Over five million people live with Alzheimer’s Disease in the U.S. What makes that figure even more staggering is that Alzheimer’s is not the only type of dementia affecting elders. When you consider the number of people who struggle with dementia of all kinds, that figure balloons. Being the caregiver for a loved one who is ill can be difficult. Dementia care adds another dimension. Dementia is usually progressive. That means we lose a bit more of our loved one every day. Communication is harder. Daily activities like bathing and caring for teeth can become confrontations.
Living with dementia can be hard on your loved one and on you, the caregiver; a few hints might help lighten your task.
There are reasons for behaviors like emptying a pots- and- pans drawer or sleeping on the floor. Maybe the person is feeling useless and needs a purpose. Folding washcloths could satisfy that need. Perhaps she is frightened of sleeping in a “high” bed and feels more comfortable on the floor where she can’t roll off. Look for the cause of a behavior and then try to accommodate it, not control it. There are worse things in life than sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Behaviors like tantrums can be terrifying for the adult and for his caregiver. Watch for “triggers” that seem to accompany the behavior. Perhaps there was a change in his routine or someone used specific words that elicited fear or anger.
Wandering is a major concern for the caregiver of a person with dementia. You might try placing alarms on the doors, or changing latches to be more challenging. Another idea is to set a regular exercise time, or a daily walk with you. One novel idea is to paint a black square or place a black mat on exit thresholds. The wanderer may perceive that as a barrier or a deep ravine that cannot be crossed.
Communication with a loved one who has dementia is hard–and becomes harder as the condition progresses. Remember that your attitude and body language telegraph a lot of information without saying a word. Get the person’s attention by saying her name and touching her. Then keep it simple. If you have to ask questions, keep the answers “yes” and “no.” If you are offering choices, show them: use the actual object or pictures and be patient while waiting for a response. Remember the person for whom you are caring is still the person he or she always was. Reminiscing may be comforting and enjoyable for both of you. Short-term memory almost always fails, but long-term memories may still be intact.
Caring for someone with dementia is exhausting physically and emotionally. Fatigue and frustration can make you resentful. Eventually, you might find it to be more than you can manage. When that time comes, a senior care service provider can save your health and your relationship with your loved one. In-home respite care can give you some free time, knowing your family member was safe and cared-for; live-in care could allow your loved one to remain in a familiar environment and free you to pursue other activities again.
Contact us if you have questions about how we could help you live more successfully as a caregiver for someone with dementia.