Loved ones with dementia have complex needs; this is why caring for someone with dementia can be demanding and sometimes, emotionally-draining. Dementia care puts a lot of pressure on the caregiver, which can make you feel lost along the way.
Dementia is one of the most common diseases affecting older people worldwide. Every hour, about nine Canadians get diagnosed with the disease. Also, in 2017, more than 432,000 Canadians aged 65 or older were diagnosed with different types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
This guide outlines the seven best practices to help you overcome the challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Since dementia has no cure, your loved one’s quality of life usually depends on how much love and support you can provide as a caregiver.
Challenges of Caring for Someone with Dementia
- Isolation: Caring for someone with dementia at home can leave you feeling isolated from every other person. Loved ones with dementia often require constant supervision, which means that you have to change or modify your daily routine to provide the needed support.
For instance, you may have to cancel activities and spend more time at home, affecting your relationship with other people.
- Caregiver Fatigue: As the days go by, you may start to experience burnout or fatigue due to the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with caregiving. This negatively affects the quality of care and attention that you can give, and you may start to experience feelings of resentment.
- Emotional Stress: Watching your loved one go through changes that come with dementia can impact your mental and emotional well-being. Many caregivers struggle to come to terms with these changes, which can trigger anxiety disorders and depression.
- Physical Stress: While caring for a person with dementia, you may start to pay less attention to yourself and neglect your health. Caregiving is a demanding job that can leave you with little or no personal time.
You may develop unhealthy habits such as skipping mealtime, which can trigger eating disorders, unexplained weight loss, and weaken the immune system. Caregivers also experience reduced or a total loss of personal care time, including sleep, exercising, and dieting.
- Work Complications: Family caregivers often have to reduce their work hours or give up outside employment completely. With fewer work hours, caregivers may experience financial strain in the medium and long-term.
Family caregivers may also struggle with caregiving spilling over into their employment (possibly a lot!), and employment interfering with caregiving duties.
7 Best Practices When Caring for Someone with Dementia
Caring for someone with dementia is a huge responsibility that can, unfortunately, start to feel like a thankless job along the way. People with dementia experience a lot of changes, and this can become overwhelming for the care provider.
It is easier to care for a person with dementia when you can access the right information and resources. Here are a few things you can do to provide better care and support for your loved one.
Prepare Yourself with Knowledge
A diagnosis of dementia may come as no surprise if you’ve been seeing your loved one’s cognition declining. Still, the diagnosis can be difficult to process for both the patient and caregiver. Once you get past this shock, it might be helpful to learn about the different stages of dementia.
Learning about dementia can help you to understand the changes your loved one is experiencing, especially during the early stages of the disease.
Many organizations like the National Institute on Aging have online resources filled with information about how to care for older adults with dementia. You can also join community support groups to help you prioritize your efforts and explore long-term care options for your loved one.
Routines are Important
Routines are important in caregiving because they create a sense of structure and consistency. They also keep things running smoothly and reduce exhaustion and burn out.
Make sure your daily routine is simple and familiar so that your loved one can easily keep up. You can create a timetable and assign different activities to specific times of the day, such as mealtime, fun and recreation time, exercises, and visitors’ time.
As you come up with a daily routine, you should keep the following in mind:
- Use visual cues to let your loved one know what to expect at different times of the day.
- Involve them in light physical activities in the routine. For instance, they can help out with gardening or even do some self-care activities.
- Choose social activities that are in line with the patient’s interest.
When caring for someone with dementia at home, you can opt for external day programs for a couple of days per week to mix things up. This will give the family caregiver respite while your loved one gets a change of scenery, as well as engagement and interaction carried out by someone else.
Day dementia programs are cheaper than keeping the patient in nursing homes, and they also complement home care. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many day programs in Canada are on hold but feel free to ask us for resources in the time being.
Communication Do’s and Don’ts
- Communicate Positively: Use pleasant facial expressions, warm gestures, and a welcoming tone when interacting with a person diagnosed with dementia. Create a positive mood for interaction that reaffirms your commitment, affection, and support as a care provider.
- Be Attention-Focused: The best way to communicate with a person diagnosed with dementia is to limit distractions and focus on them. Shutting off or reducing noise and interference helps the patient to focus on the conversation.
Before you speak, capture the person’s attention with confident and reassuring eye contact. Also, use gestures and reassuring nonverbal clues to calm your loved one down as you speak.
You should introduce yourself by name to add familiarity to the conversation. If the patient finds it difficult to identify you, you can help by stating your relationship with her.
- Be Clear and Direct: When communicating with a dementia patient, use familiar words and expressions that are easy to understand. A person with dementia may struggle to understand your message for the first time. When this happens, pause for a bit and rephrase the question.
Always refer to the actual names of people during the conversation instead of their pronouns. Pronouns are vague and make it difficult for the patient to follow the conversation.
- Ask 1 Question at a Time: Your questions should be simple and straightforward so that your loved one can easily understand and respond to them. Do not ask open-ended questions and avoid slang and unfamiliar words.
When you ask a question, always provide options that the person can choose from. However, avoid giving too many choices as this can be confusing. If possible, add visual cues to help them choose the best response to the question.
- Go on a Memory Trip: Building conversations around your loved one’s earlier memories can be both soothing and reassuring. Earlier memories act as a safe space for people with dementia because they can vividly recall them.
A person with dementia may experience intense short-term memory losses. Do not ask them questions about very recent events such as what they did after lunch or someone who visited the day before.
- Stay Happy: When you’re happy, you can give the best level of care and support . Try as much as possible to maintain a healthy sense of humour as you care for your loved one living with dementia.
- Be Patient while you Listen: As a dementia caregiver, you need to listen wholeheartedly to the other person during conversations. People with dementia may struggle to respond to questions. When this happens, calmly suggest possible answers and words that can help them put their thoughts into words.
Listening goes beyond words. Pay attention to gestures, body language, and other non-verbal cues. This helps you to understand how they feel and know the best way to support them.
Handling Difficult Situations
Due to the personality changes and stress associated with dementia, your loved one may start to act differently. Many persons with dementia exhibit troubling behaviours—they may become aggressive, wander off at different times of the day, or have sleeping and eating difficulties.
First, you must understand that these changes are normal, and many times, the patient has no control over them. Many times, a change of behaviour is the patient’s way of fulfilling a longing. If the behaviour is not harmful, you can try to accommodate it.
You can also make some changes to the daily routine and see if this helps. If there is no improvement, seek medical help or find support from others in your community. As you care for your loved one, maintain compassion, patience, and most importantly, a healthy sense of humour.
Implement Positive Practices
The best approach to dementia caregiving is to deal with it one day at a time. Some of the changes that will happen to your loved one will take a huge toll on your emotions. If this is not well-managed, it can affect your mental health and trigger anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
As a carer, you should have a daily gratitude list where you record your wins. Also, recognize your emotions and understand that every emotion you feel is valid. Journaling also helps you to reflect on your thoughts and experiences.
Implement Memory Strategies
People living with dementia typically experience short-term memory loss that can be uncomfortable or humiliating. Some memory strategies that can help your loved one handle the memory challenges that come with dementia include:
- Always write down information: Writing things down as soon as they happen will help with recalling things more easily. You can create a to-do list for activities every day.
- Pay keen attention to your actions: Be deliberate about every action you take and avoid absentmindedness.
- Focus on one activity at a time: Multitasking can be very distracting for someone with dementia. To improve memory, encourage engaging in tasks one after the other.
- Develop healthy habits that can help organize tasks: If someone always forgets a particular thing, try creating a habit around it. For instance, if your patient or loved one always forgets where their glasses are, choose a spot in your room always to keep them.
Other things you can do are:
- Place things where they can be found at a glance.
- Set reminders for activities.
- Repeat information at regular intervals to help commit it to memory.
Most importantly, understand that mistakes will happen. Some days, your loved one will experience memory slips but try not to dwell on this. Instead, encourage the person to pick themselves up and focus on improving their ability to pay attention, one step at a time.
Get a Good Support System
Seeking help when you need it does not make you any less of a dementia caregiver. Whenever you feel tired, find support by reaching out to your family members, friends, or volunteer organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and ask for help. Remember that you cannot do it alone and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto is an excellent resource for caregiver support groups.
If you start to feel overwhelmed, talk to your doctor or local healthcare practitioner. You can also opt for senior home care that provides access to professional caregivers. To learn about elder care services for people with dementia, contact us.
Remember to Take Care of Yourself…
As you prioritize the needs of your loved one, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Many self-care habits can help you deal with the challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Yoga, meditation, and regular exercises can boost your energy levels and improve your quality of life.
Talk to a trusted friend or a therapist about the challenges you are facing as a dementia caregiver. If you need more help dealing with the challenges of dementia care, contact Guardian Home Care in Toronto. We also provide nursing agency care if your needs are complex.