6 Ways to Help Care for a Loved One with Dementia
Caring for a loved one with dementia isn't an easy task. It often requires that the care partner provide around-the-clock service — which can be difficult on the family member or staff providing support. Here are six tips to make the process of working with a family member with dementia or Alzheimer's easier and more manageable.
1. PRACTICE PERSON-DIRECTED CARE.
Practicing person-directed care is a critical part in the care partnering process. This method involves giving your loved one some autonomy in their lives. Sometimes you may want your loved one to do something they may not want to do, even if it’s good for them; encourage them and guide them into doing what you need them to do. In other areas of their lives, provide them with choices. For example, try letting your family member choose what they may want to eat for breakfast or dinner.
2. ANTICIPATE MISINTERPRETATION.
The longer a loved one has dementia, the less they understand verbal cues and why you are caring for them. When communicating with the person you're caring for, try to keep sentences between three and five words. Try short phrases, "Let's take a walk,” or “Let's eat.” If you ask someone living with dementia to perform a multi-step task such as, “Go downstairs, get the clothes out of the washer, put the clothes in the dryer, turn the dryer on, and come back upstairs,” they may only remember to go downstairs and forget the remaining steps you provided.
3. ACCEPT THAT CHANGES WILL OCCUR.
Your loved one is going to start experiencing changes that you will notice, and unfortunately, they are going to notice as well. They may start forgetting things, such as, where they are in the world and the names of those they love. Understanding how the disease progresses and what the milestones are can make the care process easier because you know what is to come.
4. BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND BEHAVIORS.
When a loved one displays certain behaviors, they are not acting out to spite you or to get attention. Nonetheless, with dementia we have to be detectives and determine why our family member is doing the things they are doing. Is their need biological, physical, emotional, or spatial? Is there something in the room that they do not like? When a loved one displays a certain behavior, they are trying to tell you something with their body and with their actions because they may not be able to say it to you verbally.
5. TAKE A BREAK.
As a care partner, it is imperative to take time for yourself. However, you may be thinking to yourself, "Who is going to take care of my loved one if I need a break?” Consider asking a family member or trusted friend to assist you. If you do not have a support system, organizations like the Alzheimer's Association would be happy to come in and spend time with your family member. The Alzheimer's Association also has a grant you can apply for to receive respite—which is a time that someone else or another organization is caring for your loved one while you are taking a break.
6. CARE FROM THE HEART.
As dementia progresses, your loved will undergo many changes. However, the one thing they will always remember is the love they experienced from another human being.
If you are wondering when the right time is to transition your loved one to assisted living and memory care, we invite you to take our quiz, “Knowing the Right Time.”
About the Author
Ryan Muzzey is the life enrichment specialist and manager with over 15 years of experience serving the geriatric population. He is certified in Basic and Advanced Alzheimer’s Care through the Alzheimer’s Association, and is also trained as a Certified Dementia Trainer, Person Directed Care Specialist/Trainer, Eden Alternative Associate, and Virtual Dementia Tour Facilitator. Ryan holds a bachelor’s degree in vocal and choral studies from Lindenwood University and truly believes in the healing power of music.