Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia can be a long, emotional, and stressful journey. However, you are not alone. In the United States, more than 16 million people are caring for someone with dementia.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's or dementia. There are also minimal medical treatments available to manage the condition's symptoms. With that said, it's assisted living care and your caregiving that can make the most difference to their quality of life.
How to Look After Your Loved One with Dementia
Just as each person's journey with Alzheimer's disease progresses differently, the caregiving experience can also vary from one person to another. Thankfully, several strategies can help make your caregiving journey more manageable.
Below are top tips you can look into to ensure a quality life for your loved one and a fulfilling one for you:
In the early stages of dementia, many patients can still enjoy life the same way before they were diagnosed. But as symptoms worsen, your loved one can feel scared, anxious, and stressed when they could no longer concentrate, remember things, or follow conversations.
Helping them maintain their skills, abilities, and social life is crucial at this point. This can also help them feel better about themselves and the situation.
How you can help
Allow your loved one to help with the everyday tasks like laying the table, gardening, shopping, or taking the family dog out for a walk. Memory aids that are used around the house can also help them remember where things are. For instance, you can place signs and labels on doors, drawers, and cupboards.
Eating and Drinking
Dementia patients may not drink enough because some won't realize they are thirsty. This can put them at risk of developing constipation, headaches, and urinary tract infections (UTIs). These might also lead to increased confusion and worsen some of the condition's symptoms.
Other food-related issues they might encounter:
- Not recognizing foods
- Refusing or spitting out food
- Forgetting the food and beverages they like
- Asking for weird food combinations
These behaviors can be attributed to many causes such as confusion, sore gums, or difficulty swallowing.
How you can help
It is crucial to keep in mind that the person is not trying to be awkward deliberately. Make things less stressful by getting them involved in the meal preparations, if they are still capable.
The following tips can also make mealtimes less nerve-racking:
- Offer food you know they like
- Offer food in small portions
- Prepare for changes in food tastes (try sweeter foods or stronger flavors)
- If the person struggles with cutlery, consider serving finger foods
- Offer fluids in cups that are easy for them to hold
It is also recommended that you ensure your loved one gets regular dental check-ups, so any pain or discomfort in the mouth is addressed immediately.
Incontinence and Toilet Use
Individuals with dementia may experience problems when going to the toilet. Both bowel and urinary incontinence can be challenging to deal with. It can also be very frustrating for you and the person you are looking after.
Bowel and urinary incontinence can be caused by some medicines, constipation, or urinary tract infections. In some cases, dementia patients can forget they need to go to the toilet and where the toilet is located.
How you can help
While extremely hard, it's essential to be patient and understanding about toilet problems. When appropriate, retain a sense of humor and always remember that it's not the person's fault.
The following tips might also help:
- Keep the toilet door open and keep the toilet light on at night
- You can also use sensor lights
- Look for signs the person might need to go to the toilet such as restlessness and fidgeting
- Encourage the patient to stay active (daily walks can help regulate bowel movement)
- Make going to the toilet a part of their routine
If incontinence problems linger, ask a GP to refer the patient to a continence adviser who can give them tips on how to address the condition effectively.
Looking After Yourself
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be demanding and overwhelming. That being said, it is vital that you also need to look after yourself. Remember that your needs as a carer are just as urgent as those you are looking after.
In line with this, don't hesitate to ask friends and family if you need a break or help. You can also find charities and voluntary organizations online that provide valuable support and advice on their websites for caregivers.
Looking after a loved one with dementia can take a tremendous toll on your physical and emotional well-being. With that in mind, you need to make it a priority also to take care of yourself and your needs. With the right strategies, you can dramatically enhance your patient's quality of life and your own.
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.
We can Help! Our local advisors can help your family make a confident decision about senior living.