Finding out that your loved one has Alzheimer's disease or some form of dementia is news no one wants to receive. It is a heartbreaking experience watching memories, and everyday motor functions fade. On top of the progressive memory loss, dementia often leads to personality changes and drastic mood changes that affect the relationship between caregivers and family members.
It can be hard to accept that someone close to you has dementia but ignoring it will only make matters worse. We know it's daunting to face, but addressing their mental health early on, creating a safe environment, and finding helpful resources will help ensure the best quality of life for both your loved one and you.
At Weatherly Inn, we offer more than just a comforting community for older adults and long-term care for seniors. We have developed a highly specialized memory care program that focuses on the needs of individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's. So if you are stepping into a caregiving role, we want to help you feel prepared and supported. In this blog, we will cover all the essentials you need to know about dementia, such as:
- Coming to terms with dementia and getting a handle on it
- Tips for caring for a family member with dementia
- How to prevent them from wandering off
- Making sure you know the early signs of dementia.
Okay, take a deep breath. Trust us, no one is ever ready to receive the news that they or a loved one has dementia. But acknowledging it and getting informed are the first steps in this challenging journey. Read on to learn the basics of dementia care.
Coming to Terms with a Dementia Diagnosis
AD and dementia feel disorienting and frightening. Even though you are serving as their primary caregiver, your family member might not trust you, and it will be nearly impossible to reason with them. Per the Alzheimer's Association, "Delusions (firmly held beliefs in things that are not real) may occur in middle-to-late-stage Alzheimer's. Confusion and memory loss — such as the inability to remember certain people... can contribute to these untrue beliefs." Don't take it personally. Instead, try to focus on their feelings and gently reassure them.
As a new caregiver, there will be many hurdles you'll have to overcome. You'll have to develop new routines and adapt to a totally new way of life. There are many types of dementia, but one of the commonalities will be a major change in communication. When you need to have an important discussion with your loved one, limit the noise and distractions. Address your family member by name. Your patience will grow thin, believe us. But try your best to maintain a calm and positive tone.
Make sure you understand the many ways life will change for you and your loved one. You can read about more specific tips for understanding and coping with dementia here.
How to Care for a Senior Family Member with Dementia
As we age, we all experience a gradual decline in our physical strength and motor functions. This is just a part of life. But older adults suffering from memory loss will struggle with many activities of daily living that we take for granted. Dementia caregivers quickly discover that loved ones need extra help with their personal hygiene. You'll need to help them bathe a few times a week. Individuals with dementia often have toileting issues and incontinence. This is also one of the key activities of daily living (ADLs) that help us understand someone's cognitive abilities.
Eating is another part of your loved one's daily routine that will fall on your plate. Most likely, it will be up to you to make sure mealtimes aren't missed. In addition to prescribed medications, helping them maintain good nutrition and a balanced diet will go a long way in preserving their health.
We know how tough caregiving can be! You've committed to ensuring your loved one is well-fed, well-groomed, and making it to all their essential medical appointments. You're also tasked with medication management and picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy. You may even have to get a power of attorney form and help manage their finances. It can all be so overwhelming.
This brings us to one of the most overlooked aspects of dementia care: self-care. It's easy to overlook your own needs and take on too much. But this can strain your own mental health, quickly lead to burnout, and cause you to be resentful of your loved one. We encourage you to seek out dementia support groups or a local Alzheimer's network. Of course, you might be too pressed for time to attend in-person meetings. In that case, there are many online communities that can serve as a helpline.
Watch Out for Wandering
It's not just their mind that will wander. Because people with dementia are fidgety and often become disoriented, they have a high tendency to venture off without close supervision. It's essential to create clear boundaries, block off places in the home where they shouldn't go, and make sure they don't have access to exit points.
You can also take a proactive approach to wandering. If you have a fenced-in yard, you can let your loved one get some fresh air. If it's a nice day out, you could go for a walk around the neighborhood. This is a great way to get exercise and help their –– and your –– overall well-being.
Wandering is one of the hardest dementia side effects family caregivers will face. No matter how vigilant and watchful you are, this stage in the illness often becomes too much a burden for carers. Know that there are more options than moving your loved one into a nursing home. Options like day care and respite care can give you temporary freedom to take a day off or time to run errands.
Here are six simple ways to create a safe environment for your loved ones and prevent them from wandering.
Spotting Dementia: the Sooner, the Better
It's hard to recognize the difference between occasional forgetfulness that is a natural part of again and the more serious signs of memory loss. A natural reaction is to deny Alzheimer's and dementia as a possibility because no one wants to watch someone they care about go through this debilitating disease. But catching it early and accepting it can ensure a spouse or relative receives the care they need and doesn't put others in harm's way.
Severe memory loss is not the only way dementia manifests. Frontotemporal dementia, in particular, can cause major personality changes. You may barely recognize your parent or loved one, but they are still there, and they need special senior care.
As cognitive function begins to decline, your loved one might not be able to manage their medications. They might miss important doses or take the wrong meds. Care providers of geriatric individuals need to take a proactive position, making sure they take the right prescriptions at the correct times.
There are also physical risks for individuals with dementia. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors. It's vital to make home modifications or "senior proof" the home. Be sure to take proper precautions and add some safety items to the household because dementia increases the risk of an injury.
It's not just their own safety that's at risk. The Mayo Clinic says people with mild dementia are at a much greater risk of unsafe driving. Your loved one might be reluctant to hand over their car keys since it's their connection to the outside world. They may not be aware of a decline in their decision-making or driving skills. This may not be a pleasant conversation, but it is an important one.
If you believe someone you care about is experiencing early signs of dementia, don't delay or deny. Read more about the red flags and warning signs so you can get ahead of it.
Seek Professional Support Before You Need It
For a while, taking care of someone with dementia is totally manageable. There may be tough days, but overall you can manage. Plus, you appreciate that your loved one gets to remain in their home or a familiar residence.
But it's important to keep in mind that dementia is a progressive disease that will get worse. At a certain point, the best –– and safest –– thing you can do is seek quality care from health professionals. Many dementia caregivers feel it's time to make a move when their loved one struggles with most of their activities of daily living (ADLs), like feeding and dressing themselves and continence/toileting.
Hopefully, you've been communicating with other family members throughout this time, and they'll be ready to support you emotionally and financially as you make a move towards assisted living or full-time dementia care.
No matter how much you care about them, caring for a senior family member or loved one with dementia takes tremendous strength and patience. We encourage you in this role and hope you have the support you need. During this difficult time, it's good to do your research and get positive referrals. Make sure the facility you're considering provides not only exceptional healthcare but also provides a warm and comforting environment.
That's what we strive to do at Weatherly Inn. Our memory care program checks all the boxes by providing state-of-the-art health resources while also keeping our residents engaged through fun activities and socializing. You can schedule a virtual tour of our beautiful communities to get a closer look at our top-notch care and see if it's a good fit for your loved one.