Six Tips for a Dementia Caregiver
Supporting a relative or friend who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be extremely rewarding. While not easy, contributing to their well-being and sense of security can help them cope with the challenges they face. Working together, there are steps you can take to make each day a little brighter.
Familiarize Yourself with the Stages of Dementia Care
People who experience dementia may start forgetting little things, like appointments and birthdays. It is important that you get involved early and work as a team to help your friend or relative deal with these initial changes. Go along on doctor’s visits and learn as much as you can about possible progressions. The more involved you are from the beginning, and the more you learn, the better you will be at recognizing future hurdles and how to work together to overcome them.
Focus on How You Communicate
One of the frustrations for people experiencing dementia is difficulty communicating, and that problem is made worse when they also have trouble understanding what you are trying to say. Here are steps you can take to keep the lines of communication open in both directions:
- Focus on one thing at a time when giving directions on how to do something or asking questions.
- Be careful about the tone you use. What you say to a friend or relative with dementia is important, but it is equally important that you communicate in an upbeat tone as opposed to a frustrated one.
- Don’t interrupt. It may be tempting to “help” by finishing sentences or asking questions, but it’s important for people with dementia to be able to communicate when they are able to do so. Be patient and let the conversation play out, even if you don’t feel that the sentence will make sense. The feeling of triumph your friend or family members gets from simply talking to someone far outweighs the time it takes to hear them out.
Help Keep Agitation to a Minimum
People with dementia experience agitation at different levels, partly out of the frustration related to the symptoms of the condition. Keep track of the things that make your relative or friend agitated and take steps to minimize their impact. Some supportive steps you can take include:
- Keeps rooms tidy and noise to a minimum.
- Have a conversation about what is leading to the agitation. Just talking about it may help make things better.
- Be supportive of independence. For people with Alzheimer’s Disease, every task they complete and every face or memory that comes to mind is an accomplishment. You should always be on hand and ready to help when you can, but letting your loved one do as much as possible without your assistance provides victories that can reduce stress.
- Keep to a regular routine. Eating meals at the same time, leaving furniture in its regular place and engaging in daily activities at consistent times can help a person with dementia maintain a feeling of security.
Keep Safety in Mind
One of the effects of dementia is the lessening of the ability to solve problems and avoid common hazards. Try to keep the floor clear of things like throw rugs and long extension cords that pose a tripping hazard. Be sure that all smoke and other alarms have fresh batteries and that there aren’t matches or lighters in places that are easy to reach.
Be sure to talk to your family member or friend about why you are taking such precautions. It is important that you create an environment that is loving as opposed to one that feels as if you have adopted a parental role. For example, explain that you are locking cabinets with harmful chemicals or other objects because you care about safety.
Take Time for Yourself
Committing yourself to someone who needs dementia care can lead to your own frustrations, and in some cases, depression. In order to dedicate yourself to someone who benefits from your help, you should be as happy and healthy as possible.
It may be difficult for you to find the time to go to a movie or take a long walk, but even short five- or ten-minute breaks are good for your mental health. Engage in activities that you both enjoy as often as you can. This not only gives you a chance to relax, it is an opportunity for both of you to ease some of the frustration related to dementia.
Be sure that you are also talking to another friend or relative rather than bottling up your own feelings. Just talking about how you are feeling as a caregiver can help relieve some of the stress.
Know Your Limitations
If you have been caring for a friend or family member with dementia and feel that you are unable to do it alone, don’t hesitate to ask for help. There is no shame in knowing when it is time to choose respite care or memory care services from professionals, as the long-term goal is to keep your friend or relative as safe and happy as possible. There are several signs that indicate it is time for you to partner with someone else in providing a happy, healthy environment.
- Increased Needs – You may find yourself physically unable to take care of your loved one if their needs become greater. If they need care during hours when you must work or otherwise be away, a supportive living environment outside the home may be the best option for everyone.
- Harmful Behavior – If someone becomes a danger to themselves or others, it may be an indication that they need more supervision in a nurturing environment surrounded by memory care professionals. Through no fault of their own, some people living with dementia demonstrate increasingly harmful behavior later in the day. This transformation as the day progresses is known as sundowning, and it is an indication the dementia is progressing.
- Increased Wandering – As hard as you try, you simply can’t be with your friend or relative every minute of the day. It is not unusual for people experiencing dementia to get confused about where they are and where they want to be.
- Safety Needs – Even if you take every precaution, a person living with dementia may accidentally hurt themselves or others. As it becomes more difficult for them to communicate their needs to help avoid these problems, you may find that the healthiest place for their continued well-being is outside the home.
- Your Own Stress Levels – Caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming, and you must keep your own stress levels in mind when deciding if it is time to find a partner in caregiving.
If it is time to make a decision regarding the safest, healthiest environment for a person experiencing dementia, the first step is to talk about it. No one should be left out of a discussion about their own future, even if that discussion is difficult. Be sure to talk about the advantages of a memory care supportive environment, such as safety and the ability to live one’s life as close as possible to the way it was planned.
If you need a short-term break from caregiving to rejuvenate yourself or to deal with other family matters, consider respite care. Short-term stays in respite care provide a break to you and a safe, healthy alternative for residents. Respite care is also a good option if you need a point of comparison with the home dementia care you are able to provide on your own. You and your friend or relative can then decide on the best long-term option together.
Long-term care outside the home may be the best solution for everyone as people with dementia get increasingly upset at being unable to communicate their needs. Ultimately, people who need memory care services should feel as safe and happy as possible in their environment, with a careful balance between their overall wellness and the watchfulness of professional dementia care team members.
The Villages of Windcrest in Fredericksburg, Texas, offers people who need memory care services an environment that is both safe and nurturing. The focus is on the overall wellbeing of residents through a combination of wellness and enrichment programs, along with supervisory care. Your friend or relative can maximize their independence while being surrounded by team members who understand the challenges presented by living with dementia.
Care plans at The Villages of Windcrest are customized for each resident through our Valeo by Solvere programming. This helps ensure that each and every resident in the memory care program has their needs met while also enjoying services that contribute to overall wellness.