This article is based on information provided by Home Instead Senior Care.
Caring for a person with some form of dementia is an experience many people share. The frequency of dementia increases with age. It affects fewer than 2 percent of people ages 65 to 69, 5 percent of those 75 to 79, and more than 20 percent of 85-89-year-olds.
When dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease, the caregiver faces a particular set of challenges because the disease is progressive and, eventually, completely debilitating. Their loved ones may not be able to express appreciation for the care they are receiving or they may even be verbally or physically abusive. It can be especially difficult to confront the fact that a parent or spouse no longer knows who they are.
"Caregivers of senior relatives or spouses with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are at great risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, frustration, stress and anger," warns Richard Schulz, Ph.D., caregiver stress expert at the University of Pittsburgh. Research shows that caregivers of a family member with dementia face particularly stressful demands for several reasons. The length of period of care, the behavioral and cognitive problems associated with dementia, and the extreme impairment of patients with end-stage dementia all contribute to the challenges that caregivers face. For these reasons, caregivers need to remember to take care of themselves.
"Caregivers of patients with dementia should be particularly vigilant about their ability to deal with the challenges they face and seek assistance early in their caregiving role, as the disease is just beginning," advises Dr. Schulz. "It is also important to speak to the senior about his or her wishes before they are unable to make important decisions.
Follow the tips below to help you better care for a relative who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or severe dementia:
- Read up on the disease. Any information you can gather about the progressive effects of Alzheimer’s/dementia can better prepare you for what comes next. Keep in mind that this is a medical condition, and your loved one isn’t purposely doing things to anger you. Patience comes with understanding.
- Reach Out for Help. Find a support group for caregivers of people with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. Listen to the stories of others who walk the same walk. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. Ask other family members and friends to stay with your relative for a while so that you can take a breather.
- Explore resources. Find professionals in your area to assist with practical, yet emotional tasks, such as making senior care decisions, elder law issues/Power of Attorney, asset management or creating a will.
- View Things from the Other Person’s Perspective. When your family member makes a confusing or strange statement, even if it’s about someone who is no longer living, ask simple questions, rather than correcting him or her. If you try to enter the world of a person who has Alzheimer’s, it can make things less frustrating for both of you.
- Make the patient’s environment comfortable. Distractions, such as street noise or a loud television or radio, can lead to agitation or anxiety. It is important to make surroundings as positive as possible.
- Let Go a Little. Encourage as much independence as possible. Help the person by prompting or cueing them to do things for themselves, but realize you'll need to step in if your relative's safety or well-being will be compromised in any way.
- Consider your communication Be aware of how you talk with someone who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Notice your rate of speech, your pitch and tone. Effective communication makes a big difference.
- Make sure your body language is positive. Greet the individual with relaxed facial expressions and shoulders. If you are tense, the person with dementia or Alzheimer's disease may pick up on it.
- Delegate the basics. Family caregivers often find they are spending quantity time vs. quality time - doing the shopping, taking the relative to appointments, cleaning, vs. spending time with their relative. Enlist the help of a professional caregiver for the everyday tasks, so you can spend time with your loved one and appreciate them.