Navigating the complexities of caring for someone with dementia can often feel overwhelming. Whether by a professional caregiver, family member, or friend, helping someone through this journey of potential memory loss, behavioral, and physical changes can bring stress to both the person affected and the caregiver. To help combat these stressors and improve the daily experience of all individuals involved, we’ve outlined eight essential guidelines and tips to follow while caring for someone with dementia.
1. Ask for Support
Building a network of family, friends, and doctors will provide you with the important resources required as a care provider. While it can be difficult to admit the need for help, often, it’s family and friends that can offer emotional and physical support during times of distress. Caregiving is a demanding role, and should not rest solely on the shoulders of one individual.
What’s more, support can come in the form of respite care to give you an afternoon or day off from caregiving duties.
2. Build Realistic Expectations
It’s important to educate yourself on the realities of caring for someone with dementia. Understanding the impacts of the condition on both the person themselves and those who care for them is critical to managing expectations in the process. A further education into dementia will help you understand the “why” behind specific behaviors one might exhibit. Additional resources provided by healthcare professionals can also guide how you problem-solve against these behaviors.
3. Long-Term Preparation
Having honest discussions about a long-term care plan can help mitigate future challenges, especially with multiple family members involved. For example, it’s critical to delegate an individual in advance who will assume responsibilities for those with dementia, should they become unable to address issues themselves. Other elements of a long-term plan could include (but are not limited to):
- Consulting a professional about the power of attorney
- Establishing financial plans
- Researching or joining support groups
- Determining family member roles
- Designating a memory care community for future transition to full-time professional care
4. Focus on Clear Communication
When you’re caring for someone with dementia daily, it’s important to speak slowly and break things down in a clear, concise manner. Asking questions that challenge short term memory can help individuals feel like they can cognitively connect to what’s happening around them. While it may be frustrating at times, make sure to have patience in your daily communication. Clarity and simplicity help individuals focus on what they can understand and accomplish, rather than what they cannot.
5. Prepare for Troubling Behavior
Understanding that you cannot change many of the behaviors exhibited by those with dementia is a significant hurdle to overcome. Instead of dwelling, try to understand common dementia behaviors and determine why an individual is acting a certain way. Then try to attribute behavior to triggers or purposes when possible. In identifying these catalysts for behavior, we may be able to develop solutions that mitigate or lessen the consequences of the action. When creating solutions, also remember that, what works this week, often may not work the next. Your approach must continually evolve to meet the needs of your loved one.
6. Develop Routines and Schedules
Standardized routines are beneficial for both the individual with dementia and their caregiver. Confusion about place, time, or activity can cause someone to feel like they’ve lost control. By establishing consistent schedules, you can empower them by providing a familiar and comfortable environment.
7. Personal Coping Mechanisms
As a caregiver, never forget to focus on your own mental health. Coping with the realities of dementia can have a heavy impact on your wellbeing, and should be addressed with the same seriousness as the care you provide. Finding support groups, therapists, and trusted friends as confidants and outlets will help you release any frustrations that may come throughout the process.
Set aside time for personal hobbies or activities, which will help you maintain a sense of self. Remember that self-care is not selfish but a necessity. The better your mental health, the better care you give to others.
8. Focus on Empathy
Most importantly, when caring for someone with dementia, focus on empathy first. By doing so, you put yourself in the shoes of the individual you’re helping. They are most likely just as scared, confused, and frustrated as you are, if not more. Working through a lens of empathy will help you provide care that is rooted in compassion, love, and support.
Caring for Someone With Dementia—You’re Not Alone
Nearly 6 million people in the U.S. live with dementia. While this is a difficult path to travel with your loved one, remember that you are not alone. There are organizations and resources available to help you through the journey of caring for someone with dementia.
A memory care community can help you tackle all of the above eight caregiver strategies, as well as provide professional guidance. Please don’t hesitate to contact your nearest Vineyard community to discuss any caregiver issues or questions you may have!