Dementia: Helpful Tips For Caregivers

Dementia: Helpful Tips For Caregivers

Posted on October 2, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiver Education, Caregiving, Dementia Care

Caring for loved ones with dementia

By Irene North

Joan McVay visited her mother every day. They would go through a picture book detailing her mother’s life. Some days they would get all the way through the book. Other days, a picture would trigger stories and memories.

“Mother would tell me, ‘Thank you for showing me who I am,’” she said.

McVay is one of millions of people who are caregivers to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Related: Conversation Tips For Alzheimer’s Caregivers

According to the National Institute on Aging, more than 70 percent of the caregivers are women. The disease is irreversible and progressive. It slowly destroys memory and thinking and problem-solving skills.

The hippocampus is one of the hardest-hit areas of the brain, along with the basal forebrain (where personality and decision-making occur) and the cerebral cortex.

McVay cared for her mother and has helped other caregivers through this difficult time in their lives. She stressed the importance of helping the person to be loved and thought of as a complete person, even though they have some struggles, allowing them to maintain as much function as possible.

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, pictures of a person’s life are helpful. An album reorients who and what they are.

“Just because they have dementia doesn’t mean they forget everything,” she said.

While the disease has similarities among people, McVay said it’s important to remember they are individuals.

“You have to take an individual approach and really know who they are,” she said. “Be a loving, unconditional friend. Forgive them. Know they are not trying to upset you. If they seem frustrated, it’s probably not you.”

Related: Alzheimer’s Caregiver: Venting VS Complaining

In the early stage, people can mask symptoms. In later stages, the activities of daily living, eating, dressing, washing and following directions become difficult.

“Mom had trouble washing clothes. It’s something she’d done most of her life,” McVay said. “Remember, it’s their time, not yours, even if it takes an hour to put a sock on.”

Step in if they are anxious or overwhelmed. They can get angry or upset. It’s better to step in before they have to ask for help.“Will you be accurate all the time? No,” McVay said. “But you will learn.”

Take clues; anticipate if you can

“I missed one. Mother cut up her social security and insurance cards. Her reasoning was she was cleaning out her wallet. She said, ‘I got rid of what I wasn’t using,’” McVay said.

Keep things simple. Always mean what you say and be honest. If you say you’ll take them on a ride when they are finished with a task, do it. If you give them a choice mean it.

“If you ask them if they want water or tea and they choose tea, don’t tell them they are having water,” she said.

Constant orientation is important. Don’t visit someone and ask if they know you, McVay said. They probably won’t remember and will become stressed because they know they should.

“Whenever I visited my mother, I would say, ‘Hello mom, it’s Joan, your daughter,’” McVay said.

Related: Alzheimer’s: Lessons of Love

Structure, such as visiting at the same time each day, is also important. Let the person know when you are leaving and that you will be back.

Lengthy novels result in individuals continually beginning with page one, chapter one.

“It’s the same with television,” McVay said. “They can’t follow the plot. Choose programs without one like travelogues, musical programs or wrestling.”

McVay said as a caregiver, it’s important to have a picture and a description of a loved one. Get them an ID bracelet so they can be identified and returned safely home should something happen.

“They may be able to walk considerable distances, but they may not be able to clearly state who they are,” she said.

For those with the disease, they want to find purpose.

“They like to know they are worthwhile and what they do is productive,” she said.

Related: Phoenix Caregiver Coach Prescribes Laughter

Be creative, but help identify things in the home. Leave the bathroom door open so they can see what’s in there or put a picture on the door. Help them in whatever way necessary, even if you have to describe each step of brushing your teeth.

Caregivers work 24/7, but they still need to take care of themselves and find ways to get away from the stress of caregiving and have fun.

“Find a support group. See if it helps; share your success and struggles,” she said. “Find a place to sit and talk about things going on in your world.”

Staying calm and cognizant of your loved ones’ needs is crucial, but also be aware of the limitations dementia has on the person.

“What’s important is the love they feel,” McVay said. “Let’s face it. Most things in the world are not important. Love is.”

Published: Star Herald