With an increasingly ageing population, many of us will have to face questions regarding the care of our parents at some point. For those who have a loved one with a diagnosis of dementia, the care considerations are far more complex.
Watching someone that you love succumb to dementia, it can feel as though you are losing them a little piece at a time. The condition affects the brain, and as it progresses, it affects the person’s memory, emotions and even character.
It is important to separate the symptoms from the person and to remember your loved one as they were before the condition took hold. At the same time, there are important points to bear in mind that will help both you and your loved one to tackle many of the challenges that living with dementia brings.
Dementia can give rise to challenging behaviour, including angry outbursts and aggression. Always remember that your loved one is not responsible for everything that they say or do, so meet anger and frustration with calmness. Keep your voice soft and gentle to soothe your loved one and reassure them that all is well.
Dementia can lead people to repeat the same sentence over and over or perform the same behaviour repeatedly. Although this can be intensely frustrating, try to keep patient. An effective way of breaking the cycle of repetitive activity is to direct the person to another kind. Try not to lose your patience, but if you feel that you simply cannot cope, walk away for a few minutes to give yourself a break.
Whether you are caring for your parent in your own home, or in theirs, it’s a good idea to arrange for some respite care from time-to-time, to give yourself a break. Look for private care companies that provide high-quality live-in care, and choose one which specialises in Alzheimer’s care and dementia care. Many families feel guilty if they take time away from their loved one when in fact, it provides a much-needed break that can be helpful in clearing the mind and dealing with the stress that caring for someone with dementia may create.
People with dementia have a habit of wandering, and of getting lost. If your loved one shows signs that they might attempt to leave the house, then take sensible safety precautions. You could fit a lock higher up on the door, for example, or set an alarm to alert you when they open the front door.
Emergency bracelets are a good idea, as these provide details of your loved one’s name and address in case of an emergency. Increasingly, families are using GPS systems that allow them to keep track of wandering family members too, so investigate options that might be appropriate in your own circumstances.
Paranoid thoughts often feature strongly in dementia patients, so be prepared for loved ones to express concerns of this nature. Along with agitation, paranoia can be symptomatic of underlying issues, so encourage your loved one to voice their worries, to see if you can put their mind at rest.
Agitation and paranoia require a gentle, soothing approach, so don’t be persuaded to raise your voice or get frustrated. Play calming music, keep noise to a minimum and speak in soft tones.
It can be shocking to hear someone you love use inappropriate language, or display unwanted behaviour. Don’t react if your parent says or does something completely out of the ordinary, and try not to make a big deal out of it. Keep reminding yourself that it is not your loved one behaving in this way, but their condition.
“Judith is absolutely lovely and you could see the fantastic relationship she has with my mum. My mum’s smile nearly lit up the whole house when Judith arrived.”
Don’t feel ashamed if you find your loved one’s behaviour too challenging for you to cope with. Not everyone is a natural caregiver, so if this isn’t your strength, seek out a professional in dementia care. Many adult children are terrified of the idea of putting their parents into residential care, but nowadays there are increasing numbers of care at home options.
For a generation used to independent living, private live-in care is a good option as it allows the person to stay in familiar surroundings, surrounded by treasured objects and mementoes, while receiving 24/7 care. A dedicated live-in carer, with elderly care and dementia training, provides companionship, security, reassurance and personal assistance throughout the day and night.
It isn’t “giving up” to employ a live-in care worker for your much-loved parent. Some families simply do not thrive on an overturning of the traditional parent/child relationship. Or perhaps you just can’t afford to take the necessary amounts of time off work. Maybe you live too far away to be of much practical assistance. Whatever your reasons, your parent will almost certainly be happier surrounded by their own familiar things in their own home, rather than face the confusion and uncertainty of a residential home.
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