Do’s and Don’ts of caring for a loved one with Dementia

Dementia is a chronic illness that not only degrades the quality of life of the sufferer but also makes the patient extremely dependent. Dealing with someone suffering from Dementia means that even when you have lived your entire life with them this disease changes their mind, emotions, and personality in a way that it turns them into an entirely different person. Watching a loved one being stolen from you each day even though they are right there is agonizing and complex. Therefore, with the growing and inconsistent changes in cognitive, physical, and functioning capabilities, there are some consistent guidelines that can assist the caregiver in taking care of a loved one with Dementia:

 

Do’s

Establish a familiar routine. When this disease sets in, the ability to understand reason and change deteriorates. In order to ensure some stability in life, establishing a routine for even the smallest of the daily chores makes it easier for your loved one to follow. Fixing a bedtime, a shower time, and eating around the same time every day are some of the things that can be done to make it easier for your loved ones to stay oriented and give them familiarity and structure in their routine.

Simplify things. Giving simple instructions and addressing the person in simple sentences makes it a lot easier for them to understand and follow what you are saying. Moreover, speaking with them as if they are fully understanding it and giving them the benefit of the doubt often minimizes confusion and frustration in these patients. Tell them who you are if they appear doubtful and call them by their name.

Create a calm environment. Another important thing to be done when living with a loved one with Dementia is to create a space that is quiet and comfortable, both visually and audibly. Confusing and frustrating patterns and noises can easily aggravate their anger and annoyance. They may easily exhibit hostility in response to growing confusion and helplessness in understanding the environment therefore, make it simpler and remove anything that might trigger them.

Be patient and flexible. Caring for someone with dementia is challenging in a way that they keep changing in their mental and emotional capacity. This calls for being extremely patient and meeting them exactly where they are, emotionally and mentally, at a given moment. Manage your expectations around it. Be patient, be kind, and be flexible in tending to their needs at that moment. Bend the rules for them.

Support independence. Although, the sufferer of dementia becomes highly dependent at the onset of the disease, help them in staying independent for as long as possible. Supporting them in doing what they want to do for themselves not only keeps them involved and busy in their lives but also preserves their self-esteem.

Respond to their feelings. With time, the brain loses its ability to process reason or change, but the feelings of the sufferer remain intact. Respond to their expression of emotions and feelings no matter how pointless they sound. Happy or sad, treat them with kindness, compassion, and dignity. They may be suffering from dementia but it is never suitable to remove yourself emotionally or even physically.

 

Don’ts

Don’t reason with them. The biggest ‘don’t’ of caring for someone with this less-understood disease is to not fight it. Your father may say that someone broke into the house and smashed their favorite chair. Choose the option of least resistance. Instead of saying that this isn’t true, reassure him that you’ll check it and even fix it and you will make sure the windows and the doors are closed next time so that his things are safe. They are confused and irrational, you trying to reason with them is not helpful.

Don’t scold them. Anyone suffering from dementia is not always doing the right thing or following your instructions and this may frustrate you. Moreover, there will be days when the smallest of things ticks them off or frustrates them. But accept the fact that they are not making a mistake intentionally and that their behaviors change. Stay mentally aware of situations like these and never scold them when it happens.

Don’t speak to them in negatives or as if they were a child. These are the two important don’ts of speaking to someone with Dementia. The term ‘redirection’ is used in the choice of words when instructing the loved one. For instance, in a situation where your loved one is picking up broken glass and risks hurting themselves, instead of saying ‘Don’t pick up that glass’ refocus their attention on something else that they enjoy doing like ‘Let’s go water the plants outside’. Another example of avoiding the negatives is that if they ask ‘where is my mother?’ instead of saying ‘She died 30 years ago’, tell them ‘She’s not here right now.’ Secondly, no matter what the disease the patient is suffering from and how bad it is, treating them or speaking to them like a child is always discouraged. Treating them with dignity and respect doesn’t hurt their feelings and keeps their pride intact.

Don’t talk about the past. Another frustrating thing for a sufferer of Dementia is they can’t remember. Even if there’s something you have told them repeatedly, don’t expect them to remember it because the only time that matters for them is right now. It takes a lot of patience to not say ‘I just told you five times’, ‘Did you forget?’ or ‘Don’t you remember?’ but never say it.

Being in the constant presence of someone suffering from Dementia and watching over them all day is taxing both physically and emotionally. What helps in dealing with the patient is planning and preparing for what lies ahead. Look up what this disease is, and learn about how it changes the sufferer. This not only helps you manage your expectations but also helps reduce frustration in the face of challenges. Moreover, managing this disease requires a bit of ‘trial and error’. Try something with them and keep a keen eye on what works for your loved one and is comfortable for them precisely and work on a routine that particularly caters to them. In the end, an important ‘do’ for caregivers is to take care of themselves. Join support groups, write a journal, and take out time for your own relaxation but always remember that only by taking care of yourself, you can take good care of a loved one.