Caring for an aging parent is a complex task, but when dementia is part of the picture, it becomes exponentially more difficult. Cognitive and behavioral changes can occur unpredictably, and parents may resist care. If you are the caregiver for a loved one who suffers from dementia, the most important thing is to first understand the disease.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia, it is the one with the most pronounced stages. If you are familiar with these stages it will help you to identify the behaviors your loved one is exhibiting, learn how to address them, and update his or her primary care physician. The National Institutes on Aging defines the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease as:
Mild: The disease begins with memory loss and small changes in personality. The person may forget recent events, the names of familiar people or things and may no longer be able to balance a checkbook. They slowly lose the ability to plan and organize and may have trouble making a grocery list or finding items in the store.
Moderate: In this stage memory loss and confusion become more obvious. People have more trouble following instructions and may need help getting dressed. They have trouble recognizing friends and family members. They may not know where they are or what day or year it is. They may lack judgment, begin to wander, and become restless. In the moderate stages people may make threats, accuse others of stealing, curse, kick, hit, bite, scream, or grab things.
Severe (late stage): This is the last stage of Alzheimer’s and ends in the death of the person. People often need help with all their daily needs, may not be able to walk or sit up without help. They may not be able to talk and often cannot recognize family members. They may have trouble swallowing and refuse to eat.
As you can see, caring for someone with dementia is much more intense than caring for a senior with other health issues. You can care for the physical needs of your loved one by closely coordinating care with his or her physician. Just as important is your ability to remain a caregiver for the long term. That requires a clear understanding of the role and strategies designed to protect the wellbeing of you and your family.
1. Caregiving demands will increase over time. As the disease progresses so will the needs of your loved one. By the advanced stages, caregiving will become a full-time job. Knowing this will help you to plan your work/life schedule in a realistic manner and seek help with caregiving responsibilities.
2. Dementia caregiving requires special skills. Caring for someone with dementia may not come naturally. It isn’t intuitive. In fact, sometimes the logical thing to do is the wrong thing. For example, insisting that they eat may be the wrong thing if they have developed swallowing or chewing difficulties. Learn about the disease and its treatment. Consult with your loved one’s physician and ask their advice for caregiving.
3: Talk with your family and children about caregiving. Be honest. Children are very intuitive. They will know that their grandparent, aunt or uncle are changing and that their behavior is odd. Explain the disease and that loving the senior loved one is most important. Engage them and empower them to be part of the caregiving process. Younger children can read to the senior, or help you with chores. The family will be less stressed when the situation is discussed out in the open.
4. Have regular family meetings. Sit down on a regular basis to talk about how caregiving is impacting the family as a whole. Talk about the impact of the senior’s condition on the family and address stress points and difficulties. Meet with a therapist or case manager if that will help to solve grievances.
5. Pay attention to family needs. Caring for someone with dementia can quickly be the focus of attention for the household. Young children and spouses can feel excluded and left behind. Take time to schedule activities for just the family. A family member or professional caregiver can stay with your loved one and bring special activities so it is a fun evening for him or her as well.
Do you care for a parent with dementia? Have you found strategies that work for you and your family? If so, we would like to hear from you. Senior care is its own special community and by sharing information we can help one another to provide meaningful care.