By Eleanor Pineau
Everybody knows the devastating impact dementia has on life – not only on the person who is diagnosed with dementia, but on their family and friends too. Unfortunately, the number of people with dementia in Canada is increasing every year. This means that more and more people with dementia need to be cared for, and most are cared for by their families in the home – at least in the beginning. This is often a daunting task for families. Families will encounter many negative experiences such as role transitions, conflicting emotions, stress, and burnout. They will also experience positive emotions such as happiness and joy from taking care of their parent and giving back for all the years their parent spent rearing them. But how do you go from a lawyer, construction worker, banker, salesperson, or electrician to a caregiver?
When your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, there are 5 key caregiving factors that you NEED to keep in mind.
- Understand. I think the most difficult moment in caring for someone with dementia is when they no longer remember who you are. YOU! The child they bore; the son that has been with them for 50 years; the daughter they played with for hours in the yard; the spouse that has loved them since that first touch. In this most debilitating event, you need to remember: they love you. They may not recognize your face or remember your name, but they love you. They chose YOU to be in their life. They chose to take care of YOU. They chose to be with YOU on holidays, soirees, or just a Thursday afternoon. Getting to know why your loved one with dementia is forgetting faces or names is important to you, because this will enable you to understand that there are still ways of reminiscing and connecting with them. For example, play a song that you both used to sing or dance to; cook a favourite meal you always shared; or bring an old blanket you used to cuddle up with. The parts of the brain that are responsible for remembering names and faces are often affected by dementia before the parts of the brain that are responsible for music, smells, and touch. In people with dementia, it can be very helpful to use all their five senses to stimulate memories that are tied to those senses.
Try out this tip and comment below.
- Be socially engaged. Both you and your loved one with dementia NEED to remain socially engaged. New research has shown that detrimental effects of being socially vulnerable and lonely. Such effects include: depression, anxiety, weight gain, delirium, and even death. Some tips to get socially engaged for the person with dementia are: attending day programs offered in your community; maintaining friendships through phone calls, letters, emails, and visits; playing games; and socializing with family and grandchildren. Some tips for you to remain socially engaged are: keep going to work; make sure you make time for yourself and your social life; go to the gym; and make sure you go to those parties/get-togethers. I know it’s difficult to care for someone with dementia and take time for yourself. You might feel guilty, and that you can’t trust the person that is caring for your loved one while you are away. But trust me, if both of you are remaining socially engaged, both of your lives will be much better for it. Social activity reduces stress, increases happiness, and reduces the risk of depression! So get out there, make those phone calls, and be social!
- Keep physically active. Just like maintaining social health, both your loved one with dementia and you need to be physically active. Physical activity promotes independence, dignity, and quality of life in older adults and in yourself. It also maintains cognitive function which means it might slow the progression of dementia. Exercise will also prevent falls which are one of the leading causes of hospitalization, lost independence and death in older adults. Exercise will also manage all other chronic conditions you or your loved one are experiencing which means less medications and trips to the doctor. Lastly, exercise prevents and treats depression and anxiety, and it acts as a natural pain killer.
- Know the services available to you. Community services available to people caring for someone with dementia vary by city, province, and country. Getting to know the services that are available to you is paramount to your success in caring for your loved one with dementia, and yourself! Such services often include: day programs, respite care, home care, physical care, companionship programs, meal programs, medication management, caregiver support programs, and so much more.
- Educate yourself. Knowing the in’s and out’s of dementia will enable you to be fully prepared for each step in the dementia journey. Understanding what dementia is, what causes dementia, the prevention and treatment techniques, and what to expect in the future will greatly help you and your family thrive on this journey.
Conclusion: It is essential to: (1) understand, (2) be socially engaged, (3) keep physically active, (4) know the services available to you, and (5) educate yourself in order to thrive when caring for someone with dementia.
Following these 5 essential tips will truly make you and your loved one thrive during your journey. Try out these tips and post your comments and experiences below.