Jennifer Otto, content manager for SeniorResource.com, an online information source, says that while being a caregiver to a loved one with dementia can feel overwhelming, there are ways to provide that care while also creating a comfortable and safe environment. She offers the following tips.
Learn About Dementia
Including its effect on memory, cognitive function, language/communication, and motor function. Know what to expect so you can make informed decisions and have productive conversations with healthcare providers.
Create a Daily Routine
A structured plan can bring a sense of familiarity and security for those with dementia. This can reduce confusion and anxiety. It also helps navigate unpredictable shifts in mood and memory. Take care to incorporate activities that your loved one enjoys. This helps stimulate the senses and can evoke pleasant memories, while also breaking monotony. So the key is to balance predictability with enjoyment.
Maintain a Safe Environment
This means, for example, removing trip hazards to prevent falls. Pay special attention to kitchen and bathroom areas, which might have wet surfaces. Think grab bars too. And be on the lookout for other hazards such as furniture with sharp edges. Clear walkways and have well-lit rooms. If possible, simplify the layout of the home to accommodate changing cognitive abilities. Consider using labels and signs for different rooms or important items to aid memory. The goal is to create a living space that is not just safe, but also comforting and easy to navigate.
Dementia can make communication difficult and confusing, both for the person with dementia and for the caregiver. Approach conversations with patience. Remember, your loved one is navigating a complex cognitive condition, and their ability to understand or respond may not be as it once was. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings as best they can. Your calm demeanor can create a safe space for them to communicate without feeling rushed or misunderstood. Also be mindful of your language and conversation topics. Use simple, clear language that is easy for your loved one to comprehend. Avoid complex sentences or abstract concepts that might cause confusion. Give them ample time to process what you’ve said and formulate a response. You should also steer clear of topics or questions that could be confounding or provoke anxiety. Instead, focus on familiar subjects that would likely evoke positive memories or emotions. The aim is not just to converse but to reassure your loved one that they’re heard and valued.
Engage in Meaningful Activities
Activities that resonate with your loved one’s interests and abilities can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This can mitigate stress, help to maintain cognitive function, and bolster their self-esteem, all vital for their emotional well-being. The simpler that activities are, probably the better. Gardening, listening to music, watching a favorite movie, playing an enjoyed board game, artistic hobbies, going through photo albums are just a few examples.
Maintain Social Connections
These are important for those with dementia. Social isolation and loneliness can worsen the condition, as they often lead to feelings of sadness and anxiety, which in turn affect cognitive function. Regularly connecting with friends and family, whether through in-person or virtual visits, can provide emotional comfort and continuity. Engaging in social activities specifically designed for those with dementia and participating in support groups can offer further sources of connection and support. Approach these interactions with empathy and patience, as dementia may affect memory and communication. Such connections may also create new moments of happiness.
Communicate with Healthcare Providers
Keep your healthcare providers informed of your loved one’s condition and any changes you observe. Maintain open communication with them. Discuss any fears or concerns you may have and request practical solutions or advice.
Plan for the Future
Though it may be difficult, embrace topics such as healthcare proxies, living wills, and caregiving arrangements when these are called for. They can help ensure that you and your loved ones are well-prepared for what lies ahead. Don’t wait for a crisis to prompt these discussions. Deal with them ahead of time in a calm and supportive environment. Then keep legal documents updated and easily accessible to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are respected and followed.
Take Care of Yourself
Caring for a loved one is fraught with challenges. You may often find yourself dealing with complex emotions – frustration, guilt, even grief. These feelings are completely normal. To keep providing the best care you can, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself, too. Carve out time for rest and self-care. Give yourself time to recharge and gather the strength needed to continue. Remember you’re not alone, and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Turn to family, friends, or professional caregivers for support. By knowing your own limits and getting support, you can enhance the quality of care you provide and protect your own health and emotional well-being.
As part of taking care of yourself, identify and use support services. Support groups, senior centers, and other community resources can help you care for your loved one and combat feelings of isolation as a caregiver. Some may also offer respite care services and practical advice from fellow caregivers. Here are three AgeWise Colorado articles that discuss various sources of support for Colorado caregivers:
Plus, here are just a few of the national sources of support:
- ALZConnected® – A free online community by the Alzheimer’s Association for sharing experiences and mutual support.
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) – Provides free Alzheimer’s and dementia support groups facilitated by licensed social workers.
- Family Caregiver Alliance – Offers a wide range of caregiver resources, including caregiving tips, information and encouragement about taking care of yourself, and connections to community organizations and agencies.