Dealing with dementia is a difficult process for caregivers around the world. Communication with a loved one who is suffering may become challenging. The behavior of dementia sufferers can also become unpredictable. Dementia causes people to lose their ability to complete common tasks. It becomes the responsibility of caregivers to aid them in their everyday lives.
What is Dementia?
Before we begin discussing dealing with dementia and dementia care, let’s first discuss what dementia is.
Dementia is not a specific disease. The term refers to a group of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s Disease and stroke can both cause dementia. Those who are suffering from dementia lose their ability to complete everyday tasks such as getting dressed or eating. Dementia can also cause changes in personality and difficulty controlling emotions.
Memory loss on its own does not necessarily signify dementia, but it is a common symptom. Dementia significantly impacts both language and memory. Many elderly people suffer from dementia, but it is not considered a normal part of the aging process.
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, there are medications available that can aid in slowing down the disease and minimizing some of the symptoms. Dementia is a condition that needs management on a daily basis.
Trying to communicate with someone suffering from dementia can be tough for caregivers and loved ones. The reason is that dementia can impact the parts of the brain that govern language.
A sign of language deterioration in someone with dementia is a constant struggle to find the words which they are seeking. Sometimes, for example, the person will have to use other words to describe an object because they cannot remember the actual name of the object.
In other cases, someone suffering from dementia will use fluent sentences, but the sentence will have no meaning.
Many strategies and tips can aid in communication with someone suffering from dementia. These strategies include:
- Having a relaxed tone and body language
- Making sure the person you are trying to communicate with is comfortable at the time
- Having enough time to spend with the person; rushing will only complicate matters
- Having the full attention of the person with whom you are communicating
- Being in a well-lit area where you are easily recognized
When speaking to someone with dementia, it is important to speak clearly and calmly. Use short, easy to understand sentences. Humor is important. Laughing together is healthy and encouraged. Speak slower and avoid raising your voice or speaking sharply.
Another thing to avoid is asking too many questions. Questions may confuse someone suffering from dementia and frustrate them as a result. Try to stick to one simple idea at a time.
Listening is crucial. Be patient and encouraging. Allow sufficient time to respond to you and allow the person to express their feelings or worries. Provide comforting reassurance and be a supportive presence.
Dealing with Changes in Behavior
Dealing with dementia patients usually means dealing with changes in behavior. These changes are common amongst dementia sufferers. Dementia causes brain cells to die, and as a result, changes how the person acts.
How to deal with dementia can be an extremely challenging thing for most caregivers, as behavior can vary greatly daily.
Common personality changes you may see include:
- Acting lethargic or depressed
- Extreme mood swings that include worry, anger, and sadness
- Wandering away from home or getting lost
- Hiding things or accusing someone else of hiding things
- An increase in violence which may include attempting to strike caregivers or loved ones
Dementia care for someone undergoing these types of changes can be difficult to deal with. There are many strategies for managing out-of-character behavior.
Before attempting to use medications or drugs, try a few of these options.
Engage the person in activities that they may find enjoyable. A couple of examples of these activities might be exercising or making music. A structured daily routine may also help by creating familiarity. Sometimes just talking or spending quality time can make a world of difference.
It can get frustrating and overwhelming for caregivers who are dealing with dementia in someone they love or care for. It is important not to take their behavior personally or feel like they are deliberately difficult.
The way you act will often influence the person suffering. If you are calm, encouraging, and caring, they are likely to respond well. Acting frustrated or angry may upset them.
In this video, you can find a few tips on things to avoid when dealing with a loved one who has dementia:
Dealing with dementia patients isn’t something caregivers only do once in a while. It is a strenuous, everyday process that requires around the clock aid. Those who are suffering need assistance with numerous tasks throughout the day.
Eating and Nutrition
The nutritional aspect of caring for someone who has dementia can be especially trying. Often, those who are suffering from dementia are resistant to eating. In many cases, they may forget they need to eat at all. There are a few different ways to ensure that your loved one is getting the proper nutrition.
Meal and snack times should be a part of a daily routine and should occur around the same times each day. Meal time should also include a relaxing atmosphere without loud noises or distractions. Accompanying the person you’re caring for while they eat can be helpful and make them feel more comfortable.
Chewing and swallowing may be difficult for your loved one. If this is the case, try cutting up the food into smaller pieces. Accommodating in any way necessary so that your loved one can continue to eat independently is important.
Because bathing is an intimate experience, those with dementia often mistake it as threatening. For a person who has dementia, the loss of independence and privacy can be difficult to deal with. Creating a comfortable environment when it comes to bathing can be extremely challenging for a caregiver.
Here are a few things you can do in advance to prepare the bathroom:
- Make the room comfortable by covering cold surfaces with towels and adjusting the temperature
- Make shampoo, soap, and additional supplies easy to access
- Have all of these supplies ready before escorting the person you’re caring for into the bathroom
- Pay close attention to the water temperature to make sure it is not too hot or too cold
As a caregiver, the person you are bathing should feel in control and like they have choices. Be wary of their need or desire for privacy and cater to it as best you can. Being gentle and accommodating can help to make your loved one feel comfortable throughout the process.
Keep the process simple and as basic as possible. Try to set aside a particular time each day for bathing so that it becomes familiar.
Problems with sleep are extremely common amongst those suffering from dementia. Those with dementia may wake multiple times over the course of the night. Upon waking, they may feel disoriented or confused. Dementia sufferers have very unpredictable sleep patterns due to their tendency to often wake up in the middle of the night.
As a caregiver, you can use these strategies to minimize the number of sleep disturbances experienced by your loved one each night:
- Do something relaxing with your loved one before bedtime such as a short walk
- Cut out caffeine or alcohol; especially within the hours leading up to bedtime
- Keep the sleeping environment as comfortable as possible – this includes lighting, temperature, and bedding
- Try to keep your loved one as active and engaged as possible during daytime hours. This way, they will be ready to sleep at night
Aggression and anger can be among the most frightening aspects of dementia. Most caregivers struggle greatly when their loved one becomes aggressive or violent. There’s no easy way to handle these situations, but there are numerous things you can do to diffuse them.
Sometimes it can be physical discomfort that creates aggression in those who have dementia. Environmental factors may also come into play. If someone with dementia is in pain, they may act aggressively out of frustration due to the inability to articulate it. Someone with dementia may also become agitated by loud noises or an over-stimulating environment.
Using these response methods may be helpful in calming down an episode of aggression in someone suffering from dementia:
- Shift the focus onto something different; whether it’s an activity or music
- Assess how dangerous the situation is and keep a safe distance if there’s a threat of the sufferer attempting to strike
- Those with dementia often mirror their caregiver’s actions – if you use restraint or force, the situation is likely to escalate
- Remain as positive and reassuring as possible
- Try to identify the cause of the aggression to prevent future outbursts
Dealing with dementia is not an easy task for anyone involved. It can strip a sufferer of their independence, and it can create tough situations for caregivers. How you react as a caregiver to the needs of your loved one can go a long way in maintaining a loving, stress-free environment for both of you.
Do you have experience or expertise in dealing with dementia? If you have tips or want to share what your journey has been like, we strongly encourage you to let us know in the comments section!