Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging. That’s because dementia doesn’t just lead people to be forgetful. They may also have trouble with speaking, understanding written and spoken language, problem solving, and paying attention. As a result, they may have trouble carrying out basic daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning, bathing, or taking medication. People with dementia may also be more prone to falling.
Dementia can often include cognitive symptoms beyond forgetfulness. People with dementia may be more easily agitated or confused and more prone to insomnia. Managing the associated anxiety, stress, and confusion — and sometimes even aggression and dangerous behaviors (like wandering off or leaving the stove on) — can be extremely taxing.
All of this can leave caregivers stressed, overwhelmed, tired, and at risk of burnout. Here are nine tips to help make caring for a loved one with dementia a little easier.
Home health aides, another family member, or adult daycare can help prevent caregiver burnout while giving your loved one the care they need.
Get your loved one outside.
If they can still walk, take them for a walk somewhere flat and safe. If they can’t safely walk, you can take them outside to sit — or push them around the block in a wheelchair. The fresh air and natural light can help lower their anxiety level. Plus, the sunlight (even when filtered through clouds) will also help keep their body aligned with day/night cycles to help them sleep better.
One way is to eliminate naps when possible. (Some caregivers encourage naps because it’s one way they can get a break during the day. But this can disrupt nighttime sleep.) Caffeine should also be eliminated. (It’s fine to offer decaf.)
Establish a routine.
Doing things in the same order at the same time can be reassuring — especially to someone with dementia. Have fixed times for meals, snacks, bedtime, and getting dressed in the morning. Have a special bedtime ritual so the activity itself is a trigger for sleep.
Find the right technology.
There’s now a variety of devices that can help you manage certain dementia-related dangers. This includes devices to help seniors who often forget to turn the stove off, alarms that will go off if someone tries to leave the house, and cameras that can help you monitor a loved one with minor dementia when they are home alone.
Fix fall hazards.
People with dementia often have balance issues that can increase their risk of falling. To minimize the risk, identify and fix hazards in the home, such as obstacles in main pathways, slippery floors, throw rugs, and loose cords. Adequate lighting (including nightlights) can help too. Since the bathroom is a common location for falls, consider installing grip bars, a transfer seat, and a slip-proof mat on the shower or tub floor.
Learning more about how to care for someone with dementia can help you become more effective. For example, Dementia Careblazers is an excellent YouTube channel with short videos (mostly five to 15 minutes) geared toward at-home caregivers and people with dementia. The Dementia Society also has online resources plus a list of support groups for caregivers of people with dementia.
Be realistic about what you can do.
Sometimes, your loved one needs more care than you can provide at home. “Memory care” units at assisted living facilities, a new trend in long-term care, can provide your loved one with a safe, home-like environment. Depending on their needs, the cost may be comparable to a skilled nursing facility but with a private room and a more home-like environment. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, see if their condition is severe enough to qualify for coverage.
Consider hospice for loved ones with advanced dementia.
Some hospice agencies will accept certain people with advanced dementia. Having your loved one on hospice may offer other benefits, like medical management for pain and anxiety, nurses and aides that can come to them, and certain medical supplies (like adult diapers and catheter bags). If you’re curious about how hospice might benefit your loved one, talk to an agency that serves your area.