15 million Americans care for someone with dementia, according to data from The Alzheimer's Association
. Caring for someone you love who has dementia brings numerous challenges. While it’s not in and of itself a specific illness, distinct types of dementia can include symptoms such as memory loss, an inability to communicate coherently, and overall disorientation. These mental challenges can make dementia an extremely distressing experience for the loved one who experiences it, as well as the person providing them with their regular care.
Learn more about each stage of dementia and its corresponding functional ability levels.
It’s important to know how to manage the day-to-day issues that can arise as a caregiver. Having a thorough understanding of the dementia process can help you to ensure that the person you’re caring for is as emotionally and physically healthy as they can be. Here are a few tips that can be invaluable to them and to you.
1. Speak simply
This may seem obvious, yet many care providers for those with dementia make the mistake of asking open-ended questions such as, “what would you like to eat for lunch today?” Someone whose brain hasn’t lost its ability to connect information into clear ideas and responses would find this easy to respond to. Someone with dementia, however, could find it overwhelming. It would be less anxiety-inducing to simply ask your loved one if they’d like some pasta. It’s better to ask questions that can be responded to with just a “yes” or “no.”
2. Patience is essential
A loved one who has dementia is in a constant struggle to regain speaking and thinking skills they’ve lost, which keeps them agitated. That’s why it’s so important for you to try and relieve the emotional and mental pressure they’re under
. You may have a lot on your plate yourself and be moving quickly to achieve it all, but ultimately, rushing the person you provide care to won’t help. It will lead to confusion for both of you.
Learn 6 key facts about a person with dementia.
3. Make their environment as peaceful as possible
Clutter overwhelms everyone. It’s a form of sensory overload. Someone with dementia will find being in a disorganized room even more distressing. Use calm, subtle colors. Brightness is a stimulant. Busy patterns are more demanding to process so should be avoided. If you’re in the mood for music, listen to something with a soothing or peaceful ambiance. Don’t leave a TV droning non-stop in the background. Pleasant fragrances in the form of fresh flowers, scented soaps, and sachets can foster a sense of serenity and be aroma-therapeutic.
Learn 12 ways to create an empowering dementia environment.
4. The power of touch
Stroking your loved one’s face or brushing their hair are simple gestures that can send a strong loving message. Holding their hand when trying to get their full attention can also provide them with reassurance that everything’s okay. Hand-holding unites you with them in their struggle. It can also be a way of helping them feel safer about being in the mental state they’re in. Offering your hand for them to grip can even give them greater focus. In fact, recent research
shows that making a fist is a stabilizing body motion that activates memory and positively stimulates the brain.
Learn how you can enhance quality time with a family member who has dementia.
5. Laughter helps
Laughter is therapeutic for most people. It has also, however, been shown to be beneficial to those with memory loss. One study
recently conducted in Australia proves that telling jokes to a loved one can function the same way that using medication to relieve stress does. Laughter can also help you let go of the pressure you’re under as your loved one’s caretaker.
6. Physical exercise
Research increasingly shows that being active can slow down brain aging. Various studies also show a sedentary lifestyle increases the probability that dementia will set in. Exercising regularly can stimulate blood circulation to the brain. Giving the person your care for a daily cardiovascular workout for at least 20 minutes a day can result in giving them clarity and bringing their surroundings into greater focus.
Caring for a parent or other loved one who has dementia can be demanding and stressful. No one could ever make light of such a serious responsibility. Keeping a family member with dementia calm or engaged in ways that help them focus
can go a long way in improving their quality of life as well as yours. Caretakers should remember that while being responsible for the constant care of an aging loved one can be difficult, if handled with sensitivity, it can be a deeply enriching bonding experience for both of you.
About the Author
Ryan Bridges is a contributing writer and media specialist for the Senior Helpers
. He regularly produces content for a variety of lifestyle and living blogs, based around the transitional challenges that come with caregiving and staying active.