More than 47,000,000 people in the world are living with dementia. Numbers are expected to increase by 300% over the next thirty years.
Dementia – of which Alzheimer’s is a form – is a horrible disease that takes away mental faculties and even a personality; it is not just sufferers that are affected. There are millions of people providing billion of hours of care for loved ones suffering from dementia. Caring for someone with dementia can become a full-time job and many caregivers admit the burden of care has affected their own health.
Providing care for dementia patients is by no means easy. If you find yourself in this position, effective strategies for communication and care can make things a bit easier.
Helping People with Dementia
As your loved one moves through the stages of dementia, their ability to communicate is going to get worse. Keeping communication effective for as long as possible is essential for their mental well-being.
You will have to learn how to communicate effectively throughout the stages of dementia.
- Turning off the TV or radio. Close curtains or blinds and shut the door. This will help your loved one focus. Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
- Don’t start talking until you have your loved one’s attention. Ensure they are listening. Address them by name, remind them who you are if necessary, and use gentle touches to keep them focused.
- Remain positive in attitude and body language. Although your loved one may have experienced some mental decline, they will pick up on body language. Try to keep open, don’t fold your arms, keep your tone upbeat, and your mood positive.
- Speak clearly and slowly but don’t dumb things down – this may only cause more frustration. Repeat things if necessary.
- Remember to listen – spend as much time listening as speaking. You;ll need to be patient and may need to ask them to repeat things. Don’t get frustrated!
- As you chat with your friend, client or loved one, there may come a point when they cannot remember certain words, or they lose track of their thoughts. They may become agitated. Acknowledge their feelings and offer a distraction to avoid further distress.
In the early to middle stages of dementia, your friend, client or loved one will have some awareness that their mental ability is getting worse. This can be frustrating and scary, which is why it is so important for you to be patient and understanding in the moments when they are really struggling to communicate. Just be patient, ask questions, and make sure to listen intently.
Keeping Dementia Sufferers Safe
In the early stages of dementia, they may still be able to care for themselves, albeit with a little help. As things progresses, your loved one may struggle with daily tasks such as preparing meals, bathing, and getting dressed. Part of your job as a caregiver is to make adaptations in the home to ensure safety.
- Take an objective look around the house to spot potential danger zones, such as the garage, storage room, or basement, and install new locks or other safety devices where needed.
- Disable the cooker so your loved one cannot use the it without supervision – you may need to make adaptations to the sink and bath, as well.
- Double smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Install locks to keep your loved one from wandering outside – make sure the locks are hidden or out of reach.
- Add extra lighting to keep stairwells, hallways, bathrooms, and doorways well-lit to prevent accidents.
- Put medications and cleaning products in a locked drawer or cabinet – if your loved one can still be trusted with medication, make sure they have a pill organizer that you refill for them.
- Install safety measures in the bathroom, such as grab bars and non-slip mats. Avoid using rugs that might slip out of place.
- When you start to become concerned for their safety at home, you might consider installing a camera or smart speaker so you can see / talk to them easily.
Handling Difficult Behaviors
It is common for those with dementia to wander off, often without any destination in mind. Try taking your loved one for short walks to reduce restlessness. You may also need to install new door locks or create physical barriers so they can’t leave without your knowledge. Technology can also help here with sensors, smart locks and cameras.
Personality changes are also not uncommon. Your loved one may become combative, impatient or agitated at times, sometime even to the point of aggression. Try to remember that they have no control over their behavior and don’t mean to hurt you. These behaviors typically have a trigger – fear, confusion or environmental factors can cause unpredictable behaviour. If you can identify the trigger, you may be able to avoid problems.
In due course, cognitive ability and awareness will decline to the point that the patient does not react or communicate in any way. Before reaching that stage, however, they may develop repetitive speech or paranoia.
Actions, and behavior may worsen at the end of each day. This is known as “sundowning.” Try to remain patient and identify and understand the triggers and underlying factors that may be contributing to these actions. You may also need to develop distraction tactics if they become fixated on something.
Think About Professional Help
It could be a full 10 years or more from diagnosis to needing full-time care. That is a long time for carers to be putting someone else’s needs before their own. At a point, you are going to have to ask yourself some difficult questions – is it time to seek professional dementia care help?
24 hour care for Alzheimer’s patients is very expensive, but your loved one may be more comfortable in their own home and that might mitigate some of the other challenges as their dementia progresses.
One option could be regular 1 or 2 hour care visits to give relatives some respite. Allow them to get out to the shops or to socialise. Domiciliary care companies are experienced at looking after dementia suffers and can be a great support.
If in-home care is not an option, moving them into a care facility may be a better choice. Caring for a loved one suffering from dementia is exhausting, both physically and mentally. Remember, your loved one has no control over what is happening to them. While you can empathize with them and offer love and support, you need to remain realistic about what is and is not possible.
About Deckchair Care
Deckchair Care are an independent, privately-owned care agency. We look after the elderly in Cheshire and South Manchester.
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