Tips for Dementia Caregivers

Caring for someone with dementia is incredibly challenging. An Alzheimer’s patient may struggle to remember things, take care of themselves, and communicate with others. They may also have a hard time remembering their loved ones and performing even the most basic daily tasks.

The job of a caregiver is to provide all the support that their loved one needs, and if it’s a family caregiver who doesn’t have a lot of experience, that job becomes significantly harder.

To help you through this process, take a look at these caregiving tips, which are targeted toward Alzheimer’s caregivers and other dementia caregivers.

Be Positive When Speaking

It’s important to keep your composure and to maintain positivity when speaking with dementia patients. Your body language, your tone, and the way you present yourself is just as important as the things you say.

Try not to get frustrated with them if they struggle to do things and struggle to remember. This can be difficult if you’re caring for a parent or a spouse, as you’ve spent your life being open with them and calling them out on their difficult behavior, but now it’s time to take a step back. Approach them from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have that personal history with them.

Avoid saying says like, “How can you not remember that?” and “Come on, try to remember it.” If you force them to remember something they can’t recall, they will only get frustrated and you will create more problems for yourself.

Create Set Routines

Having a fixed, regular routine can help you manage things easily, and it may make life easier for your loved one as well. This is how nursing homes operate, after all.

Your daily routine should have fixed mealtimes and medication times. There should also be periods set aside for watching TV, playing games, speaking with friends, and other recreational activities. 

Remember to reserve some time for yourself, as self-care is very important for your own well-being. Whether that means watching TV in the late afternoon while your loved one takes a nap or reading while they speak with other family members, make sure to prioritize it.

Be Direct When Talking to Them

Use short, direct sentences, don’t overcomplicate things, and don’t raise your voice. More importantly, when you’re speaking about people, regardless of whether or not they are in the room, use their names instead of pronouns. It’s easy to fall into the habit of saying “they,” “he,” or “she,” but it may help your loved one if you use people’s names instead.

When asking questions, avoid being vague and ambiguous. If you’re asking them which sweater they want to wear for a day-out, say something like, “Would you prefer the black or the white?” as opposed to “what do you want to wear today?” These open-ended questions only serve to confuse them and make them longer to make a decision.

Condense Activities into a Series of Steps

Basic daily activities will be easier to manage if they are condensed into a series of manageable steps. It’s something you will have experienced yourself when dealing with more complex tasks. If you’re learning a language, for example, it’s easier to approach it from the perspective of basic daily phrases, grammar, writing, speaking, and the multiple other steps that lead to proficiency. 

When you go to the gym, you have an idea of what machines you will use, how many sets you will do, etc. When you’re dealing with someone who has dementia, these kinds of breakdowns can help with everyday activities. Use visual cues to remind them of the steps and only take over when it’s clear that they don’t know what the next step is.

Focus on their Feelings

When your loved one gets frustrated or upset about a false memory, it’s important to focus on their emotions instead of trying to convince them they are wrong. Reassure them, calm them down, and the moment will pass eventually. Telling them that their memories are false may make the situation worse. 

Imagine how scared you would be if you suddenly remembered something upsetting, only for your family member to tell you that you were remembering incorrectly, and that the incident didn’t really happen. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can provide the support they need to get through.

Maintain a Safe, Clean Environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wakeup call for caregivers everywhere. It has devastated the globe, and caregivers, nurses, doctors, and elderly patients have been hit the hardest. It changed the home care sector and sank its claws into elderly care facilities.

It’s not going to be around forever, but the lessons it has taught us will remain for generations. Most importantly, it has stressed the need for proper disease control when dealing with elderly patients. They are at higher risk for a host of diseases, so caregivers must proceed with caution whenever they feel the onset of a viral infection.

Wear gloves and masks, make sure the home is sanitized, and ensure that people entering the home do not present with symptoms during a pandemic or flue season. Older adults suffering from pre-existing health conditions cannot fight a cold or the flu in the way that younger, fitter people can. As such, they need to be protected from these bugs.

Of course, as we have seen during the Coronavirus pandemic, many people are nonchalant about these things and will happily put others at risk for the sake of convenience and comfort. In such situations, it’s important to remind visiting friends and family members just how vulnerable your loved one is.

Remember the Past

While a patient with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias may struggle to remember what they did in the morning, or even just a few minutes previously, they often remember what they did when they were younger. Therefore, it may help to recall these times.

Get out the scrapbooks, show them old Facebook pictures, and remind them of all the good times they had when they were younger. At first, it can feel a little cruel to remind someone of a time that is long gone, but memories make us feel warm and nostalgic. That’s a feeling that anyone can appreciate.

Ask for Help When You Need it

Everyone needs a little help every now and then. Asking for some support may feel like you’re admitting defeat, though. You may even feel like you’re abandoning them and a promise you made to them, but it’s impossible to assume the job of an inexperienced full-time caregiver without encountering some difficulties.

Find some basic online and offline support by checking in with the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association. Also, speak with friends, family members, and neighbors. Even if they’re only helping with simple tasks, like mowing the lawn or buying some groceries once a week, it can take some weight off your shoulders.

Watch Out for Caregiver Stress

Last, but not least, you must be aware of caregiver stress. This is something that all caregivers can fall victim to and something that is especially common in individuals providing long-term care for their loved ones.

You have to think about your own quality of life as well as theirs. Take a break every now and then, look into adult day care options and support groups, speak with healthcare professionals and friends, and make sure you have a shoulder to cry on and a place to go when needed.

Remember that many caregivers suffer from sleep problems and depression when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and other disorders. They focus so much on the well-being of the patient that their own well-being is completely neglected.