Are you a dementia caregiver? The global number of individuals currently diagnosed with dementia was estimated at a whopping 50 million in 2018. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, that number is expected to triple by the year 2050.
Interestingly, dementia diagnoses are approximately three times more common worldwide than cancer diagnoses. And while both cancers and dementia can be treated, dementia involves various cognitive malfunctions that are said to never be able to be reversed; especially the more that time has gone on.
Since dementia is irreversible and tends to progress rapidly, it’s imperative that dementia patients are not only treated quickly but that they’re provided with a dementia caregiver that they can trust to help them navigate through life in the best and safest ways possible.
Because of the fact that those with dementia are prone to abuse, neglect, and being taken advantage of, it’s no wonder that dementia patients often delegate the task of caregiving to someone they know and why family members of those diagnosed with dementia would prefer to provide that care rather than put them in under the care of a stranger.
As a non-professional, family dementia caregiver, here are 10 things you should know about helping take care of your family member or friend diagnosed with dementia:
- Joining a support group can give you better prepared.
When a loved one is going through something, it’s not only important that the person suffering receives the help that they deserve; it’s also integral that the family, friends, and caregiver(s) of the person suffering get the assistance they require to be able to care for, understand, and communicate with their loved one who’s struggling.
Whether you know a lot or a little about dementia, it’s important to join an Alzheimer’s or dementia support group to learn more about dementias, what they entail, and how to help someone dealing with a type of dementia. At support groups, you often have the opportunity to talk about specific things you’re struggling with as a caregiver and need advice for.
- The symptoms go beyond memory loss.
The first symptom that comes to mind when one thinks of dementia is memory loss. However, there are numerous other symptoms that those suffering from dementia may experience, some related and some non-related to cognition.
Other symptoms of dementia include reduced concentration, worsening mental confusion, inability to speak or understand verbal and/or written language, commonly forgetting the names of common objects (e.g., book, shoe, and phone), paranoia, hallucinations, and jumbled speech. Especially in the early stages, however, dementia may only feature a few symptoms.
- Certain supplements may help dementia patients.
According to research, dementia patients are found to have low folic acid, a type of B vitamin, levels. Also according to research, when those struggling with cognitive problems are given folic acid supplements on a regular basis, their symptoms often improve to an extent.
However, other research suggests that folic acid may only slow dementia progression rather than improve it, only work for those before dementia diagnosis, and/or only be effective for certain individuals depending on their genetic makeup. Either way, getting your loved one’s folic acid levels checked might be a good starting point to decide if supplementation might be helpful.
- There are professional services that aid with dementia symptoms.
Just because you’re the sole or primary caregiver of your loved one doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. You can still offer professional memory care for your loved one; it doesn’t mean that you’ve given up as a caregiver, family member, or friend. Sometimes it’s necessary that your loved one gets the expert care they need to stay as independent and healthy as possible. Indeed, as dementia worsens, it can become overwhelming and a challenge to keep your loved one safe and healthy. At this stage, a memory care nursing home may well be what is required to support both yourself and your loved one to cope with the many changes and difficulties being faced.
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- The progression of dementia isn’t always linear.
Just like with other physical and mental conditions, the progression of dementia is never simple. Both professional and non-professional caregivers need to understand that a dementia patient may seem good one day but have exasperated symptoms the next day. Sometimes there is no way to predict what “type of day” someone with dementia may have.
Besides understanding the latter, it’s also important to realize that some patients with dementia decline faster while others may have mild to moderate symptoms for many years before developing worsening symptoms. This makes caregiving difficult and unpredictable, but nonetheless, it reminds us that everyone’s different and requires different levels of care.
- Individuals with dementia often falsely accuse others.
Nobody likes to be accused of something they haven’t done. However, it’s important for dementia caregivers to understand that someone with a dementia diagnosis may frequently falsely accuse others, even family members and friends, of doing or saying things they haven’t.
While it may hurt to be accused of something, keep in mind that dementia distorts cognition and memory. Distorted memory tends to come with missing pieces of information, and in turn, a dementia patient may fill the memory in with false information to “complete” the memory.
Things a dementia patient might accuse you of include: stealing from them, poisoning them, or keeping them held hostage. When responding to these false accusations, it’s important to avoid using logic and reasoning. Instead, keep calm when you respond, try to guide the conversation away from the accusation naturally, and then help your loved one feel more in control.
- Dementia can cause problems with impulse control.
One of the symptoms most people overlook with a dementia diagnosis is the possibility of impulse control problems. However, this is a common symptom of dementia that requires particular care. The more impulsivity a dementia patient exhibits, the greater the consequences may be as the patient has little ability to control or stop from acting on their urges.
Based on impulsivity, dementia patients may be quick to spend money, engage in substance abuse, or even commit crimes. Depending on the severity of the impulsive or risky behavior, a caregiver may need to be in control of, say, the patient’s finances, or may even need to refer the patient to professional care.
- Taking records of your loved one’s changes over time is critical.
Even if symptoms are fairly stable, gradually change, or even come and go, keeping a record of your loved one’s condition as a dementia caregiver over time is important. By doing so, you can discover ways to best care for your loved one and notice any symptoms that drastically change, you can decide if your loved one needs to be referred to a professional for further aid.
Make sure to take records daily. As a dementia caregiver you can use tally marks to mark how often your loved one struggles with certain symptoms (e.g., calling something the wrong name, forgetting someone’s name, etc.), number scales to determine how severe the symptoms of your loved one are for the day, and short notes of incidences that happened that day and any changes you noticed.
- Refrain from correcting someone with dementia.
While there are certain ways that one can correct someone with dementia, like, for instance, if they call someone the incorrect name or refer to the cat as a “couch,” it’s important to refrain from constantly correctly them, particularly if what you’re correcting them on is a sensitive topic. Your loved one may get aggressive or upset after correcting them in certain scenarios.
Continuously correcting someone with dementia may make the sufferer feel attacked, unintelligent, or hopeless after being corrected, which may result in them lashing out or refraining from engaging in conversations at all for fear that they’ll mess up again. If and when you do correct your loved one, do it sparingly and never in a demeaning tone of voice.
- Keep in mind that what works for one patient may not work for another.
It’s important to remember that not only are there different types of levels of dementia, but everyone suffers differently and may suffer from different symptoms. Some patients may become aggressive frequently while others may exhibit less aggression and instead be prone to depression and sadness, for instance.
It’s also true that the assistance you provide someone with dementia may need to differ from that of another dementia patient. This is because different types of communication and assistance are more or less effective for certain individuals.
That said, don’t be alarmed if you have to play a little trial and error to understand what care responds best to your loved one. Eventually, all caregivers learn what works, what doesn’t, and what they need to do to be versatile to the new and changing needs of the patient under their care.
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a challenge, especially for caregivers without professional training and experience working with those with dementia. However, accumulating the right knowledge and keeping the latter things in mind, caregivers can be as successful as possible in being the best caregiver for their loved one for years to come.
Are you a dementia caregiver? What are your biggest challenges?