Dementia is a term that encompasses a variety of negative cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, thinking ability, decision making, and learning. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, but the loss in brain function can come from other ailments as well.
Caring for a loved one or a patient with dementia is going to be challenging and often frustrating. Watching a once highly functioning and capable person slowly decline can be disheartening for both family members and healthcare workers.
Information regarding dementia care is overwhelming at first glance, and hearing the official diagnosis would make anyone emotional. Where do you begin when caring for a patient with dementia? How do you cope?
Proper care is essential in ensuring that your loved one (or patient) has the highest quality of life possible. The following are four simple actions to start with:
Empathize with the Patient
Think about every brain function we all use on a typical day. We make decisions about food, clothes, life, etc. We solve problems and use our memories to recall important information. We drive our cars to work and write the date multiple times. Most of our “simple” tasks require decent cognition, though we rarely stop to think about it.
Now imagine having one of these abilities taken away. What if you can’t remember what year is no matter how many times it’s written in front of you. What if you stare at the options on a grocery aisle for an hour because you mentally can’t choose between white or wheat bread? What if you forget the way to work and get lost on the thousandth time driving to the same place?
It’s terrifying and difficult to imagine that this is what your loved one will be experiencing. There will be a lot of confusion and frustration. Have empathy, compassion, and indefinite patience because your loved one is going to need this understanding more than anything.
Know What Dementia Is
“Dementia” is a term that’s thrown around a lot and sometimes even used synonymously with Alzheimer’s Disease. These two terms do not mean the same thing, and dementia is not a disease.
Many situations and illnesses can lead to dementia, as it is the name given to a loss in some form of cognition. It has several stages of severity and can be detected early on if the patient regularly receives check-ups and reports symptoms.
Allow for Independence (When Appropriate)
Thankfully dementia often shows itself before the latter stages of severity develop. This means that your loved one can likely still perform most daily living activities, which will slow the progress of dementia and keep the patient’s spirits high.
In the earlier stages of dementia, the patient can also participate in his or her own plans for the future. She can look around and check out facilities, leave detailed notes about preferences, and set up a financial plan while still able to collaborate with family and physicians effectively.
As dementia worsens over time, the patient will gradually lose more independence, but this does not mean they cannot continue to participate in some activities. Give your loved one chances to perform tasks, and instead of helping him, first ask, “How can I help you?” Listen and let the patient know that his voice is heard. Find tasks that he can do on his own to increase his confidence and morale.
Seek Out Support for the Patient and Yourself
Being a caregiver is no easy task. It will test your mind and body’s limits and drain your strength quickly if you do not find support. The patient needs support – mentally and physically – but do not neglect yourself.
Find support groups, speak to other family members, and talk to physicians and other caregivers. For your loved one to receive the best care possible, the caregiver must also take care of herself.
It is also important to be realistic about the prognosis of the patient. Receiving the dementia diagnosis is not the end. People with these cognitive symptoms can still live life with the proper care and plenty of opportunities. However, if caring for the patient becomes too much to handle, you might consider a facility with professional memory care. These facilities specialize in caring for patients with cognitive decline. The staff will get to know your loved one and work with the current caregivers to create a personalized patient plan.
Dementia is harrowing, and there’s still much to be learned about these debilitating symptoms. It’s important to stay positive and keep your loved one’s well-being in the front of your mind at all times. The diagnosis is not the end – your loved one will still have life left to enjoy.
“Caring for Someone with Dementia: 5 Fundamentals.” Alzheimers.net, www.alzheimers.net/caring-for-someone-with-dementia/.
About the Author
Carly Commiato is currently teaching junior high at a small town district. She has a degree in Exercise Physiology and an ACSM Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) Certification. In her spare time, Carly enjoys babysitting for her friends and spending time outdoors.