According to current estimates, 50 million people globally have dementia, with most people continuing to live within their community. Interestingly, family and friends provide care for 75% of people living with dementia. In 2007, approximately 10 million people in the U.S. cared for someone with dementia, ensuring they maintained a good quality of life.
“Caring for family members with dementia poses many challenges for the caregiver because of the high levels of care required,” says Dr. Ashok Bharucha, MD, MA. As a highly-trained geriatric psychiatrist, Dr. Bharucha understands the challenges faced by family members who care for their loved ones with dementia. He adds, “Dementia and its related conditions make it difficult for the sufferer to remember things, communicate, think clearly, and take care of themselves. In addition, dementia often causes mood swings and behavioral changes caused by the person’s altered state.”
Jennifer J. Manly, Ph.D., professor of neuropsychology, recently wrote in Science Daily, “Increasing longevity and the aging of the Baby Boom generation means that cognitive impairment is expected to increase significantly over the next few decades. As a result, it will increasingly affect these individuals, their families, and the programs that provide care and services.”
For anyone caring for a family member with dementia, some practical strategies can help with their daily care, communication, home safety, and providing them with a healthy lifestyle. “Most importantly, caregivers need to consider themselves,” says Dr. Ashok Bharucha, “and we include a few tips for them.”
General Dementia Caregiver Tips
As dementia advances, your loved one will need more help with simple daily tasks because of the changes in their thinking, reasoning, and remembering. Therefore, as their caregiver, you will need to start making changes from the early stages to help with a smoother transition.
Maintaining a routine for bathing, dressing, eating, and daily activities remains essential. In addition, you should help them keep a calendar where they can note down appointments, events, and to-do lists.
You will need to develop a way to remind them when to take their medications and allow them to dress and groom themselves as much as possible. Ensure their clothes are comfortable and easy to wear.
Always use gentle actions and a respectful voice, and give step-for-step explanations of everything you are about to do.
Make Communication Easier
Dementia causes several different communication defects, depending on its form. For example, your loved one may have trouble remembering things, and they may have difficulty expressing themselves with the right words. These communication difficulties can cause them anger, anxiety, and even anger.
Troubled communication can lead to frustration, but remain calm and offer reassurance. If you notice the person becomes angry or fearful, be understanding. Some important things to remember is to always respect their personal space and give them some quiet time. Also, encourage two-way conversations and keep reminding them of who they are instead of asking them if they remember certain things. Finally, keep their favorite photos, albums, or books at hand to distract them and help them feel more secure.
Provide Home Safety
Their impaired memory and decision-making create unsafe conditions you must identify and correct.
“Each person is different, meaning it is up to you as the caregiver to make danger areas within the home safer,” explains Dr. Bharucha.
Therefore, ensure stairs are safe by providing a handrail and visible steps. Also, provide good lighting and clear away items they may trip over. Cooking, driving, or taking a walk on their own will depend on their level of independence, but at some point, you will have to limit these, which can prove quite challenging. When taking these activities away, it’s up to you to use a non-confrontational voice while remaining sensitive to their reactions.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
People with dementia need to eat healthily and maintain an active lifestyle. Ensure they eat well by getting healthy foods that are easy to prepare. You will need to plan their activities because they often lack initiative. Plan things they enjoy, for example, gardening, walking in the park, or baking. You can use music and dancing to help motivate them.
Never Forget Yourself
As a caregiver, you must maintain physical and mental strength by eating well, exercising, and relaxing. “Many people struggle to ask for help,” says Dr. Bharucha, “but it’s vital not to feel guilty when you need some time to yourself or when you finally need to hand over the care of your loved one to a professional.”
Planning can help make it less overwhelming when caring for someone with dementia. Let the person become part of the decision-making process early and get permission from them to deal with important issues later. Moreover, show them respect and care at every stage of this challenging time. Finally, don’t take on too much before getting support from friends and professionals.