While caregivers play an essential role in the well-being of people living with dementia, caregiving can be challenging and overwhelming. When you’re learning how to take care of someone with dementia (or early onset of Alzheimer’s disease), you must also remember to care for yourself. You can depend on Talkspace for tips, guidance, and support.
Since dementia is a progressive disease, your responsibilities as a caregiver will change as time goes on. Learning more about the condition can help you figure out how to deal with someone with dementia so you can provide them with the best possible care.
Dementia is progressive, so the condition gets more challenging as time progresses. Many people can maintain their independence in the early stages of the disease. While symptoms early on can be mild, you should always prioritize the safety and well-being of the person you care for. The stages of dementia are as follows:
No Memory Deficit
Slight Cognitive Decline
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Moderate Cognitive Decline
Severe Cognitive Decline
The middle stages of dementia are usually the longest. During this time, people may find communicating or completing routine tasks difficult. As a caregiver, you may need to assist the person you care for with many everyday tasks, such as eating and grooming.
People with late-stage dementia have extensive needs and may require round-the-clock care. For example, it’s typical for people to need assistance with eating, swallowing, and walking. Sometimes, these needs may go beyond what you can provide at home.
As dementia progresses, it can cause significant changes in a person’s behavior. Familiarizing yourself with what to expect can help you prepare as you learn how to care for someone with dementia. Common behaviors include:
Restless behaviors, such as fidgeting and pacing
Repeating phrases, questions, and activities
Mood changes, such as apathy or increased irritability
These behaviors often appear or worsen during the late afternoon or early evening; this is referred to as sundowning. While experts don’t know the exact cause of sundowning, it’s believed that it may be caused by changes to the body’s internal clock.
“Caring for someone you love with dementia can be confusing because we remember who they used to be. As dementia takes hold of them, they no longer see the world or you in the same way. This time of recalibration is important as you accept the condition and become one of the caregivers in their life.”
Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, especially if you’ve never been in a caregiver role. However, the right tools and strategies can ease your burden and help you meet your loved one’s needs, and even preserve their brain health.
Create a consistent routine
Dementia can make it hard for people to make plans and complete tasks due to severe cognitive impairment. Creating and sticking with a daily routine can help someone with dementia cope with the short-term memory issues that the disease causes. It often helps if you schedule daily tasks earlier in the day when symptoms typically are less severe.
While people with dementia need help and support, letting them play an active role in their own home care and daily tasks when possible is helpful. Studies show that dementia patients with more independence have a higher quality of life. So, for example, you could set out clothing, but try letting them dress independently.
Since dementia interferes with memory, finding ways to keep track of important information, like medical appointments and ongoing expenses is crucial. Use a calendar or daily planner to document this information. In the beginning stages, reminder apps and other tools can help people keep track of things they need to remember on their own while they still can.
Install safety features
Dementia increases the risk of slips and falls. Safety features, such as shower chairs, raised toilet seats, and grab bars, can help to reduce those risks. When it comes to safety, it’s always best to be proactive.
Communicate what you’re doing
People with dementia can quickly become confused, so you should communicate what you are about to do when providing care. For example, if you’re going to brush their teeth or wash their hair, clearly say what you will do before you begin. Clear communication can prevent disorientation and reduce distress.
“As we as a society become more aware about dementia, more daycare services, personal aides, and senior amber alerts are available. These services are a welcome addition to a caregiver’s toolkit. It’s important to know what is in your area that can provide added care in times of emergency and calm.”
As someone progresses through the stages of dementia, communicating their needs with others can become more challenging. Dementia can cause various language problems, including difficulties finding words, slurred speech, or using speech that doesn’t make sense. Therefore, finding ways to communicate is critical to learning how to deal with someone with dementia.
The right techniques can help you navigate the communication challenges that dementia can cause. You may find that it helps to:
Start conversations: People with dementia won’t always speak up. Don’t be afraid to start conversations and encourage them to speak.
Make eye contact: Being an active listener can encourage engagement in conversations. Use eye contact and encourage the person you’re speaking with to look at you while you talk.
Use short sentences: Speak clearly and keep your language simple. Try to use short sentences that are easy to understand.
Offer choices: Open-ended questions can be challenging for people with dementia. When possible, offer options or use yes or no questions while communicating.
Use body language: Your body language can significantly affect communication! Smile and keep your arms relaxed while you speak. When possible, speak with a friendly tone.
Minimize distractions: Avoid distractions like background noise from the TV while trying to have a conversation.
Be patient: Above all else, you should be patient with the person you’re speaking with. Give them plenty of time to respond to questions and tell them you’ve heard them.
“It’s very important not to add an angry tone or use frustrated body language when communicating with someone suffering from dementia. Be aware of your body language, tone, and how you phrase tasks. People with dementia may interpret your communication style as something uncomfortable and difficult to respond to.”
Carrying out dementia care can be overwhelming. A CDC survey found that more than 70% of caregivers reported negative mental health symptoms. That’s why caregivers must find ways to reduce distress and prevent caregiver burnout.
Learning how to avoid burnout can help caregivers figure out how to care for someone with dementia while still caring for themselves along the way:
Prioritize self-care: What is self-care? When you take care of yourself, you’ll find it easier to manage stress and provide the person you’re caring for with the support they need. Even if your schedule is busy, set aside time for self-care and activities you enjoy.
Ask for help: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Whether you ask for help from friends and family or hire a home health aide, ensure you have plenty of support. There are also both online and in-person caregiver communities you can turn to for support as well.
Look into respite care: Every caregiver needs breaks. Respite care can help you get time to yourself when you need it.
Stay active: Regular exercise can improve resilience and reduce stress. Find ways to stay physically active throughout the day.
Get therapy: Caring for a loved one with dementia may leave you with many complex emotions, and you may even display burnout symptoms. It isn’t always easy to find time for therapy when you’re a caregiver, but online therapy through Talkspace can help you get support on your schedule. Your therapist can even recommend a support group you can join.
“It’s important that you’re not the only caregiver. Even if you have someone coming in once a week, this can be a big relief. Caring for someone with dementia requires a team that can provide regular care. Care cannot be in the hands of one person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The best thing you can do is gather a team and, on your time away, focus on your renewal.”
Don’t neglect your own needs when learning how to take care of someone with dementia. Talkspace can connect you with a therapist who can support you during this difficult time. Therapy can help you process your feelings and find healthy coping tools to manage stress. Get started with Talkspace and discover the benefits of therapy today.
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