Being a caregiver can often feel both difficult and rewarding. Whether it’s for your profession or a loved one (or sometimes both), your work has a significant impact on the quality of life of those you help. For those that support individuals with early-stage dementia, you may be facing different or unique challenges in your daily caregiving activities. To help you feel more confident in your abilities to provide adequate support, here are seven essential dementia caregiver tips:
1. Find a Mentor and Build Your Caregiver Network
When you’re in the middle of a busy schedule and keeping up with the needs of the person you’re caring for, it can be easy to forget that there are networks of caregivers available to help. Search for caregiving support groups in your local community to find mentors and peers who can help lighten your load. In addition, it can be incredibly beneficial to simply speak with someone who understands the demands of dementia caregiving.
If you want to broaden your network or prefer to communicate virtually, consider joining an online caregiver support group where you can learn more about caregiving basics, ask for support or feedback on your approach and build a robust support system.
2. Research Best Practices
While this might seem like a no-brainer dementia caregiver tip—it still bears mentioning. Researching best practices for early-stage dementia caregiving will help you feel more confident and prepared. A person living with dementia will likely need more support over time. Having a clear understanding of that progression and the symptoms that accompany it will help you prepare for any future changes.
The Alzheimer’s Association also offers various tips for daily care practices, especially for those who have cognitive impairments. This can include everything from learning how to build a care plan to planning meaningful activities or how to help someone else with their personal grooming.
For more assistance, refer to our list of books all primary caregivers should read.
3. Devote Equal Time to Your Needs
Caregiving is a selfless job, and it’s easy to forget about your own needs when your day revolves around another individual. Set aside time each week to do something you love, whether it’s learning a new hobby or simply resting with a good book. When you choose to take care of yourself first, you’ll be better prepared to take care of those around you.
If your free time only comes in 30-minute increments, think about ways to incorporate meditation, yoga or breathwork into your daily routine. Those few minutes of peace will allow you to refocus your attention on your own needs. These practices are also useful in stressful situations and can help you remain calm when assisting an individual who may feel disoriented or frustrated.
4. Learn How to Communicate and Collaborate with Healthcare Professionals
It’s likely that in your role as a caregiver, you may have to work with various healthcare professionals to ensure your loved one has access to adequate treatments, medications and therapies. Where appropriate, set aside time to meet with the relevant providers and ask how to best collaborate with them to build a comprehensive support plan. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers yourself—you can even turn to the experts within a senior living community for advice on how to handle specific situations.
5. Organize Important Documentation
When memory declines, it can be easy to forget important details like bank numbers, contact information or medical history. As a caregiver for someone with early-stage dementia, focus on gathering and organizing all necessary documentation ahead of time so that you can find it easily in the future.
6. Develop a Long-Term Care Plan.
Preparation is one of the best gifts you can give to an individual with early-stage dementia. Instead of waiting until symptoms become more severe and joint-planning may become difficult, have conversations early on about what kinds of senior living options they may be interested in over the next few years.
Where possible, make this a collaborative experience, and find ways to excite the individual about future possibilities. Whether it’s finding a memory care community in a city they love or talking to them about the activities hosted there; you can help them feel like they’re an active part of planning their future.
7. Be Patient With Yourself, and Those you Care For
Of all our dementia caregiver tips, this is the most important: be patient with yourself and others. Just as you may be feeling overwhelmed with new responsibilities, those you care for may be experiencing frustration as they go through the changes that come with early-stage dementia.
Focus on daily progress, and take things one step at a time—and with practice and patience, you’ll be able to provide care that makes a lifelong impact.