There is no doubt that caring for someone with dementia can be demanding and stressful. Whether you provide care professionally or for a loved one, each day brings new challenges. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help dementia caregivers. Begin by reading these seven tips to help you in your important role.
Understand the Diagnosis
Dementia is “characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” While memory loss is a common feature of dementia, symptoms also include confusion, depression and mood swings. Overall, the more you learn about dementia and its prognosis, the better you’ll be able to care for your loved one. Additionally, educating yourself will help maintain realistic expectations as a caregiver.
Learn Communication Strategies
As your loved one’s dementia progresses, you will likely notice changes in their communication skills. However, with some practice and a few key strategies, you can continue to communicate well with them. First, set a positive mood for interaction: speak pleasantly and in a respectful tone. Get the person’s attention by reducing distractions, stating their name and maintaining eye contact. Communication should be short and clear: ask simple questions with few choices (i.e. yes or no). Be patient while waiting for your loved one’s reply and suggest words if needed. Lastly, no matter their response, show affection and reassurance rather than becoming impatient.
Creating a daily routine in dementia care can help ease a caregiver’s role. A general schedule provides your loved one with structure and familiarity in their otherwise changing world. Aim to orient daily activities like waking up, meals, bathing, visitors and bedtime at the same time and place each day. Throughout the day, involve your loved one as much as they’re able in order to maintain their sense of freedom and normalcy.
Maintain a Sense of Humor
Everyone knows that laughter is the best medicine. In reality, laughter is therapeutic, but studies also show that it is beneficial to those with memory loss. Take time to crack a joke to lighten the mood, or reminisce on funny memories from the past. People with dementia tend to retain social skills and will laugh along with you. Overall, humor can lower stress levels of your loved one and reduce the pressure you’re under as their caretaker.
It is no secret that the benefits of exercise are vast. Increasing research shows that being active can slow brain aging by stimulating blood circulation to the brain. Aim to provide your loved one with daily exercise. Depending on their physical abilities, try a walk outside, yoga or chair aerobics. Encourage your loved one by participating along with them: caregivers can also benefit from regular exercise like reaping the effects of mood-boosting endorphins.
Plan for the Future
Dementia often progresses slowly, and your loved one may be able to maintain their independence for some time. However, as they begin to decline, around-the-clock care may be necessary. Plan accordingly by researching options for long-term care that suit you and your loved one. Involve them in the decision-making process as you make legal and financial arrangements. Additionally, all caregivers should frequently reassess the care needs of their patients and plan ahead for any necessary transitions in care.
While caring for your loved one can be consuming, caring for yourself is just as important. If you neglect your own physical and emotional needs, you won’t be able to provide the best level of care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family members or friends to avoid caregiver burnout. Take breaks from caregiving to pursue your own hobbies and interests. Also, visit your doctor regularly and pay attention to any signs of excessive stress.
Dementia Care is No Easy Task
The role of a dementia caregiver should never be downplayed. Instead, caregivers should be supported and reminded of tips to ease their role. Remember to have patience and empathize with your loved one while providing care, but don’t ever forget to care for yourself, too.