If you’re one of the more than 15 million people in the United States who cares for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed and fearful about the future. The uncertainty of a dementia diagnosis can turn your whole world upside down. Here are some tips on how to support a loved one with dementia.
Learn as much as you can
Taking on the task of looking after your loved one can be frightening and confusing at times. It would be helpful to have a meeting with the doctor in charge of your loved one’s care so you can be informed and know what to expect. Also, take advantage of resources online and in print. One helpful online resource you might want to check out is the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center.
Develop routines and a schedule
You can reduce how overwhelmed you feel by setting up a daily routine and schedule for you and your loved one. This will help you stay on track with caregiving responsibilities and reduce your chances of forgetting something important, like administering medication, for example. A daily routine will also help your loved one adjust to life with dementia. Those who experience cognitive decline tend to thrive on structure and familiarity.
Caring for someone with dementia can be frustrating at times. You might be tempted to get angry and engage in an argument when your loved one doesn’t remember something or has difficulty communicating. Remember that he or she is not trying to frustrate you on purpose. Approach your loved one with care and patience. If you find yourself becoming irritated and impatient, stop to take a breath and compose yourself.
Organize a support team
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, contact a friend or family member who can provide temporary relief and take over some of your caregiving responsibilities. It would also be a good idea to have several people to turn to who can be available when you need a break from looking after your loved one — don’t attempt to do everything on your own.
You might not want to burden your close friends and family but you also need to be careful not to burn yourself out. In addition, contact your state’s department of aging. Many states have resources for caregivers, such as support groups and individual counseling. The Eldercare Locator can also put you in touch with nearby resources.
Just because your loved one has dementia doesn’t mean he or she can never do things independently. Step back whenever you feel it’s safe enough for your loved one do to something by him or herself (first ask the doctor which activities are OK to be done without assistance). One way you can safely encourage independence is by purchasing a medical alert monitoring system. This will give him or her the freedom to do some things without help.
Don’t forget self-care
It’s understandable to get so caught up in caring for your loved one that you forget to take care of yourself. However, you won’t be able to provide the proper care unless you’re at your best. Go to the doctor for regular check-ups, eat well, and exercise at least three times each week. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time out for yourself. You’ll find that you feel better and have more energy to devote to taking care of your loved one.
If you or a close friend or family member is facing a dementia diagnosis, there are plenty of resources out there to help you. Here are a few that may assist you with navigating this issue:
- Alzheimer’s Association (24/7 helpline: 1.800.272.3900)
- Alzheimer’s and Dementia for Dummies
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias
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