Aging comes with a lot of changes and challenges. One such specific consequence is the body’s reduced immune functions and vulnerability to diseases.
Some illnesses are manageable and easier to prevent, but some come with debilitating symptoms like the neurodegenerative disease called dementia.
Seeing a loved one get diagnosed and battle dementia can be heartbreaking, especially when its symptoms start to progress and slowly rob them of their wits and independence.
The least you could do is give them a safe space and become the best caregiver and supporter they could ever have. The first step in caring for a loved one with dementia is to learn and understand the disease.
We will help you navigate this journey by giving you the basics of dementia and essential tips for dementia care.
The term “dementia” generally refers to a group of symptoms characterized by the deterioration of memory, thinking, language, and social abilities severe enough to hinder one’s daily life.
It is not a single specific disease; it is actually a general term with several different causes, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of its most common cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms include:
- Memory loss and difficulty in communicating, planning, thinking, coordination, and reasoning.
- Easily confused and disoriented
- Aggression and irritability without being provoked
- Repetitive behavior
- Mood disturbance like depression and anxiety
- Sleep difficulty and wandering
- Social inappropriateness
- Hallucinations or delusions (seeing something that is not there)
All of these manifestations make dementia care both physically and emotionally exhausting. However, you can make everything smooth-sailing for you and your senior loved one by planning and following these tips:
1. Educate Yourself
The only way you can fully understand something you have not experienced yet is to learn about it. Find out everything you can about dementia by researching it on credible health websites (WHO, CDC).
You can also ask your loved one’s doctor to explain the disease and its progressive stages so that you will know what to expect as years go by.
In-depth knowledge about the disease allows you to prepare yourself for the physical and behavioral changes your loved one might display.
It also enables you to plan regarding your loved one’s treatment plans, caregiving, and living situation.
2. Accept Support
Dementia care does not come with a manual. So you need to prepare as much as you can and learn as you go by. Some days will be hard, but others will be much harder. So remember to go easy on yourself and don’t neglect your own happiness and welfare.
Manage your time well and bring balance to your life by allotting time on other things aside from your caregiving responsibilities. You can:
- Seek support or help from other family members early on so you won’t get burned out.
- Join a support group for family caregivers of seniors with dementia to connect with people trekking the same journey as you do.
- Talk to a counselor or therapist.
- Take care of yourself by eating healthy, exercising, and engaging in your beloved hobbies.
- Seek memory care or in-home help
3. Establish Good Communication
Establishing an open line of communication makes everything more bearable, clear, and peaceful. However, as your loved one’s disease progresses, communication might become difficult on their end, giving rise to frustrations and misplaced anger.
Here are smart tips on how to effectively communicate with a senior with dementia without sounding patronizing nor apathetic:
- Bring a positive demeanor whenever you converse with your loved one. Speak in a respectful tone and manner.
- Say your message in a slow, clear, and concise way. Ask simple questions and use simple words. Don’t confuse them by firing several questions at a time or giving too many choices.
- Listen with an emphatic heart.
- Don’t force them or give them an ultimatum. Be flexible and learn how to compromise.
- When the going gets tough, remain calm, composed, and extend your patience.
- Listen and observe.
4. Develop a Routine
Based on studies and proven experiences, establishing a routine provides a sense of familiarity and comfort to dementia patients. The repetitive practice and consistency keep them grounded despite their memory loss and other cognitive problems.
Moreover, finishing a task on their own can bring them joy and boost their self-confidence. Regularly exposing them to predictable patterns also help them retain their long-term memory.
- Stick to consistent time patterns, such as mealtime, bedtime, and waking up.
- Get your loved one involved in planning their day-to-day activities. You can suggest things that they might want to try, like gardening, walking, or laundry folding.
- Don’t suddenly spring up activities on them. Let them know what they are about to do or establish cues to prepare them indirectly for an upcoming activity.
- If something needs to be changed or added, let your loved one know. Then gradually introduce it to them.
- Make sure to stick with mind-stimulating yet relaxing activities. Don’t let them overexert themselves.
- Go with the flow. Routines are essential but if your loved ones suddenly want to do something different or get agitated with the planned activity, then modify the schedule as needed.
Dementia patients might experience trouble doing certain activities, but it is essential to encourage independence as much as possible.
5. Cope With Changes
Nobody is born equipped to take on dementia care. It is a long and challenging process that will test your patience and emotional capacity.
Some days, you may think you have got it all figured out until another new symptom comes up or a new challenge presents itself. However, you should not let these circumstances deter you.
Dementia care is a trial and error process. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You just have to accept the change and learn how to deal with it the best way you can.
Just remember to always be emotionally aware despite the massive responsibility thrust upon you. Lengthen your patience and try to approach each problem with empathy.
Also, take care of yourself just as much as you take care of your senior loved one.