Dementia and associated conditions are on the rise. As healthcare improves and people are living longer, more and more cases of dementia are being diagnosed. When a loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, it can be devastating for all involved. Many families want to care for them at home for as long as possible, and while admirable, this is not altogether as simple as it sounds. Carers can be put under immense strain, and the daily practicalities of caring for loved one with dementia can be overwhelming. Does this apply to you? Below is some practical advice to help ease the strain and enable you to continue to care for your loved one at home, for as long as possible.
Fear and despair often come hand in hand with a diagnosis of dementia. This applies to both the sufferer and their carer. All too often there is a stigma surrounding the notion of dementia alone, and this can prevent people from speaking out. Stamp out the stigma and seek out help! There are numerous fantastic support groups for carers that provide practical and emotional support. These are wonderful tools and will provide you with a support system throughout your journey. Ask your medical practitioner for the details of support groups in your area. There are also support groups for those who have been diagnosed with dementia. This would be particularly beneficial for those suffering from early onset dementia, or for those who have only recently received their diagnosis. If this is something you think your loved one would benefit from, ask your medical practitioner for a referral.
2.Use memory aides.
For those in the early stages of the condition, the awareness of their declining cognitive function can be a huge source of frustration. They often realise they are forgetting things, but don't know why. This can be hugely demotivating and depressive. Try simple memory aides to help alleviate some of the frustration. Calendars that display the day and date are hugely beneficial, but ensure they are the type that show one day at a time and not a whole week or month. Try using a speaking clock or one that shows the time relative to the specific part of the the day; 12 o clock in the afternoon or 12 o clock at night for example. Use a whiteboard to jot down important information in easy to read language, maybe upcoming appointments or days that relatives are expected to visit. Generally, anything that helps to instil a sense of stability and orientation is a beneficial tool. These are only a few tips, but often the simplest methods are most effective. Each individual is different and you will know what methods work best for your loved one.
3.Dealing with distressing behaviours.
As the the condition progresses, carers often find that the memory loss typically associated with dementia, is only this tip of the ice berg. Those who suffer dementia can experience depression, agitation, and even aggression, all symptoms usually born from frustration and confusion. This is where your empathy on a human level is important. Try relating to your loved one as best you can. Simply sitting with them and holding their hand can be an enormous source of comfort and reassurance. Using familiar objects, family photographs, favourite music etc, as a means of diversion can often help. Sometimes a quick walk around the block or a visit to a favourite store may be all that is required to help restore balance and calm. However, if behaviours have progressed to full blown violence and rage, leave the situation and seek help. If your presence is serving only to escalate the situation, then you are not helping yourself or your loved one by remaining in a dangerous environment. Remember that it's perfectly ok to admit when a situation or behaviour is beyond your capabilities.
4.Visit you local medical centre.
Visit your local medical centre for advice. A medical practitioner will be able to provide information on everything from medication to continence management. You will also be able to discuss with your medical practitioner, the expected progression of your loved ones condition and possible behaviours and situations you may experience along the way. In addition, it also is very important to inform your medical centre/practitioner about a sudden or serious deterioration in your loved one's condition or behaviours. This may be a sign of an underlying infection that needs urgent treatment. Infections exacerbate dementia symptoms. The sooner treatment is sought the better for both you and your loved one.
5.Ask for help.
Sometimes despite all your best efforts, help is needed, and that is ok. Admitting you need help is not a sign of weakness. If you simply need a bit more practical support or your loved one needs specialist nursing care, seek help. You are doing neither of you any good by remaining in a situation in which you are struggling and your loved one's needs are not being met. Ask your medical practitioner about extra care and support. This can range from home care services to the possibility of care facilities. Doing the best by your loved one can sometimes mean opting for professional care. This is not defeat and you are not doing your loved one a disservice, you are simply doing what is best for them and their complex physical and emotional needs.