Caring for someone with dementia is a practice in defying logic. After all, you cannot use logic with someone who cannot connect one minute to the last and does not have a continuum between hours and days. When caring for a loved one with dementia the best strategy is to toss logic aside and think of the relationship like riding a wave; go with the ups and downs and meet your loved one where he or she is mentally and emotionally. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is the emotions of the moment that need to be encouraged, soothed or redirected. Here are the top five strategies for dementia caregiving.
1. Be versatile. Just like dementia defies logic it also defies reasoning. You cannot reason with your loved one or remind him or her what you just talked about. Dementia has removed the ability to think in that manner. Rather, if your loved one is upset, redirect them. If they are repeating a question just answer it. If they are confused, simplify the issue at hand. Remember that the real world does not apply or matter to a person with dementia.
2. Take the path of least resistance. Except for meals and medication administration, you are not going to be able to make a schedule for someone with dementia. That is because the best way to care for dementia is to respond to the feelings and needs of the moment. For example, even though your loved one usually eats a full breakfast at 8 AM, if he or she is upset and frustrated by some perceived incident or slight that isn’t going to happen. Instead of the usual toast, cereal, and coffee, you may only be able to successfully serve banana slices in a bowl. Know that that is ok. Your ability to remain calm and take the path of least resistance will benefit your loved one and is one of the most important strategies for dementia caregiving.
3. Be an advocate. When you attend doctor’s appointments with your loved one, be an advocate for him or her. Your loved one’s primary care physician is not going to be as acutely aware of his or hers stage of dementia as you are. Do not hesitate to monitor the care your loved one is receiving. Beware of providers who may unknowingly speak too loud or speak to you instead of your loved one. As long as your loved one can respond to some extent, it is important that they are afforded the respect of being spoken to directly. Speak up to ensure that your loved one can retain their dignity.
4. Involve your loved one in daily activities. Until there is evidence that your loved one cannot do something, involve them. Mental and physical stimulation is positive and beneficial. As you involve your loved one in daily activities, observe how he or she is performing. If the activity is a struggle or the source of frustration you will know to avoid it the next time. As long as your loved one can help to fold laundry, pick up twigs on the lawn or help you prepare meals, encourage them to do so. These are enjoyable activities that will create easy conversation while helping your loved one to be active.
5. Remember the roller coaster. In other words, acknowledge the complexity of dementia. There are some moments when your loved one will be lucid. There will be other times when he or she will struggle to remember your name. This is the painful course of dementia. Go with it. You can’t fight it and you can’t change it. You can only respond calmly and with love. You must also give yourself love and understand that dementia caregiving is one of life’s mightiest struggles, fraught with grief, pain, and frustration. It is also a time of great love and simplicity.
When all else falls away, the memories of loved ones and careers, all that left is love in its simplest form. As a caregiver, the greatest strategy for dementia caregiving is to experience that with your loved one and realize that you are the one who is present to share it. Learning how to communicate with a loved one with Dementia can reduce the learning curve, and lastly, dementia care with the warmest of love and patience will go a long way.