Caring for Loved Ones with Dementia

Dementia care supports quality of life in patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

It is not a situation hoped for, but one many people will have to tackle. As loved ones age and mental capacities fade, how do you handle proper care and ensure a high quality of life?

Luckily, as numbers grow and research proliferates, our knowledge and understanding of dementia increases as well. Information about how to provide a happy, rewarding and loving life for these patients is now widely available.

A Condition on the Rise

In a report titled “Dementia: a public health priority” released by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in April 2012, it estimated that 35.6 million people have dementia worldwide, a number expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050.

This growth represents a huge potential burden on both medical systems and the families of patients, because patients often live for many years after onset begins.  In the report, ADI and WHO urge the participation of these key stakeholders in the development of laws, policies and services that will surely grow relating to dementia.

The report encourages active participation and self-education, saying “With appropriate support, many can and should be enabled to continue to engage and contribute within society and have a good quality of life.” By building a base of respect and love, these patients are able to thrive and enjoy their remaining years.

Emotional Health: Creating an Environment of Respect

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, one of the first and most important steps in caring for a loved one with dementia is understanding their world and ensuring an environment of respect. This time of mental decline can leave a patient feeling vulnerable and lost, but proper support can help maintain their individuality, happiness and self-esteem.

Steps to go about this include:

  • Make the patient feel valued (both as they are in their current situation and for past  accomplishments). Making an effort to listen and spend time with the patient can encourage these feelings.
  • Be courteous and take care not to talk down to the patient. It is not uncommon for people to talk about dementia patients as if they were not there. This practice can bruise already damaged self-confidence.
  • Respect their privacy. Be sensitive when help is required in intimate situations, and maintain normal practices like knocking before entering the patient’s room.
  • Support high self-esteem. Take note of and applaud the patient’s interests, skills and individuality.
  • Encourage emotional release. Though memories may fade, feelings remain and it is important the patient is allowed to express emotions. Offer support and don’t belittle concerns, even if they seem small.
  • Create the power to choose. By offering simple choices, the patient can still be an active participant in decisions. Try to discuss issues concerning them and as often as possible, allow the patient to choose.
  • Maintain respect by assisting the patient in tasks, rather than just completing everything for them. Encourage upkeep in appearance and compliment their looks. Do not correct every mistake made, and allow them to complete tasks in their own manner.

It is also important to remember that every dementia patient is a unique individual. People react to this disease in different ways, so take time to recognize and respect your loved one’s distinct personality, needs and emotions.

Physical Health: Keeping Patients Active, Fit and Safe

Along with emotional health, the Alzheimer’s Society stresses the importance of keeping up the physical health of the patient, saying, “The better they feel, the better life will be for them and those around them.”

There are many factors involved in maintaining patient health, so a good first step is to schedule regular check-ups with their doctor to ensure all bases are covered.

Regular exercise is essential for supporting mobility, independence, circulation and relaxation. Try to help the patient find a method they enjoy - this could be anything from gardening, dancing, walking or seated exercise. It is also crucial to ensure a healthy diet that delivers important nutrients, vitamins and energy. Patients who forget to eat might need to be accompanied to meals, and finger foods are a good option for those struggling with knives and forks.

Tackling the issues of drinking and smoking can be tricky - it is recommended you discuss this with the patient’s doctor. Both of these habits can increase confusion and pose increased health risks to the patients. However, care should be taken to balance the risk of danger with respect for the patient’s autonomy.

Don't Forget to Care for Yourself

When a loved one is diagnosed with a difficult disease like dementia, it is often all too common that the caregiver devotes all their energy and concerns for the patient and forgets about their own well-being.

The Alzheimer’s Society recommends making sure that you schedule time for yourself – at least daily time to go to the gym or read a book, weekly time to socialize and pamper yourself and regular weekends or vacations away from everyday life caring for the patient. Take time to reward and congratulate yourself for your devotion and care.

Recognize when you need a little love and support of your own, and don’t be afraid to seek it out.

The Alzheimer’s Society has a hotline devoted to caregiver support, and many online forums can be a quick and easy way to reach out to others experiencing similar challenges.

Along with emotions, the finances of the caregiver can often become strained as a loved one requires more and more care. Be sure to use all of the governmental and legal resources and benefits available to ensure the best possible management of both your finances and the estate of the patient.

Remember - taking time for yourself is not just good for you - it is good for your loved one with dementia. Making sure you are healthy, happy and energized means you are better equipped to care for the patient as they cope with this disease.

Review Date: 
May 11, 2012