Help for Caregivers of People With Dementia
Why You Need Help
My cousin, who has worked as a home health care nurse for years, gave me the best advice I received about care for Alzheimer's loved ones. She told me, "You be the one who loves them. Let the professionals do what they can do. You do what only you can do."
What Only You Can Do
As the loved one of the person experiencing dementia, you are the only one who can:
- Recognize the signs and symptoms as a disease, and not a part of who they are.
- Make sure they have the correct diagnosis and testing needed.
- Help them remember their past life.
- Give them the love that comes from your personal relationship.
- Help understand what they are thinking and feeling.
- Be their advocate in all situations.
- Help them to understand and accept what is happening.
- Offer unconditional love and acceptance.
- Make decisions about health care, long-term care, finances and estate.
- Prepare them for each new stage.
How Professionals Can Help
Many people feel guilty that they can't do it all, but often calling for professional help can make sure that your loved one really gets the best possible care. Here are some things that professionals like doctors, nurses and home health care can help with:
- Help you and your loved one understand what is happening.
- Take care of medical needs which are difficult to do in home care.
- Give medications which help retain memory, or have less agitation about memory loss.
- Give relief from caregiving.
- Concierge for seniors can help with other life tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and errands so that you can focus on caregiving.
- Home health care advocates can help you devise strategies to manage behavior issues.
- Home relief help can give you time to be away from caregiving tasks so that you can get things done or just relax.
- Long-term care facilities can help keep your loved one safe, healthy and on a good daily schedule of eating and sleeping so that you can focus on loving them and caring for their emotions.
Tips for Reducing Stress
Caregiving can be stressful but it can also be a moment in time which helps you have insight into yourself and into your loved one in a very precious way. Although it was perhaps the most difficult thing I've ever done, I feel privileged to have had the chance to care for my husband's parents. What made our journey better was:
- Researching and learning about the disease so that you can put your own experiences into perspective and have a better understanding about why your loved one is acting a certain way and what you can or can't do to help.
- Being a careful listener and responder to the patient's felt needs.
- Adjusting the situation to their needs and their declining ability levels.
- Accepting help available from professionals and friends.
- Making sure we spent time doing things as individuals, a couple, and a family which did not involve doing or talking about our caregiving responsibilities.
Resources for Learning More
Knowledge is a key to having power over our circumstances. When you know what to expect and understand that behavior is normal for a person with memory loss, it can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and help you know when to get more help. Researching about this disease, I've learned many things I wish I'd known when we were taking care of my husband's parents.
I struggled to find good books at our library and local bookstores, so I've included links for the books my husband and I found most helpful. Whether you research online, read some of these wonderful books, or join an Alzheimer's support group, you will feel encouraged, strengthened and motivated in your task of caregiving for your loved one the more information you get about this disease.
How to Talk With Your Loved One
A person with dementia has wants, desires, fears, and thoughts which are real and vivid. Sometimes their inner life is distorted by hallucinations or an inaccurate perception of reality. My husband's grandmother would regularly call the police to report intruders in her yard who were not really there. My father-in-law often refused to get dressed because he feared things we did not see.
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to calm the negative perceptions of a person. What you can do is to try to understand what is happening inside that person's brain. The wonderful book Learning to Speak Alzheimer's offers a full explanation of how to do that. The author is a woman who learned how do do this through her own journey with a husband who had early onset Alzheimer's. Caring for him and seeking to understand him, she devised a new way to interact with a person dealing with this disease which is now modeled in many places. After her husband's death, she continued to advocate for this humane and sensitive method of interacting. I highly recommend this book for a full explanation of her ideas and methods.
A Book Which Helped Me Cope
A book that every caregiver needs to read and keep as a resource is The 36-Hour Day. This book is the first one I read and it does the best job of giving you the basic information you need to know as you begin this journey. I highly recommend this book as the most important resource to read first in your journey. In fact, I now often give it to friends who are just beginning to suspect that a parent or other loved one may be having memory problems because it helps them to start getting the help they need sooner.
The Book I Give to Friends Starting Journey of Caregiving
Tips for Keeping Healthy
Giving care is emotionally and physically exhausting. Many people become overwhelmed and so stressed that they may have worse health than the one they are caring for. Even though you may feel guilty, you need to give time for yourself. I did not do as good a job of this as I should have. I forgot to remember how many people were depending on me to stay healthy and I let myself get worn down so that I had a six-month fungal pneumonia. Don't let that happen to you! Here are some things to remember:
- Go to your regular doctor, dental and eye appointments. Your medical advisers will help you keep healthy. Be sure to tell them about your caregiving tasks and take their advice about how to make sure you are healthy.
- Take time every day for yourself to relax and do something you really enjoy like reading, going for a walk, shopping or calling a friend.
- Take a break every day. Aim for a short period every day, and at least one longer period once a week. If your loved one can't be left alone, get help. Look for help from neighbors, other family members, church friends, hospice or community volunteers. Don't tell people you are "fine." If they offer to help, then tell them what you need. If you don't have people who will volunteer to help, then hire someone to come at least once a week to watch your loved one while you get away to do something else.
- Keep Up Your Personal Interests: If you have a hobby, you may not feel you have time to keep on doing it, but you can still subscribe to a magazine about it to read. Or, if possible, continue your hobby or interest, even if you have to do it less often. You will feel less stress if you have something else to think about.
- Don't Neglect Friends: It is very easy to become isolated and feel you have nothing to contribute to a friendship. As a matter of fact, all that you are learning about giving care is very valuable to others, who may need your advice later. Moreover, as you care for someone with memory loss you often become very sensitive to the thoughts and needs of others expressed in gestures rather than words. You are becoming a more astute friend in the process. Let your friends comfort you, give you a place to laugh, and a place to remember you are loved.
You have so much to share! I would love to have you give your help, advice, and support to others! Do you have a tip for helping your loved one cope with the disease? Something which prevented wandering, sundowning, obsessing or other difficult behavior? An encouragement or book which helped you? Please share your experiences in the comments section.