Caring for someone with dementia is a difficult job. During the pandemic, many people are finding themselves as the sole care provider for their loved ones. However, even before COVID-19 complicated our lives, people struggled with caring for family members with dementia. With the right tools, it’s possible to provide dementia care for the person in your life struggling with a memory impairment disorder.
What is Dementia?
Caring for someone with dementia begins with understanding the disease, its stages, and how it affects your loved one and the people around them.
Dementia isn’t a disease. Instead, it’s a term that describes a set of cognitive symptoms that interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities. The most common symptom it involves is memory loss. There are several causes of a disease that often causes dementia is Alzheimer’s. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s come from damage to the hippocampus and lead to worsening signs of dementia.
Along with Alzheimer’s, there are three main types of dementia.
Lewy Body Dementia is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. People caring for someone with dementia associated with these conditions need to watch for progressive memory loss, language issues, and mood changes.
Vascular Dementia occurs when there is damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, such as following a severe head injury stroke.
Frontotemporal Dementia involves language difficulties and inappropriate behavioral responses. These patients may present resistance to authority, whether it’s with their caregiver, physician, or law enforcement officers.
Your loved one can also have mixed dementia, which combines two or more conditions causing it.
Other cognitive dementia symptoms include
- Problems communicating or finding the right words to express themselves
- Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities (Bumping into furniture, difficulty catching a ball)
- Trouble with problem-solving and general reasoning
- Confusion with complex tasks
- Inability to plan or organize their daily routine
- Motor function difficulties
- General confusion and disorientation with their surroundings
Your loved one may also have psychological changes that can be difficult, such as
- Changes in their personality
- Inappropriate behavior
Dementia Symptoms Behaviors and How to Handle Them
It’s essential to know you’re the symptoms your loved one may experience to provide the best quality dementia care. Here are the most common issues from the physical and mental changes above and how to handle them with respect and understanding.
People with dementia and memory problems are aware of their condition and the limitations it places on them and their caregivers. These symptoms and other factors, such as environmental, communication, and physical comfort issues, can cause aggression and anger.
The best response is to try and determine the cause of aggression without increasing the response. While working on learning the reason, speak softly and slowly to avoid escalating the behavior. If you’re unable to stop the aggressive response and someone, including yourself, is in danger, call for help to prevent injuries.
Anxiety and Depression
Depression and anxiety are common with dementia. John Hopkins’ expert, Andrea Nelson, R.N., reports between 40 to 50 percent of people with Alzheimer’s and memory problems deal with depression. If you notice more aggression than usual with your loved one, speak to their doctor. It may be related to untreated anxiety and depression, which is treatable with medications.
Confusion is another typical behavior caregivers see with dementia care. Always respond with a calm voice, affection, and reassurance. Keep your focus on their feelings and support them while guiding them to the answers they seek. If they’re convinced that something happened that didn’t, don’t blame, scold, or try to convince them that they’re wrong. These responses can cause aggression and other dangerous behaviors.
A frustrating part of dementia care involves manipulation. Your loved one may be struggling with memory issues, but it doesn’t leave the person fully incapacitated in many cases. They still want to live the life they used to and don’t understand or are ready to forgo the dangers to achieve a glimpse of their past life.
They may try to manipulate you into letting them do something they shouldn’t do or something you need them to do. For example, in return for taking medicine or going to a doctor’s appointment, you let them drive or go out alone. Although it may be tempting to give in, this behavior is self-defeating for you and your loved one. It could also put your loved one, yourself or others in danger if they are engaging in activities that are beyond their current abilities.
Tips for Caring for Someone with Dementia
There are a few ways to reduce stress for you and your loved one.
Create and Stick to a Daily Routine
Routine is vital for everyone and will help with memory. The repetitiveness can reduce stress, confusion and promote some independence for patients with dementia.
A simple routine includes,
- Set times for getting up and going to sleep
- Getting dressed and practicing personal care activities at the same time every day
- Set times for meals and snacks
- Daily break or nap time for the care provider and patient
- Regular socializing opportunities with loved ones and friends to reduce depression
- Daily exercise that’s appropriate for their physical condition
- Regular creative activities to work on fine motor skills and cognitive abilities
Have a Contingency Plan
Problems happen. You can’t be there for everything, and in the event of an emergency, you need someone you can rely on to help care for your loved one. If you don’t have another family member or friend that can fill in from time to time, consider reaching out to respite care services as your contingency plan.
Use Visual Cues
Not remembering simple things can be very frustrating. Having to ask a loved one the same thing multiple times is often embarrassing, as well. Use visual cues to help your loved one with dementia help themselves.
- Visual graphics (shirt, pants, socks, bedclothes) on dresser drawers to help with dressing
- Kitchen labels for basic items, such as cups, plates, and utensils
- Arrows pointing towards bedrooms, bathrooms, and other essential locations
Don’t lie, But be Compassionate
When a loved one with dementia is experiencing memory issues relating to difficult times, such as losing a parent, child, or partner, it might seem easier to lie. After all, you don’t want to see them deal with the pain of the loss over and over. Compassionate dementia care includes being respectful and truthful, no matter how painful.
However, rather than being blunt, be as careful as possible without seeming condescending. For example, you can mention that it must be sad not seeing their child anymore and then redirect the conversation. Ask them to tell you a story about their son or daughter.
Take Care of Yourself
Your mood and reactions can indirectly lead to negative behaviors when caring for someone with dementia. It’s essential to take time for yourself and practice self-care techniques. For example,
- Make time for your spouse, children, and other loved ones
- Take regular breaks, such as walks, reading a book, hitting the gym, or taking a daytime nap to reduce stress
- Eat a nutritious and well-rounded diet
- Get the recommended amount of sleep
- Don’t skip your own doctor’s appointments, including regular checkups and sick visits
If you burn out, it can cause more problems. While it’s not easy finding and setting up secondary care plans, failure to follow self-care recommendations can have serious health repercussions for you and your loved ones.
Caring for someone with dementia isn’t easy. But you’re not alone. Nearly 10 million people develop dementia symptoms every year. The Gables is here to help families in Utah and Idaho create safe environments for their loved ones who may be experiencing memory loss or other cognitive difficulties. We hope this guide has provided a few steps to help guide you through caring for a loved one. If you are located in Utah or Idaho and could use some help, please reach out to our qualified memory care team and come tour one of our beautiful facilities.