Home Care for a Dementia-Afflicted Loved One

home care dementia

Caring for an aging loved one is difficult enough when the only issues they are facing are physical challenges such as frailty or sickness. When those issues are compounded with mental conditions such as dementia, the results can take an emotional, physical, temporal, and financial toll on the family members that care for them. With an eye toward easing those burdens as much as possible, here are some guidelines that should be followed when caring for a dementia-afflicted family member.

Turn Your Attention toward Your Relationship with your Loved One
How would you feel if the people around you suddenly started insisting that you are insane, and that many of the things you held as firm beliefs were not just wrong, but actually laughable? How would you feel if everyone that talked to you all day long sounded impatient, angry with you, and unwilling to even acknowledge that you had an opinion?

Recent research has shown over and over again that the absolute most important element of any health care system (and home elder care is no exception) is the degree to which the system involves responding to the patient’s dignity, abilities, needs, wants, and history. It is easy to assume as dementia takes hold that your loved one no longer has (or cannot keep track of) their needs, wants, and history…but that is a very wrongheaded notion.

We know that dementia can cause disconnects between thoughts and actions and between memory and present circumstance, but that in no way means that your loved one is not perfectly normal in terms of how they want to be treated by the people around them. By deliberately putting forth the effort to sound patient, respectful, and caring (even if you don’t feel it) you will find that your loved one is suddenly much less apathetic, much more cooperative, and much warmer toward you.

This doesn’t mean that they’re not changing; dementia can definitely do some fascinating things to people, like inspiring the formerly shy to suddenly start serenading their friends in the middle of a crowded restaurant. It just means that no matter how they change, they are still human.

Lean into the changes, embrace them, and encourage them to be themselves just like you would with a child. If you do this, you will find that your once-defiant, temperamental loved one can be just as loving and exuberant as ever.

Don’t Forget to Care for the Caregiver
Simply put, being a caregiver is a more-than-full-time job, and none of us have the capacity to work that hard for months or years on end. Make whatever special arrangements you need to get sufficient sleep, eat and drink enough (and healthfully), get some exercise, some sun-time, and some fun-time with your favorite people.

Caring for the needs of an elderly human being constantly and for an extended period of time can be lethally stressful. It is a sobering fact, but upwards of 30% of caregivers will die before the loved one they are caring for dies, even if they started in perfect health and their loved one started with a significant disability or illness.

Do not get caught in the trap of thinking that, by attending to your own health, you are somehow shirking your caregiving responsibilities. The truth is that your honored elder would be devastated if they learned that you sacrificed your own health on their behalf; your martyrdom is not on their wishlist! It is better for them and you if you care for yourself, as long as you actually attend to your relationship with them as well.

Team Caregiving Is Better Caregiving
The most important thing to remember about caregiving is it should be a team effort. Whether that means splitting the duties between several family members or hiring a home health care professional, you should make the necessary arrangements for periodic relief.

No matter what option you choose, you should absolutely include your honored elder as part of their own health care team; doing whatever it is within their capacity to maintain their own health will help them feel like they have some degree of control over their situation, and that alone is a huge psychological step forward.

An important part of the ‘team’ aspect is making sure that the people on the health-care team know that they are a team; that it’s “us vs. them,” where ‘them’ is ‘dementia.’ A health-care team that acts with respect for each other as teammates will always provide better care than a motley collection of unrelated caregivers.

Caregiving for an elder with dementia is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as many people make it. It starts with recognizing the fundamental human strengths and weaknesses of both your honored elder and yourself, and doing everything you can to amplify the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses.

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About Peter Mangiola

Peter Mangiola is a senior care advocate with several decades of experience in the industry. Peter helps senior citizens by leveraging his vast knowledge of the healthcare industry and his expertise in identifying effective, affordable healthcare solutions. Peter has been a consultant, educator and regular speaker for many groups and organizations over the years covering a wide variety of topics; including Geriatric Care Management, Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Senior Care Health Service & Advocacy

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