If someone you know and love has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, you will already have been on quite an emotional journey: You’ve noticed the early signs of dementia, you have had to face up to certain daunting realities and you have been there for your loved one as they were told, in no uncertain terms, that they have a condition that will affect the rest of their life.
Now you will have to make some very important decisions. You might decide to get some professional live-in care to help, or you might decide to care for your loved one by yourself. If this is the case, your partner, parent or close friend will need special attention and assistance. Caring for someone you love can be challenging, stressful and exhausting, but it can also be rewarding and satisfying. You will develop and build new skills and you might even find that your relationship with your loved one becomes further strengthened by the experience.
As someone who offers elderly support professionally, I have a few tips on how to care for someone with dementia, the most important of which I have detailed below.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Crucially, you need to know what you (and your loved one) are in for. There are many different types of dementia and the particular care your loved one will require will depend on their diagnosis. Go online or get hold of relevant learning materials and do your research — find out what symptoms they are likely to experience and how their dementia is likely to progress as time goes by.
Understand that life is going to change considerably. Dementia is a progressive biological brain disorder that impacts every part of an individual’s life — it impairs memory, communication and independence. On top of this, dementia can also cause mood swings and alter a person’s personality. Getting to grips with this early can help you cope mentally in the long run.
GET THE ADMIN OUT THE WAY
Once you have decided to care for your elderly parent or loved one, it is a good idea to sort the admin out, by which I mean you should contact your local GP and register as a carer. You should also apply for a carer’s assessment and look into what benefits you are eligible for.
USE MEMORY AIDS AROUND THE HOME
As dementia progresses, it can be useful to make use of memory aids around the home. Such aids can help the individual remember where things are and what to do next. For example, you can put notes and labels on doors or cupboards. Such signs can help individuals preserve their independence for as long as possible. If you would like to learn more about making your home dementia-friendly, there are a lot of online resources you can utilise.
AS TIME GOES BY, YOU MIGHT HAVE TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU COMMUNICATE
Changing the way you talk to your loved one can be difficult, but communicating with someone with dementia is a skill that can be learned over time. You will need to be clearer, more positive and more patient. This will make caregiving less stressful and will ultimately improve your relationship.
REMEMBER TO ENSURE YOUR LOVE ONE EATS AND DRINKS REGULARLY (AND HEALTHILY)
Eating and drinking well are important for all of us, but when it comes to someone with dementia, extra care needs to be taken. Often, someone with dementia may not drink enough because they don’t realise they are thirsty. This can result in headaches, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and constipation, which can exacerbate symptoms further. Equally, someone with dementia might go off their food, which can impact their health.
To cope, remember to offer drinks at regular intervals. Set aside enough time for meals and offer smaller, more frequent portions of their favourite food. Be aware of the fact that a person’s tastes might change, so be prepared to try something new. On top of this, ensure your loved one goes for regular dental check-ups to eliminate any potential causes of pain or discomfort.
DEALING WITH AGITATION
Someone with dementia might get increasingly agitated as the condition progresses. This can result in sleeplessness, aggression and irritability. Agitation is usually the result of environmental factors or a loss of independence.
To help alleviate agitation, maintain a calm environment. Keep the person’s environment decluttered and stress-free. Enforce a regular daily routine and don’t move household furniture. This can help to create a sense of security and predictability. You could also try reducing sugar and caffeine intake, and going on soothing walks.
Importantly, all efforts should be made to let the individual with dementia do as much for him or herself as possible. Support their independence as much as you can.
BRAIN EXERCISE IS STILL IMPORTANT
Just because someone has been diagnosed with dementia doesn’t mean that improving their brain health should be ignored. In fact, it’s more important now than ever. Healthy habits can really help a brain with dementia — it’s entirely possible to improve quality of life, reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease
Do something with your loved one every day that is mentally stimulating and engaging, in addition to encouraging and supporting them to do physical exercise. There are various brain training exercises and proven methods that can help to boost memory.
PRIORITISE DAILY TASKS
A lot of the time, life as a carer is busy and demanding — rather than getting overwhelmed by your ever-growing to-do list, remember you’re human and you are only capable of so much. As such, you need to prioritise. Work out what you really need to do and what tasks can wait. Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations or you will make life unbearable for yourself and you won’t be in a good place to offer help and support to anyone.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
If you’re looking after someone else, you need to look after yourself, too. Remember, dementia affects more than just the individual who is afflicted with the illness: It ultimately affects their friends and family, too. Caring is difficult and nobody can, or has to, do it alone. Reach out to those nearest and dearest, accept help and find local support groups. There are also various free helplines you can call, including the following:
- Independent Age on 0800 319 6789
- Age UK’s Advice Line on 0800 055 6112
- Carers UK on 0800 808 7777
- Dementia UK Admiral Nurse Dementia helpline on 0800 888 6678
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. If you feel you can’t cope, there are respite care services that are only too happy to step in and offer assistance and elderly care. Family support is always critical, but expert knowledge and experience can go a long way to make life more manageable.
Author Bio – Robert Hohler is the owner of Companions of London, a company that provides personalised and compassionate domiciliary care in the UK.