Caring for Someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s:

Professional or unpaid, caring for someone with dementia can become both frustrating and stressful. Dementia is a general term describing a person’s decline in mental ability. It is not a specific illness, but a combination of symptoms that are associated with a loss of memory and decreased thinking skills. These thinking skills include communication, focus, reasoning, judgment, and perception. Initially, people suffering from dementia are able to remain independent, but the disorder eventually becomes serious enough to get in the way of the person’s activities of daily living.

Below are a few guidelines to maintain a positive outlook in the dementia patient and reduce the stress placed on the caregiver:

• One of the most important things to do is to establish a consistent routine that stays the same each day.

• Don’t argue with the dementia patient, but rather, try to refocus their attention when they become frustrated or angry. For example, if they say they need to get home to watch a TV show, rather than repeatedly telling them they are home, ask which TV show they would like to watch.

• Depending on the stage of the dementia, know that the person may not be able to change their behavior solely because you tell them to. New learning, and even relearning old skills, can be extremely difficult for someone with cognitive degeneration.

• Rather than becoming frustrated, remember a patient’s behavior is usually not intentional. Their behavior is caused by changes in the brain. Changing the environment around them or your approach may yield positive behavioral results. Making the environment around the person with dementia more comfortable can often yield results. I’ve heard one story about a retired ballet dancer suffering from dementia who drastically improved when aids put ballet posters in her room and played ballet suites she was familiar with.

• If the person becomes anxious about seeing a deceased loved one, rather than telling them the person is dead, try telling them you haven’t seen that person in a while. Instead of aggravating your patient by trying to explain the person is no longer living, tell them that when you see the person in question you’ll make sure they give your patient a call. This is called a therapeutic fiblet, extended from the word fib, and can be useful in a variety of situations. Sometimes the best way to cope with a patient’s anxiety is to tell them what they want to hear. After all, at a certain stage, contentment and happiness are more important than the cold truth.

Keeping a list of daily tasks and checking them off with the patient once they are completed is a great idea. Also, keeping medications in a pill organizer is a must. If you feel that one method is not working for you or the person with dementia, adjust accordingly. Once you pinpoint situations that cause stress, you will be able to change your plans or activities to help.

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