Caretakers may feel frustrated and powerless when caring for someone they love. It can be difficult to accept and assimilate to the changes in their family and lifestyle. Dementia and Alzheimer come with confusion, disorientation, changes in behavior, aggression, and memory loss. After 28 years in my line of work, and one-on-one experience with countless clients, I have outlined some key points when caring for something with memory degradation.
Communication is Key
First and foremost, gather information on your loved one’s state of mind. Talk to the doctor and attain all the important information concerning where they are in their health. Be open and realistic about the course of this disease. When it comes to talking with your loved one:
- Always introduce yourself with your name and relation when initiating a conversation.
- Use a firm and even tone of voice. Your loved one may repeat themselves more than once. Don’t get frustrated or raise your voice, as this could aggravate them.
- Avoid asking them questions. They tend to forget words, experiences, and how to answer you. This frustration can lead to more agitation.
- Reassure them that you love them every day. Beyond everything, your loved ones need to feel listened to and loved. Their mental degradation is difficult for them, and as caretakers and family, we get to provide them with safety and comfort.
- Allow for a certain degree of autonomy. I’ve had clients move things around their house just to put them back. This is because they seek a sense of productivity. It helps to ask them for help with chores, and gently coach them on the tasks.
- Use photos to reminisce with your loved one. They have a stronger long-term memory than short-term memory. This engagement will help them stay focused and occupied.
Use a structure and schedule to keep your loved one stimulated throughout the day. This will also help you manage this lifestyle. Make sure to schedule their water intake, meals, and bathroom breaks. Using the bathroom is something that many people who suffer from dementia struggle with. They may urinate themselves, tear at their clothes, or wander off looking for a bathroom. Scheduling a bathroom break every two hours can help prevent any anomalies. Schedule some time every day for exercise such as a nice stroll in the park or at the beach. Regular exercise will help manage their restlessness and prevent aggressive outbursts inside the home. The hardest part of the day when the sun goes down, we refer to this as sundowning. They become more disoriented during the night when their internal clocks are thrown off. People become less aware of who they are with, where, and what time it is… During this part of the day, offer them more coaching and words of affirmation.
People left alone are at risk of injuring themselves. They may fall or hurt themselves with dangerous objects around the house. It is important to make sure they can be well-taken care of and watched. Their forgetfulness can lead to serious injury or they can get lost. I suggest equipping your loved one with a GPS device for people with Alzheimer’s. People tend to wander off for many reasons, and this has also caused injury. A man once walked out of his home and was missing for 5 days. He was wandering the streets and managed to walk 30 miles north into another county until he was found by the local police. I suggest adding a baby-proof plastic knob to the front door. Remove sharp objects, fence pools or water sources, and repair any house damage that can cause harm.
Caring For Yourself
This is the most important tool in the box. If you do not care for your own health and well-being you will not be able to show up for your loved one the way you need to. Self-care looks different for everyone. Make sure you offer yourself plenty of sleep, water, and proper nutrition. Go to the doctor if you’re sick, do not neglect your physical and mental health! Make sure you surround yourself with a reliable support group between family and friends. I would also suggest looking in your area for a caretakers support group. It helps to meet with other people who are in your shoes to talk about your feelings and offer support to each other.
Dementia can be daunting for the entire family. Try not to lose your patience with your loved one. They have no control over what is happening and even less control over their memory and reactions. Appreciate every day you have with them, love them and love yourself. Don’t worry if they seem to forget about you at the moment, you’ll always be present in their long-term memory.