseline to work from as you prepare for the road ahead.