It is really difficult to find out that a dear one has been diagnosed with dementia. The most common reason for a person to suffer from dementia is due to Alzheimer's Disease (AD), which is why people substitute dementia with AD many a time. However, there are other types of dementia as well and AD is just one of them. Dementia is more of a symptom than a condition in itself. When a person suffers from dementia, he or she tends to suffer from memory loss, confusion, lack of coordination, mood swings, impaired communication, hallucinations, changes in personality, behavioral problems and inability to plan or to judge. Because of all these symptoms, taking care of people with dementia can become extremely overwhelming for the caregiver. If the reason behind the dementia is a condition like Alzheimer's, then the dementia is progressive in nature, which means that the condition tends to worsen with time. Early diagnosis of dementia can definitely help the person plan things ahead of time before the symptoms affect the person severely. A person suffering from dementia needs a caregiver who can take care of their daily needs and requirements as they themselves will eventually lack the ability to do so on their own.
Essential Caregiver Tips for Dementia Patients
Taking care of a dementia patient isn't an easy job. There are going to be both 'good days' and 'bad days'. There will be times when the patient will be more co-operative and there will be times when you will have to deal with the patient with a lot of patience. The person may not remember a lot of things, he or she may find simple activities like changing clothes or taking baths extremely frightening and confusing. As the symptoms become more severe, the patient may experience hallucinations, may suffer difficulty with motor functions and may get agitated and irritated. Therefore, taking care of the patient is going to be a journey which involves a lot of patience, kindness, discipline and flexibility. Have a look at the caregiver tips for dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Tip #1: Safety
Having explained the symptoms of dementia beforehand, which includes hallucinations, confusions, lack of understanding and coordination of motor functions, the first and foremost concern of the caregiver should be to keep the living environment safe for the patient. Some tips to ensure the safety of the person suffering from dementia includes the following.
- Keep the house as clean and clutter free as possible from objects like wires or rugs. Small items like toys or some sharp furniture edges can also prove to be harmful. So make sure that there is nothing to create a confusion or an accident resulting from a fall.
- Install handrails and grab bars in bathrooms or near the stairs to prevent a fall. Make sure that you keep all the harmful home items like knives, blades, match sticks, guns and medications in a cabinet that is locked and secure.
- People with dementia are also prone to wandering. Therefore make sure that you install safety locks, monitoring cameras on all the possible exits including windows and doors so that the person doesn't escape.
- The most dangerous areas of the house are the kitchen and the bathrooms. So make sure that the bathroom doesn't have slippery mats or rugs and that the bathrooms don't have automatic locks to prevent the patient from accidentally locking themselves. It would be a good idea to use childproof latches on kitchen cabinets and to install an automatic shut off switch on the stove to prevent mishaps.
- Keep emergency aids like a first aid box, a fire extinguisher and smoke alarms handy and ready to prevent a major accident, just in case.
Tip #2: Communication
You have to be very patient and careful when it comes to communicating with a person suffering from dementia. Remember that the learning and communicating abilities are affected which makes it very frustrating for the person to understand you and express himself or herself at the same time. Make sure that you do the following when it comes to dealing with the patient.
- Don't talk to him or her like a small kid, but be as simple and possible.
- Always use short sentences or words that are less confusing and easy to understand. Make sure that you speak in a very calm and gentle manner.
- It is important to make the environment as simple as possible for the patient. Therefore, while communicating with the patient make sure that there are no other distractions like television, radio, or conversations in a loud tone. Try to keep the environment as calm as possible so that the person can focus and understand what you are trying to communicate.
- Always call the person with their name and make sure that they are listening to you before you start speaking. This may take some time, so make sure that you don't lose your patience and maintain the kindness in your tone. Give the person enough time to respond and avoid any kind of rush or interruption.
- Because people with dementia have problems remembering words and communicating, help the person in framing sentences or saying the right word when they are struggling to do so. Although make sure that you give them a chance to try to remember the words on their own, all you have to do is to help them doing the same.
- If you have to convey any instructions to them which can be a little disturbing to them, like taking bath or visiting the doctor, make sure that you do that in a calm, gentle and positive manner. There might be a possibility that you will have to repeat the same thing again and again because of the memory impairment of these patients, but make sure that you be as gentle as you were the first time.
- These patients also tend to experience hallucinations, dealing with which can be difficult for both the patient and the caregiver. Make sure that you never put them off or start to argue with them. Be understanding and comfort them in this situation instead of trying to prove them wrong. Taking them for a small walk or distracting them from that argument is something that can be done.
Tip #3: Maintain a Routine, but Prepared to be Flexible!
As ironic as this tip may sound, this is something that each and every caregiver for dementia patients must be prepared for. You should try and establish a routine for these patients so that they can somehow get accustomed to a fixed routine. For this you need to carefully observe the behavioral pattern of the patient. There are some hours when the person will appear to be more calm, while at some hours he or she will become more agitated or irritated. So try to develop a routine based on that. However, keep in mind that the nature of these changes in personalities and moods are subjective to change, so adjust accordingly. Some of the tips related to this area are as follows.
- Take bathing for example. Some people with dementia are highly paranoid with the thought of bathing. So try to do that when the person is calm. For a person with this condition, bathing can be very confusing. So you need to be very calm and inform the person step-by-step as to what he or she needs to do, or what you are going to do.
- Other tips related to bathing for dementia patients include making sure that the temperature is fine and there are no chances for slipping or getting hurt while bathing. Taking a shower everyday isn't necessary, a sponge bath would suffice.
- Another routine set up for a dementia patient would be to do activities like eating food, changing clothes, exercising and sleeping at the same time everyday, with flexibility of course!
- When it comes to clothes, do not keep a variety of clothes to confuse the person all the more. If he or she has a favorite, then make sure that you keep similar sets of those clothes. Arranging clothes in the closet in order of days will make the selection part more simple for the patient. Also avoid buttoned clothes or clothes with zippers and belts. Sticking to elastic waists and Velcro enclosures will make the dressing up more simple for the person. People with dementia also tend to experience incontinence, so easy clothing will help them prevent struggling with taking off their clothes in such situations.
- When it comes to feeding these patients, minimize the confusion by giving them not more than two or three choices of healthy foods and drinks. While some dementia patients would want to eat all the time, some may not have the urge to eat at all. You need to be careful with the food that you give as these patients may develop chewing and swallowing problems which may lead to choking. Make sure that you don't give them junk and caffeine.
- Always consult a doctor about their diet and keep them well hydrated. Also make sure that you choose the less confusing ways to serve food to these patients. I mean instead of laying a fork, knife, spoon, glass, plate and crowding the table, just keep the essential tools which so not confuse the patient. Drinking can be done in a cups with lid and straw to prevent spilling.
- Maintaining a routine about their daily exercises and activities is also important. Most people with dementia tend to become restless and irritated during the late evenings, also known as Sundowning Syndrome. This can be prevented by involving them in exercising during the daytime like walking, playing tennis, dancing or gardening. Although make sure that you don't overexert the person. It is also a good idea to involve the person in daily household activities. Simple tasks like placing the books on the shelf, setting the table by step-by-step instructions, folding clothes etc, can boost self control and maintain functional skills in these patients.
- Visiting the doctor on a regular basis is also important. So make sure that you schedule the appointment during the 'good time' of the day and also have a company with you to take the patient to the doctor.
Tip #4: Other Important Areas of Concern
Other important areas of concern include contact with the outer world. Firstly, you need to make sure that the person always has an identity card or a medical bracelet with him or her so that in case of wandering, he or she can be easily identified. Visiting a lot of people can also cause unnecessary confusion and behavioral problems. Mentioned below are some tips regarding the same.
- Have the patient wear an ID, or an even better option would be to sew their name and address in their clothes. Registering the details of the person with the local Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program would prove to be beneficial for this purpose. Informing the surrounding neighbors about the patients condition and that they are subject to wandering is also a good idea.
- Make sure that you have a latest photograph or a video tape of the patient in case you need to file a missing report to the police department in order to find the person.
- These patients should also be stopped from driving as it is not safe anymore. As far as the driving on their own is concerned, some patients may not be able to accept the fact that they are being stopped from being an independent driver. In this case you need to be very patient with these people. If you cannot convince them, ask the doctor to convey it to them with authority.
- Avoid taking the patient in crowded areas, or do not allow too many people to visit the patient at the same time. This can create confusion and make the person angry or agitated.
- Other problems like verbal abuse, imitating the caregiver, inappropriate sexual behavior and lack of co-operation need to be dealt with a lot of patience and care. You cannot afford to be harsh with the patient in such situations. You have to understand that they are behaving like this because of sickness and not free will.