More than 5 million Americans have dementia, and the number of people with Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia, is projected to increase to 13.8 million by 2050. Dementia occurs when damage develops in the brain causing problems with memory, decision making, thinking, social abilities, and behavior. As dementia progresses, the individual becomes more dependent on others for assistance with daily activities, such as dressing and eating.
The challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia are many and pose unique problems for families and their Alzheimer's caregivers. Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to memory loss, behavior changes as well as personality changes amongst other things, is the most common form found in older adults who suffer from this disorder.
As the disease progresses over time, people with dementia tend to need care around the clock as they are unable to properly care for themselves. Having a professional caregiver for dementia care is not only more cost-efficient but it also relieves some of the stress and pressures off of family and friends. It is common for caregivers to help their charges with healthcare and one or more activities of daily living (ADLs) activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding, walking or moving about, transferring from bed to chair, toileting, and managing incontinence. They can also help with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The IADLs can include household chores, preparing meals, shopping, arranging for doctor’s appointments, providing transportation, managing finances, legal affairs, and answering the telephone.
Here are 13 ways to take care of your loved one in safe and happy ways while dealing with the challenges of dementia.
- Become informed. One of the best long-term strategies to take care of your loved one with dementia is to become well informed about the disease. There are many programs and support groups that can teach families about the different stages of dementia and ways to deal with the challenges of the disease. The National Institute On Aging provides Alzheimer’s and dementia-related information for both the patient, family, and caregivers.
- Be patient. Dementia causes a lot of changes in someone's behavior and it can be very frustrating for both you and them. Try to remember that they aren't doing these things on purpose and be gentle with them. Listen patiently and try to understand what it is your loved one is trying to convey to you.
- Keep a daily routine as much as possible. Dementia patients do best when they have a schedule to follow and something familiar to do every day. Try to dedicate time to do activities such as dress, bathe, or eat around the same times every day. Plan the daily activities that your loved one likes to do every day at the same time, such as watching TV and mealtimes. Identify situations that are out of their routine that may be too stressful for your loved one and try to avoid them.
- Keep the house filled with their favorite things. This could be foods or objects that remind them of home or the past, like pictures of friends and family members, furniture, and other possessions.
- Keep unannounced guests down to a minimum. Unless they ask for visitors, try to keep interactions down. Dementia patients might not always understand what's going on around them and may get scared or overwhelmed by too much activity at once. If others want to visit your loved one, make sure to plan ahead.
- Make time for yourself. Caring for someone with dementia can be very exhausting and it's important to take some time for yourself to relax and recharge as it can take a toll on your mental health. Ask a friend or family member to help out once in a while so you can have some respite care. Respite care grants are available to caregivers to allow them to schedule their loved ones in a senior living facility short-term, so they can get the much needed downtime they deserve.
- Get help from professionals. If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help with your situation, it's important to get professional help. There are many organizations that offer support and resources for caregivers of dementia patients such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
- Be aware of their surroundings. Dementia patients can easily become lost or confused in new places, so be sure to stick around them when they leave the house and watch out for hazards around the home. Wandering is also a possibility. Sometimes those with dementia may forget where they are and wander off. To avoid this, try to schedule activities during the peak times you see this behavior occurring (i.e. late afternoon, also called sundowning).
- Think about long-term care. It's not always possible to take care of a dementia patient at home around the clock and not have to call in-home care assistants. You may need help finding resources like skilled nursing facilities or assisted living communities near you.
- Stay positive. Your body language can communicate your feelings sometimes better than words. Staying positive helps to convey your feelings of affection. This can be a difficult journey but it's important to stay positive and have hope for the future. There are many treatments and therapies available that can help improve someone's quality of life with dementia.
- Seek support from others who are in a similar situation. Caring for someone with dementia can be very isolating so it's important to find support from others who are going through the same thing. There are many online and in-person support groups available that can offer you advice, emotional support, and resources. Many dementia caregivers have found that joining a support group can be quite beneficial. Support groups allow family members and family caregivers to share experiences, tips, and emotional support. There are several in-person and online groups that support caregivers and their families, including groups for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s and their families, as well as other types of dementia.
- Home safety needs. Keeping the person’s surroundings safe is a great responsibility. Safety precautions need to be placed in the home such as a shower chair and grab bars in the bathroom, night lights, smoke detectors, CO2 detectors, and removing locks from doors so they don’t lock themselves in or out. There are many non-invasive options such as smart security systems that have security cameras and door-locking options right from their smartphone. The security of the cameras can give seniors peace of mind about their safety and well-being.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle. Personal care and healthy living are very important. Regular health check-ups, staying active, and sleeping well are just a few ways to keep up with a healthy lifestyle for caregivers and those with dementia.
National Institute on Aging. “Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.” Accessed on January 11, 2022. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet
U.S Department of Health and Human Services. “Research on Care Needs and Supportive Approaches for Persons with Dementia.” Accessed January 10, 2022. https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/research-care-needs-supportive-approaches-persons-dementia-0
Alzheimer’s Association. “What is Dementia?” Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia