6 Tips to Follow When Caring for a Loved One With Dementia

by Stephen Orion Courtin, MD, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
March 20, 2019

Millions of people have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. As the disease progresses, many choose to become caregivers. This can be deeply rewarding, but it is a challenging journey for all involved.

Sometimes the most significant challenge caregivers face is finding time to care for themselves. Caregivers may put their loved one’s needs first and neglect essential parts of their lives, such as their:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Health conditions
  • Sleep
  • Social lives

There is never enough time, but you cannot give the best care unless you also take care of yourself.

At the Center for Successful Aging at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, we work with people with dementia and their caregivers to try to find the balance. Read on for some recommendations.

Caring for a loved one with #Dementia can be a challenging but rewarding task. Learn tips to take better care of your loved one and yourself via @MedStarHealth #LiveWellHealthy

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  1. Don’t Argue, Redirect

Your loved one may experience something or believe something that is not true–it is tempting to try to reason with them, to explain it to them again and again. Many times, it is better to just agree and change the subject. Even if you convince them, many times they will not remember, and you will have to convince them again and again, creating frustration for everyone.

  1. Reach Out to Family and Friends for Help

Depending on how severe your loved one’s dementia is, it can be challenging to find time to step out of the house for a workout, to go shopping, or even for some alone time. Asking your family and friends for help is essential. Any time family and friends can spend time with your loved one—even if it’s just for an hour or two—can make a big difference in your life. If you’re short on family and friends who can help, consider asking people from your church or other social groups or in your community. 

  1. Use a Supportive Tone When Speaking to Your Loved One

A person with dementia may not understand everything you tell them, but they will feel and recognize the emotions you express. Even if you feel angry or frustrated, try to keep your tone neutral or positive. If you cannot stay calm, it is often better to walk away than to yell. When your loved one tells you they don’t want to take medications or get dressed, resist the urge to argue or yell. Instead, just walk away, return in five minutes, and try again. You may find things go better the second or third time around.

  1. Implement Routines

People with dementia may find new activities and unfamiliar environments stressful. Keeping a daily routine can make things easier for caregivers and their loved ones. Since Alzheimer’s typically affects short-term memory first, remembering a routine can be effective well into the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the sleep cycle can often be affected by dementia–bright light and stimulation throughout the day followed by a consistent bedtime routine can help reduce sundowning and behavioral problems.

  1. Seek Advice for Problem Behaviors

Behavioral problems can occur as part of dementia. We often provide caregivers with strategies and resources to help them address them. Understanding triggers for the behaviors and the times and situations in which they occur can lead to strategies to reduce the number of episodes. Sometimes medications can be helpful as well. Speak to a medical professional or seek advice from an advocacy group such as the Alzheimer’s Association. Many people have likely struggled with the same issues and have discovered some helpful strategies–seek them out.

  1. Join a Support Group

Support groups offer you the opportunity to meet people who are going through similar situations. They provide emotional support and validation, and often people learn how to cope with the day to day challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Learn about our Alzheimer’s and related dementia support groups.

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Is There Anyone Who Can Help?

Caring for someone with dementia can become overwhelming. Fortunately, there is some support available through various organizations and local and state programs. A social worker with experience in dementia care can help you determine if your loved one qualifies for certain services. Paid help is also available in several forms. Seek advice from a social worker or your local Area Agency on Aging.

If your loved one needs more support than you can provide, other options may exist in your community, such as memory care, assisted living, or a nursing facility.

Are you looking for care or support services for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?
Click below to find out more about the Center for Successful Aging.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: caregivinggeriatric caregeriatric servicesWellness