If you are a caregiver, you know how life-changing it can be when someone you love is diagnosed with dementia. Dementia impacts every aspect of an individual’s ecosystem, especially their caregivers. From accepting that your loved one has been diagnosed to coordinating their treatment and daily welfare, we know how much time and effort goes into what you do, and recognize that caretaking is no less than a superhero’s work!
In our work at Constant Therapy, we hear from caregivers and carers all the time, and we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the selfless love, support, and hours of emotional, physical, and perhaps even clinical care you provide for your loved one. We’re beyond amazed at all that you do and wanted to start this month off right with a post that will help you care for a loved one with dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a single condition but is an umbrella term for a variety of specific sub-conditions like Alzheimer’s, Lewey Body Dementia, etc. Although it can manifest in a multitude of symptoms, the general marker for someone with dementia is the progressive decline in memory, problem-solving abilities, or language, enough to impair their independent functioning.
What are tips for caring for someone with dementia?
- The right communication is key: If your loved one has been recently diagnosed, the best support you can provide is acceptance of their condition. We understand that coming to terms with their “new normal” and planning for the future is no easy task, but even a simple reinforcement, like “we’re in this together” or “I will be here, regardless of…” provides them with a sense of reassurance that they don’t have to face their diagnosis alone. Oftentimes dementia is marked by language deficits. People living with dementia have difficulty processing large amounts of information at once or have word-finding or language comprehension trouble. To help with effective communication, try and break up sentences and ideas into simpler, shorter forms and deliver one instruction at a time. Make sure you slow your pace of speech and use gestures and generous eye contact to get the message across. Keeping a patient, flexible and open line of communication is especially crucial!
- An active body is an active mind: Research has shown the myriad of benefits exercise and a healthy diet has on brain rehabilitation. Physical exercise coupled with a heart-healthy diet helps to enhance strength, boost mood and fitness. Published research in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, introduces the idea of the MIND diet, which focuses on 15 brain-healthy food groups like berries, nuts, green leafy vegetables, whole grains while limiting the 5 unhealthy foods types like cheese, butter, and fast food, as well as restricting alcohol consumption, halts the progression of Alzheimer’s and hypertension. Another good practice is maintaining good sleep hygiene. By this, we mean sleeping and waking up at a set time and identifying and treating sleep disorders if they occur. Rest is also an important component of a healthy lifestyle – to this end, make sure your loved one is not over-exerting and is well relaxed.
- Don’t strive for success, strive for self-growth: The symptoms and stages of dementia can be as varied as the people experiencing it. The kind of treatment and care routine that works for someone may not for others, so it would be wrong to compare progress or measure “success.” Success should mean helping to assure that the person you are caring for is as happy, safe, and comfortable as possible. There will be both good and bad days, but with your support and adequate encouragement, you can help them set their own individual goals and not feel pressured to achieve others’ expectations. From a caregiver’s perspective too, there is a fine balance you can maintain between providing the right help when they need it, and not over-providing. For example, if they’re having trouble finding a word, instead of speaking for them or saying the word, you can use cues or gestures to lay a foundation for the word and slowly yet steadily prompt them to say the word themselves. Even if they do stumble, view it as a learning opportunity for their growth. This way you extend the right degree of help while also keeping them self-motivated to be independent and accomplish challenges themselves.
- Explore and encourage your loved one’s self-identity: Acquiring dementia, although a big change in your loved one’s life, doesn’t take away from who they originally are. They still remain fathers, mothers, children, grandparents and their roles and responsibilities still mean as much today as they did before. As a caregiver, you must emphasize that dementia doesn’t take away their identity, but is a new addition to who they are. This in no way defines them but is only a part of them. You can help them engage in activities, hobbies, find social groups that bring out their interests, strengths, and skills they possess that reinstate their purpose in life. Even helping them connect with someone going through the same journey, makes a world of a difference knowing that you are not battling this alone.
- Seek support: We understand how demanding job caregiving can be, and there will certainly be moments when you need a hand or someone to talk to. There are support groups available not only for your loved one but for caregivers who know the struggle and are willing to share stories, resources, and help, providing a safe space to talk it out. These groups can play a key role in educating others about the condition and help clear up any myths or assumptions associated with dementia – awareness is half the battle! Most of all, remember that you are not in this alone. This growing community of ours is always here to support and validate your experience. Remember that as a caregiver, your efforts are constantly admired and will never go to waste. The world needs more of you; keep being a superhero!
Got tips/resources you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them. Reach out to us on our Facebook page.