Dementia is a condition that affects the brain. A person with dementia displays diminished mental capabilities. These can include problems with memory, speaking and understanding speech (aphasia), planning, and performing other complex behaviors. These usually get worse over time. The term “dementia” is used to describe these problems, but they can result from a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia usually affects the elderly. According to the 2007 Aging, Demographics and Memory Study, about 14 percent of U.S. adults over age 71 had dementia in 2002 (Plassman, et al., 2007.)
If you are caring for someone with dementia, there are some important ways to ensure that the he or she remains comfortable and safe.
Questions to Discuss With Your Family
Who will make healthcare and financial decisions when the person is unable to do so?
- Put wishes on paper early and seek legal advice.
- Set up a conservatorship if necessary. This means designating someone who is legally responsible for protecting the interests of the person with dementia.
How will you meet the person’s care needs?
- Who is able to provide assistance?
Where will the person live?
- Is he or she safe in the house?
- Should he or she move closer to family or in with family members?
Goals of Early Stage At-Home Care
Talk with your healthcare provider about how you can:
- keep the person calm and oriented
- ensure that dressing and grooming are easy
- help with memory loss
- manage behavior and sleep problems
It is important to reduce the family member’s confusion by:
- setting up a day-to-day routine with simple activities
- keeping familiar objects and people around
- keeping lights on at night
- using reminders, notes, calendars, or a list of activities
- using cues to communicate certain times of the day. This can include opening the windows to indicate morning and playing soft music to indicate nighttime.
- involving the person in daily activities as much as possible
Take walks with your loved one. This can help prevent wandering and ease restlessness or anxiety. Consider purchasing an identification and medical information bracelet for your loved one to wear in case he or she does wander away.
Play music at certain periods throughout the day. This can help the person stay on a schedule and improve his or her sleep habits.
Encourage therapeutic activities such as community classes for seniors, hobbies, or other activities that the person enjoys and is capable of doing.
Schedule and supervise meals to make sure the person does not become dehydrated or hungry. He or she may need extra calories as a result of physical restlessness.
Help your loved one maintain some independence. Daily care needs such as bathing and dressing may become more difficult as the dementia progresses. This may force your family member to become more dependent on the caregiver. It can be difficult to manage the emotions that come with losing privacy for someone dealing with dementia. It is important to continue to encourage independence as much as you can in all aspects of the person’s life.
Eventually, a person with dementia will need 24-hour monitoring and care for his or her safety. In order to accommodate this care, you may consider:
You can hire profession caregivers to help you care for the family member affected by dementia at home. In-home care service providers may include nurses to help with the medical aspects of care or aides who can help with cleaning or running errands.
Adult Day Care
Adult day care facilities operate during the workday and provide attendees with opportunities to participate in activities and socialize with others. Day care allows you to work or provides short-term breaks so you can attend to other things.
These facilities provide some independent living options with staff available 24 hours a day. It is important to check that the facility you choose has experience working with someone with dementia.
Nursing homes provide a higher level of care to help the person with daily activities and to manage their dementia symptoms. At these facilities, physicians and nurses are on-site to monitor the resident’s care.
If you’ve been caring for someone with dementia for a long time, you may feel yourself getting stressed out, frustrated, and even angry. This does not mean you are a bad person. What it does mean is that you should take breaks from care giving to maintain your own independence, health, and overall well-being. Remember that you can only take care of someone else if you are taking care of yourself.
The long-term progression of dementia can cause the patient to experience extreme behavior changes, including violence or aggression. It is important to understand that these changes are part of the disease and to reach out for support through your medical care team, other caregiver groups, family, and friends.
There are many community resources, including overnight nurses and support groups, to help you avoid caregiver stress. Respite care is offered in some facilities as a temporary option that can allow you time to rest.
The Alzheimer’s Association provides information, an online message board, and links to support groups in your area. They also sponsor events and public outreach campaigns to educate the community about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Association National Office
225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17
Chicago, IL 60601-7633
TDD Phone: 312-335-5886
24-hour helpline: 800-272-3900
Family Caregiver Alliance offers information for caregivers, including workshops, and performs research and advocacy to support family caregivers.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information on approved treatments and clinical trials for people with dementia.
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Phone: 800-352-9424 or 301-496-5751
TTY (for people using adaptive equipment): 301-468-5981