How to Navigate Your Loved One’s Dementia

by Alexis Brown
mother daughterTo watch a parent or loved one suffer from dementia can be devastating. Sufferers gradually lose their semantic memory, and then all cognitive and physical functioning, according to Janet Belsky, clinical psychologist, author and educator. Making decisions as a caregiver can be a struggle between doing what your mother or father wants and what is best. Self-care and a strong support network are necessary to successfully navigate the uncertainty and emotionally charged days caring for a loved one with dementia.

Improving Communication

Forgetfulness is often the first outward symptom during the early stages of declining mental health. Patients with early onset Alzheimer’s report that they lose their train of thought more frequently. They find themselves in the middle of a project and don’t know how to continue. These occasional “disruptions” gradually evolve into serious communication failures.

As the disease progresses, most patients forget the proper words for objects and emotions. Struggling to articulate scrambled thoughts can result in frustration and mood swings, from an angry outburst to silence and depression. Help your partner find ways to communicate to relieve stress.

According to AssistGuide Information Services, caregivers have to learn to “listen” with their emotions, as well as their eyes and ears. Dementia patients often express frustration when they cannot understand what others are saying or when they cannot find the words to express their own thoughts.

  • Look for clues in body language.
  • Remember you can encourage him or her to continue the conversation by filling in words if you know what they are trying to convey.
  • Speak slowly. Use short sentences.
  • Change the subject if you notice your spouse or partner is starting to get agitated or scared.
  • Attach note cards to appliances and other items around the home. This will work in the early stages, but remember that these reminders will eventually lose meaning, too.
  • Be patient. Things will only get worse if you both are frustrated.

Finding Help & Support

One of the scariest and most frustrating aspects of caring for a loved one with dementia is losing the person you love, know and remember. The disease is comparable to a robber who steals the joyous mental photographs of the past and leaves behind a chaotic jumble of mismatched puzzle pieces. Don’t expect to handle the physical and emotional journey alone. Take care of your own physical, emotional and mental needs. This is essential for providing a safe, loving and comfortable environment for your loved one.

  • Find support on The Alzheimer’s Society’s online forum for patients and caregivers. You can discuss struggles and personal care, from managing careers to dealing with constipation. Your doctor probably has a list of local support groups.
  • Hire a personal support worker (PSW) to help with daily activities. A personal support worker is professionally trained to assist with mobility, mealtime, personal hygiene and transportation.
  • Make time for friends and family. Spending time away from the circumstances will nurture your spirit.

The journey is difficult and personal, but caring for a loved one with dementia does not have to be a solitary journey. Gain as much knowledge about the disease as you can and build a strong network to support yourself and your loved one.

Alexis is a medical student from Philadelphia and writes for several blogs.

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