The majority of us take our good memory for granted. It’s easy to recall a recent conversation with a friend. However, for patients suffering from dementia, even remembering the name of a loved one can pose as an overwhelming challenge. Stringing together words into complete sentences is a form of communication we practice daily with ease. A person who has developed dementia, however, struggles to even find words, if their condition enables them to speak at all.
Dementia damages brain cells and takes its toll on the minds of many older adults. Depending on what area of the brain is affected, the changes impair memory, thinking and social function, enough to hinder normal, daily function. Dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of symptoms, like the loss of memory, thinking and other mental abilities.
Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent type of dementia. Healthcare professionals estimate that 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are classified as Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s disease is a common form of progressive dementia, where sufferers experience difficulty with movement. Huntington’s disease, also categorized as dementia, affects patients who have a defective gene in a certain chromosome. Patients with Huntington’s disease experience abnormal involuntary movements, mood disturbances and an overall decline in the ability to think and reason. Dementia covers a range of other brain diseases, as well, like vascular dementia, mixed dementia and frontotemporal dementia, among others.
Patients with dementia suffer from stages of the condition, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. The three stages of dementia, as they progress, carry with them increasing losses of memory and function. No matter what type of dementia an elderly individual has, dementia care is necessary to help the patient live as comfortably as possible.
Preparing the home with safeguards is essential to managing complications associated with dementia. The living environment, however, is secondary to communicating empathetically with a person suffering from a degenerative condition, like dementia.
Communicating with a loved one with dementia becomes stressful without key strategies that improve the relationship. Tips to ease communication include the following:
- Speak slowly, clearly and use simple sentences.
- When asking questions, phrase the question to encourage either a yes or no response.
- Redirect the conversation or change the environment if the loved one becomes agitated.
- Serve up good humor whenever possible. Even a person with dementia enjoys a hearty laugh.
- Inquire about the loved one’s fond memories. The patient’s short-term memory will yield a blank, but they will remember with ease what happened four decades ago.
Wandering is often a symptom of dementia. Patients with dementia may walk aimlessly for a number of good reasons, including to find the toilet, to overcome boredom, to cope with medication side effects, to “search” for someone or to simply exercise. Whatever the trigger, a caregiver can take steps to manage the unpredictability of wandering:
- Reduce the possibility for restlessness by scheduling daily exercise.
- Install key locks on doors, preferably not at eye level (where most dementia patients will look).
- Consider installing a home security system specifically designed to monitor patients with dementia. You’ll easily keep a close eye on your loved one.
- Make sure your loved one wears an ID bracelet in the event he or she is missing.
Reduce Emotional Disturbances
Often associated with the downward spiraling stages of dementia are irritability, aggression and sleeplessness. Agitation results from the patient feeling a loss of control, stress, fatigue or fear. Handle emotional outbursts with compassionate tactics:
- Establish daily routines to inspire feelings of comfort and security.
- Limit noise and clutter in the home; also keep the number of persons in the room to a minimum.
- Support your loved one’s independence, allowing him or her to accomplish as many self-care tasks as possible unaided.
- Avoid confrontation. Distract the patient from any unpleasant situation with snacks or an activity.
Ensure Eating and Drinking
Dementia patients’ memories do not include a timetable for meals and proper hydration. They literally forget to eat and drink. A lack of nutrition is unhealthy, leading to weight loss, sleeplessness, irritability, disorientation and bowel problems. Keep your loved one’s food and drink intake steady with these tips:
- Portion five to six small meals per day rather than three large ones.
- Support independent dining. Finger foods are preferable to traditional etiquette. You may also want to pre-cut food and replace drinking glasses with plastic cups.
- Share mealtime with your loved one and offer caring companionship.
- Give the dining environment a soothing atmosphere with flowers and music, for instance, to make mealtime special.
Promote Good Sleep Patterns
Day and night can become confusing events for a person with dementia, especially if their biological clock has become impaired. Counter the effects of sleeplessness with a good plan:
- Increase daytime physical activities, which will lead to a better night’s rest. Avoid napping midday.
- Take safety precautions at home: add a gated barrier to staircases, lock kitchen doors and put away dangerous items.
- Emphasize quiet, structured activities later in the day that promote rest, such as listening to relaxing music, playing card games or going for a leisurely stroll.
When your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, finding the right in-home memory care is less than a call away. Assisting Hands Home Care provides compassionate dementia care to elderly individuals in the comfort of their home. Caregivers are trained to not only provide daily support to patients with dementia, but to stimulate their cognitive functions with card games and puzzles, nature walks and social interaction, like pleasant conversation.
Assisting Hands Home Care works with families to develop the most optimum care plan to keep their loved one safe and engaged at home. Qualified caregivers are trained to provide non-medical care for all three stages of dementia. Families feel a sense of ease in knowing that their loved one is receiving reliable service. Assisting Hands Home Care serves the elderly populations with skill, compassion and dedication.