More than 16 million Americans care for someone living with dementia, according to the CDC
. Caring for someone you love who has dementia may require specific behavior management and care techniques to promote their best ability to function. While it’s not in and of itself a specific disease, distinct types of dementia cause changes in the person’s cognition, physical and motor abilities, perception, communication, feelings, and personality. These mental changes 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.
As a care partner, it’s helpful to know how to manage the day-to-day issues that can occur. Understanding the dementia process can help to ensure that the person you’re caring for has the best quality of life possible. Here are a few tips that can be invaluable to them and to you.
1. Speak simply
This may seem obvious, yet many care partners ask open-ended questions such as, “what would you like to eat for lunch today?” This question may seem easy to respond to, but for someone living with dementia, it could be overwhelming. A person living with dementia may have lost their ability to connect information into clear ideas and responses. 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 may have memory challenges and communication struggles, which can cause agitation. 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, but ultimately, rushing the person you provide care to won’t help. It will likely lead to agitation for both of you. Give your loved one the time they need to respond, and be ready to repeat yourself if necessary.
Learn 6 key facts about a person living with dementia.
3. Make their environment provide the right balance of stimulation
Lighting: During daylight hours provide opportunities for easy access to daylight. In the evening, a couple of hours before usual bedtime, use table lamps with warm light. Respect the need for darkness during the night. Use only a yellow amber nightlight if needed.
Use of colors: Evidence shows that people with dementia benefit from strong color contrast due to changes in vision. For example, the table setting should have different colored tablecloth and plates. Busy patterns and dark lines or patches on flooring may be confusing and even cause falls. What does your loved one respond to? Tailor the environment to their preferences.
Learn 12 ways to create an empowering dementia environment.
4. Laughter can help
Laughter is therapeutic for most people. It has also, however, been shown to be beneficial to those with memory loss. One study
conducted in Australia found 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. If your loved one is at a point in their journey where they communicate through facial expression and body language, find meaningful ways to connect with them as they are still aware and able to perceive and feel.
5. Try 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. Encouraging the person you care for to participate in a daily cardiovascular workout for at least 20 minutes can result in clarity and bring their surroundings into greater focus. Start small. If they are willing to, let them help with tasks like setting the table, and gardening.
Caring for a parent or other loved one living with dementia can be demanding and stressful. No one could ever make light of such a serious responsibility. Keeping a family member living 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. It’s beneficial for caretakers to 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.
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