Are you, or will you soon be, caring for an elderly relative suffering dementia?
Here at Vermont Aged Care we look after elderly residents with varying degrees of degenerative or progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Today, we would like to offer some helpful advice to you if you are caring for an elderly relative suffering dementia.
Firstly, what is dementia? It is a progressive biological brain disorder. It comes from conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other related diseases. So how can you identify if your loved one may have a problem. Well, you may have noticed that your loved one appears to be having difficulty remembering things. Furthermore, do you believe that their thinking is not as clear as it used to be? As a result, communication with other people becomes difficult for them. Furthermore, simple tasks such as taking care of themselves also become more difficult. You may have noticed changes in their personality. Perhaps they have become moody. You may be noticing changes in their behaviour. All of this may be of concern to you and you may not know the root cause of it all.
The following tips might be helpful in giving you strategies for coping. In turn, this will make your caregiving less stressful and improve your relationship with your loved one.
The dementia may be in the very beginning stages or more advanced. However the elderly person may already be exhibiting some difficult behaviour. Remembering that they are the ones who are unwell and not yourself will help you to be patient. Keeping the conversation pleasant and light may help to defuse any potential conflicts. Also, reassuring them of your affection and unconditional love may help to calm them down if they feeling frightened or anxious. Background noises if they are too loud, such as the radio or television, might cause them distress. So turning them down before talking to the person will generally be helpful. Therefore, engaging them in conversations about subjects they normally enjoy, such as the family or the grandchildren may lift their mood if something has been troubling their mind.
Memories are made of this
People suffering dementia can have difficulty remembering what happened today or yesterday. However, their memories of their childhood or their 20s may be as sharp as ever. This will distract them from the fact that they tried to remember something that happened recently and could not. That’s why contradicting them or telling them that they are wrong will not help at all. Asking simple, short questions will produce better results than long ones. Also, be willing to repeat things softly and without frustration. This will pay off in the long run. Finally, don’t take things personally and try to keep your sense of humour. If you laugh and they laugh it will defuse any blaming or feelings of antagonism.
The first thing you may want to do is talk to their doctor about the changes you are noticing. The practitioner will be able to give you practical information about daily care. They will also be able to check if there is anything medically wrong with your loved one. They may be experiencing pain or suffering the side effects of certain medications. For example, if they are having trouble with incontinence the doctor may be able to prescribe something to help them with that.
Of course you want to keep your loved one safe. You don’t want them to put themselves in harm’s way. That’s why simple precautions can ensure their safety. It has been noted that some people suffering from dementia tend to wander. For instance, if they are bored, a walk or some gentle exercise may help with that. They may be looking for something to eat or drink which they have not asked you for. They may even be looking for someone who does not live in the house but they have forgotten. A simple trick is to ask them if you can help them with something. If the problem is more advanced, you may need to take precautions with door locks and such. If the situation worsens you may want to go back to the doctor for a checkup and some helpful advice.
Bathing, dressing and toileting
This can be a distressing area for an elderly person. After all, they have been taking care of their own needs during their adult life. Therefore you may want to use a lot of discretion in those areas. Trying not to over-help may be stressful for you but it will help them to feel less inhibited. Using towels for modesty, having their clothes ready to step into quickly will certainly help. Checking the temperature of the water before they enter the bath tub or shower will prevent the danger of burning, or the sudden shock of very cold water. Also, at night time, subtle lighting left on between the bedroom, the bathroom and the toilet is very helpful. If incontinence is a problem, the doctor will give you helpful suggestions.
You are not alone
You may be your loved one’s only relative and main carer. But you are not alone. There are people in the community who can offer help and assistance. You may want to begin with your local council. They will have fact sheets providing information, names and contact details of organisations and Service providers in your area. If that is your thing, support groups can help with practical and emotional support. As usual, a good chat, a cup of tea and a biscuit always seem to work wonders.
This blog is intended to provide helpful advice. Please speak with your family GP for personalised information or, for specialist advice & support in Melbourne Australia, please contact:
VERMONT AGED CARE
770 Canterbury Road, Vermont, Victoria, Australia 3133.
Phone: +61 03 9873-5300
Credits and advanced reading: *Bathing Without a Battle – Ann Louise Barrick, Joanne Rader, Beverly Hoeffer y Philip Sloane, Springer Publishing, 2002. *36 Hour Day: Family Guide to Caring for People who have Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementias and Memory Loss. Johns Hopkins Press Health Book, 2011. *The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer’s-Type Dementia, Naomi Feil, Health Professions Press, Baltimore, MD, 2.ª edición, 2002. *Understanding Difficult Behaviors: Some practical suggestions for coping with Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses. A. Robinson, B. Spencer y L. White, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI, 2001