Part 1: Expert Advice When Caring for a Loved One with Dementia
This is the first of a three-part series featuring direct advice from an experienced, tenured home care administrator. Be sure to check out parts two and three for specific care information for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or Lewis body.
A dementia diagnosis for a loved one can change everything. From your vantage, there are a lot of new terms to learn and it can be overwhelming. But you’re not alone; people deal with this diagnosis every day and there is a wealth of information available on how you can best help your loved one. These helpful tips from an experienced professional caregiver are only the beginning.
Debra Desrosiers has been in the home care industry for over 14 years. She is a certified trainer and consultant in dementia and Alzheimer’s issues, and has volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association for more than a decade.
1. Check the Diagnosis
When your loved one's doctor tells you that he or she has dementia, it can be easy to feel depressed over the diagnosis. Tell the doctor the exact symptoms and ask her to rule out other possibilities. Depression, for example, can have similar symptoms to dementia, as can more severe conditions. "I spoke to a lady whose husband was diagnosed with dementia in his sixties,” says Debra. “When I asked what steps the doctor had taken, it didn’t seem like he’d exhausted all avenues. They saw a neurologist who ordered brain scans and it turned out he actually had a brain tumor that needed immediate surgery. If they hadn't sought out that second opinion, he could have died."
That’s why if you ever suspect dementia, a full medical evaluation is necessary.
2. Learn About Your Loved One’s Condition
There are so many types of dementia and each has its own challenges. The different types advance at different rates and exhibit different symptoms. Knowing what your family may be dealing with can help a lot with care planning. “There are also genetic factors,” Debra adds. “Letting the whole family know that they may carry these genes may compel them to be proactive about their own mental faculties. If there are eight siblings in a family and the eldest four all have dementia, the younger four should be tested earlier so that they may catch the condition early.”
3. Communicate With Your Loved One
If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of early dementia, it can be best to involve him in his care. Unfortunately, this is not always possible; “Only a small percentage are aware that something is actually wrong, the rest are either in denial or not aware,” says Debra. “If your loved one is aware, plan what the future holds and what care they may need. Discussing the possibility that there may be a need for professional care early can help further down the line.”
4. Get Financial and Medical Affairs in Order Early
It is a lot easier to arrange for management of your loved one's financial and health care decisions at the start of the process when he is still able to select someone to hold a power of attorney. Leaving it until later risks having to file court papers to be appointed guardian, or a court appointing another guardian of its choosing.
5. Ask Your Loved One for Historical Information
Debra suggests having a discussion with your loved one about his likes, dislikes, significant relationships in his life and any traumatic experiences. These can be useful to have further down the line and can offer help to frontline caregivers. If the caregivers know of any potential triggers, it may help to explain why they become agitated when offered help to dress and undress for example. If caregivers know your loved one’s preferences, they will able to work towards specific needs.
6. Set a Routine, Stick to It
Seniors with dementia often thrive under routines. “Get your loved one up at a certain time, eat meals at a certain time,” adds Debra. It helps your loved one to remember little things that he may otherwise forget. Throwing Dad off his routine can often make him more confused and upset.
7. Aim for the Least Number of Faces Possible
“The more people coming in and out of your loved one’s house, the more unsettling it is,” says Debra. “Family gatherings can be overwhelming to those with dementia. Plan small gatherings and limit all talking to one person at a time. We make sure that seniors don’t have too many professional caregivers assigned and aim for that senior/caregiver relationship to last as long as possible.” New faces can be distressing, so try to minimize new people visiting unless necessary.
8. Consider Experienced, Professional Assistance
Care providers may be able to match your loved one with a caregiver who is trained in working with seniors who have dementia. They would know the signs that could mean your loved one is deteriorating or needs more help and they will most likely identify these signs before somebody with an untrained eye.
Professional caregivers will help you with carrying out your care plan and can walk your senior through his daily routine. They will offer as little or as much care as your loved one needs, from personal care like hygiene or help getting dressed, to help around the home like cooking and light cleaning. They can also offer companionship, which can help your senior to keep mentally and physically active.
The reality is that dementia is very difficult to pinpoint and requires a thorough medical evaluation. For more information about the full diagnostic process surrounding dementia , click here.