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Caregiving for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Caregiving for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be an emotionally draining and stressful experience.

You’re not the only one. In the United States alone, there are more than 14 million people caring for someone with dementia. Since there is no cure at the moment for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia and only limited medical treatments to alleviate the symptoms - it is your care that makes the biggest difference in the quality of your loved one’s life.

Caregiving is undoubtedly an overwhelming experience, particularly with a primary family member or loved one. As you experience their regression in cognitive and physical capacity, you are put at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and burnout. Here are some strategies that you may find useful in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Plan Ahead

The current reality of Alzheimer’s and dementia as a disease is a difficult one to face. However, the sooner you are able to accept their condition and learn about the progression of their illness, the better you will be able to handle the uphill battle and eventual transition to full-time care.

Some important questions to consider are:

Who will be making the final decisions regarding healthcare and finances when the person is no longer able to do so themselves?
It is not reasonable to assume that the nearest family member will be able to assume the role of full-time caregiver. How will the person’s needs be met in accordance with the balance of their family’s own lives?
Where will your loved one live, both now and in the future?

Seek Personal Support

You cannot do it all alone. The huge responsibility of caring for a cognitively-impaired adult can make it easy to neglect your own well-being. If you are not receiving appropriate physical and emotional support, you will not be able to provide the highest quality of care possible to your loved one.

It is important to reach out to other family members, friends, or volunteer organizations that can help ease the burden. Sometimes even just help with the simple, mundane tasks of the day such as grocery shopping can help you have more free time to spend with your loved one.

Make sure to plan frequent breaks throughout the day to check in with yourself, pursue your own hobbies and take care of your own physical and mental well-being. Caregivers are only able to take care of others if they can first take care of themselves, and you will find that you have a greater sense of satisfaction in the long term.

Change Your Communication Style

As the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia progress, you’ll find that you will need to adjust your communication style accordingly. Every case is different, but you will likely find that your patient will have trouble finding the right words, increased usage of hand gestures, and even inappropriate outbursts are all par for the course.

Do your best to not outwardly show your frustration, as this stress can make your loved one more distressed. Speak slowly, use closed-ended questions (yes or no), and always call them by their name. You will have to repeat yourself frequently. Also, do not be afraid to deflect the conversation if the whole truth will upset them. For example, it is a lot easier to tell a patient that their father is “not here right now” as opposed to “he died twelve years ago.”

Don’t patronize or talk down to your patient. Also, do your best to avoid sarcasm and irony. Always be empathetic and remember that their condition is out of their control. It is always better to have short, sparse conversations that do not acknowledge their failing memory or other symptoms.

Progress to Acceptance

The biggest mountain for caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is acceptance. The inevitable reality of this condition is not one that is faced lightly or quickly. You are better able to cope with the emotional loss and increase your satisfaction with your admirable role as a caregiver when you are able to reflect and be aware of your own physical and mental well-being.

Cherish what is still possible, and remember that you are the single most influential factor in their ability to live a comfortable and fulfilling life. Remembering why you have taken on this role will help you conquer the countless challenges that come your way.

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