Is it simply aging, or is it the onset of dementia? Symptoms are similar; however, an early diagnosis of dementia can ensure that your loved one receives the support and treatment he or she needs.
Dementia care can be stressful for caregivers, who must deal with a progressive disease that whittles away the memory, behavior, and communication skills of their loved ones. Caregivers can’t control the illness. But they can control how they respond to the daily challenges that the disease brings. And that will make life easier for both caregiver and loved one.
Communication Is Key
Communication is vital when you’re caring for a loved one with dementia. Remaining calm and patient, as well as being sensitive to your loved one’s condition, can help improve your communication with him or her. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers this advice:
- When you need to communicate with your loved one, make sure you have his full attention. Turn off the radio or TV. Stand in front of him and speak slowly, using simple words. Call him by name and identify yourself. Maintain a cheerful tone, even if you have to repeat yourself several times. Try not to sound stressed or impatient.
- Break down activities — such as getting ready for bed — into a series of steps.
- If your loved one becomes upset or paranoid, try distracting her with a different activity or a favorite snack. A hug or holding her hand can also help. Nonverbal communication can be a powerful aid in dealing with dementia.
- Your loved one may have memories or a view of reality that is incorrect. Do not try to convince him that he is wrong. Provide reassurance and a hug.
- Try to understand the motivation behind what may seem to be odd behavior. Your loved one may do things that seem to make no sense; understand that she can’t necessarily communicate her motivation to you.
- Eat meals at the same time of day. Provide an opportunity for daily exercise; this can minimize any tendency to try to wander away from home. To help prevent incontinence, suggest a trip to the bathroom every couple of hours.
- Minimize nighttime confusion and sleeplessness by discouraging naps. Avoid foods and beverages that will make sleep difficult. Consult a physician to determine whether sleep medication may be suitable.
- People with dementia often forget that they have to eat; help your loved one remember to do so by sitting down and eating a meal with her. She may do what she sees you doing, and it may be easier than always reminding her to eat.
- Adequate lighting can reduce shadows and minimize fears and hallucinations. Keep the curtains closed at night. Provide a nightlight in your loved one’s bedroom.
- Finally, remember the past together. Long-term memory is usually the last to go, and those trips down memory lane can be therapeutic for both caregiver and loved one.
So pull a family photo album down from the closet shelf, flip through the pages, and share a laugh. That’s an aspect of dementia care that may be the easiest to deliver.
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