5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number will continue to rise as time goes on. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia’s.
I would like to focus on talking about these unpaid caregivers. Caring for a loved one with any illness is extremely demanding both physically and emotionally. Caring for a loved one with dementia has been compared in many instances as the “slow goodbye” as one slowly watches their loved one’s ability to recall and then the inability to care for themselves.
A loved one’s caregiver can take on many roles including but not limited to the following:
- Managing medical care and medications
- Providing transportation to appointments
- Managing finances
- Physical care such as lifting, dressing, toileting, bathing, etc.
The physical and emotional toll this takes upon a caregiver is immense. I have seen this so many times in my over 20 years in the healthcare field and working as an aging life care specialist. What can a caregiver due to help alleviate any of this stress? There are many things of course. Today I would like to talk about a few tips to help alleviate tension in caring for a loved one with dementia.
Caring Tips for You and Your Loved One:
- Take a Time Out. This is a learned skill. This will help you respond instead of react to unexpected behaviors. Take a deep breath and let it go. This helps decrease your cortisol level which increases when one gets upset. It is completely understandable to become upset when a loved one acts in a way that was not what they would not have done in the past. A caregiver needs to stay in control of their emotions as their loved one with dementia is attuned to non-verbal cues as well as verbal cues.
- Meet Them Where They Are. You have to remind yourself that you have the healthy brain and that your loved one is doing the best that they can! It is important to not “push your agenda” onto them. This is in the case of when you are trying to get them to do something such as get dressed, go somewhere, eat, etc. Slow down and re-approach what may be going on with them. Put yourself in their “shoes”. Sometimes it can be that they are overstimulated and need a change in activity or setting. It is important to connect emotionally to them by using the calm tone of your voice and body cues.
- Finding Joy. It is important for a caregiver to find something to do daily that brings joy to both them and their loved one. Looking at pictures, gardening/flowers, children/grandchildren, art, music, etc. Spend time together enjoying these moments. A lot of times loved ones only look at the sadness surrounding this progressive illness understandably. However, you are still able to make new memories and enjoy one another sharing what may be a new or simple pleasure. Again, meeting them where they are and finding that joy within them.
For example, I had a client who was in the later stages of dementia. He was a highly intelligent professor at one of the local universities. It was difficult for the family to fathom what they could talk to him about or do with him. I spoke to them about “meeting him where he is” and just being with him. I discovered that he enjoyed listening to Buddy Holly back years ago. I played, “Peggy Sue” and “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”. This man is at a point where he has difficulties with his communication and the care staff where he lives need to anticipate all of his needs. He sang almost every word to these songs with me that day. It brought him such joy! It may sound like the simplest thing in the world but it was such a moment!
Another example is one lady helped me set up for what I said was an activity/event. This was just a “snack time” at the facility however I utilized her to help me get the snacks and drinks ready as well as making sure everything was ready. She was early to mid-stage with her Alzheimer’s and would walk around the halls and facility and needed something to occupy her time. This was such a joy for her to be a part of some “event”.
Another option is for caregivers to contact our Care Managers here at LifeLinks. We assess your loved one holistically; physically, mentally, spiritually and socially. We help guide and walk with families on this unexpected dementia journey. Please know that you are not alone and that there is help for both you and your loved one.