Seniors and age-Related Memory Loss III: 5 Basic Ways to Care for a Loved One with Dementia
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. As the disease progresses, there are different ways it may present itself. In some, it may manifest more in forgetfulness, and in others, it may be behaviors and personality changes. Knowing the type of dementia your loved one has can assist in knowing what changes and behaviors are typical of each diagnosis. But there are also ways you can approach caring for your loved one as you go through this journey together. Below are some ways to help you and your loved one approach each day to help you and them navigate caring for a person with dementia.
- There will be good days and not so good days. One day your loved one may wake up and remember who you are, what day it is, and where they are. Other days, they may wake up and not be able to recall what seems to be simple information such as their grandchildren, you, or even how to do tasks during the day. These not so good days may also manifest in aggression and agitation, and their personality may shift from how they usually are. The individual may lash out and say hurtful things. What is key to remember is that this is not your loved one lashing out, it is the disease manifesting and expressing in this way. Be patient with your loved one, and remember as frustrating as it is for you, it is even more for them.
- Experienced reality may not be actual reality. Most people agree that the sky is blue and the grass is green. Imagine if someone came up to you and was telling you that you are wrong and that the sky is green and the grass is blue. You will probably argue back because you are steadfast in your belief of reality. This is also common for persons with dementia. They may have the belief that it is imperative that they go to work and that they are still employed and have a responsibility to uphold. By arguing and telling them that their experienced reality is not real, this can be aggravating and increase agitation. Instead, sit in that reality with them. For example, if your loved one is experiencing that they are at work, sit with them in that. Ask them questions about what work needs to be accomplished, what projects they are working on, what they need to be successful.
- Go at their pace. Along with the idea of good days and not so good days, some days your loved one may want to eat, shower, interact, and other days they may adamantly refuse. Do not argue, allow them to say no, and then try to ask again at a later time in a different way. Your loved one still has the right to refuse to do something, even though we know that they need to do it! The phrasing or timing may need to be changed, and how you approach them. Also keep in mind that routines are important for persons with dementia, so if you can keep to a daily routine this can also help with keeping a regular schedule.
- Avoid doing harm. This can be physical harm and emotional harm. As stated above, stubbornness can be typical for persons with dementia. Forcing your loved one to do a task could lead to unintentional harm stemming from frustration. Forcing your loved one to eat could lead to food/drink aspiration, which could lead to aspiration pneumonia, or even forcing them to shower could lead to skin tears or bruising. As far as emotional harm, depending on where your loved one is in their dementia progression, they may not remember various life events. If their spouse has died and they have completely forgotten, it may cause extreme trauma to remind them again and again that they have passed. It can be hard to lie to your loved one, however living and reliving trauma can be hard for them to process.
- Remember to care for yourself. Caring for a loved one is exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. While you are doing work to care for your loved one, you are also beginning to lose their personality and your loved one was making it emotionally draining. As you are “pouring” out of your cup into them to provide care, remember to refill your cup as well. Take time to do something for yourself that helps you feel like yourself and helps you replenish yourself. You cannot care well for someone else if you yourself are not being cared for.
While it can be an emotionally intimate time to provide care for your loved one with dementia, it can also be hard to care as they are having changes. By remembering to be patient and also care for yourself, the caregiving experience can be rewarding as you go along this journey.
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