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Tips for Handling a Family Member with Dementia

by Dr Prem Community Writer
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One of the hardest realities to face is the aging and mental deterioration of loved ones. When people suffer from dementia, everyone around them is affected. It’s sometimes difficult for the family, friend, and loved ones to understand the behavior of those with dementia. Here are several tips and strategies for handling a dementia patient and creating a dementia care plan.

What is Dementia?

Handling-a-Family-Member-with-DementiaBefore we cover how to handle someone with dementia, it’s important to understand exactly what it is. Dementia is used to describe a group of symptoms that negatively impact an individual’s memory. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common types of dementia, with no known cause. Alzheimer’s affects not only memory but also a person’s cognitive function. Because there’s no known cause for dementia, you can’t prevent its onset but you can prepare for it. And here’s how.

Reasoning and Rationality Won’t Work 

The first step in understanding how to deal with someone with dementia is to know that you are not dealing with someone who is thinking logically. This means reasoning with them or trying to be rational won’t get you very far.

This can be extremely frustrating, especially for those people dealing with a close relative and loved ones. It’s difficult to let go of the person your loved one once was. They look the same, after all. But you must remember that their mind is not the same. This is one of the hardest parts of dealing with someone with a memory and cognitive disorder.

Avoid trying to debate, argue, or make your point known. This will get you nowhere. Instead, use simple, straightforward sentences and block out the irrational and confusing things the dementia person says. 

It’s Okay to Fabricate the Truth 

Sometimes, a white lie is okay. If it’s for the benefit of the dementia patient, fabricating the truth can help you both get things done. When you are overly honest with a dementia sufferer, it can cause both you and the patient unnecessary stress.

If your loved one still believes they work, recalls their past much differently than it actually happened or mistakes you for your older sibling, is there really any harm in this? Continually correcting them will become exhausting for you both and likely frustrate the dementia patient.

Allowing them to believe these things may be the only positive memories they have. The same holds true for visiting doctors or other appointments. Perhaps you tell them that you’re running to the grocery store or library and just happen to stop at the doctor’s office on the way home. This white lie will help in getting them out the door without anxiety or stress. 

Don’t Bargain
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Understand that just as you can’t reason with a dementia patient, you also can’t bargain with them or expect them to remember the things you tell them.

In the early stages of the disease, leaving the person notes or daily reminders can help to accomplish things. But as the disease progresses, even these reminders likely won’t help.

Making “deals” with your loved one or trying to create agreements or bargains is not an effective method of getting things done, for several reasons. Mainly, the person likely won’t remember what they agreed to. And secondly, they won’t fully understand the concept of bargaining or agreeing to do something.

You must remember that their lack of cognitive function is completely out of their control. Having low expectations about their performance and actions will keep you from feeling disappointed and frustrated. 

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself 

Dealing with a dementia patient isn’t easy. It will tax you mentally, emotionally, and physically. Feelings of frustration and even resent are completely normal. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you lose your patience or feel like giving up. It’s important to walk away when you need to. Take a break and you’ll return a more patient, calm caregiver. Just because you get frustrated with your loved one doesn’t make you a bad person or mean you don’t care. It’s completely normal. It can also feel like a full-time job, interfering with your everyday life and causing you to sacrifice your time. Avoid feeling resent toward the dementia patient by reminding yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing, how much you love them, and that you may be their only source of support. But keep in mind that no one is perfect and everyone needs a break once in a while. 

Be Firm 

Sometimes, dealing with a dementia patient is comparable to dealing with a stubborn or disobedient child. Dementia patients often argue with their caregivers and are extremely strong-willed. Don’t ask the person if they want to do something, tell them.

You need to be clear and firm about what’s happening and what’s expected of them. This means instructing them to get dressed, eat breakfast, and get in the car. Don’t leave any room for interpretation by saying things like, “Do you want to have breakfast now?” or “What do you want to wear today?”

Remember, dementia sufferers have little cognitive function and even these seemingly simple decisions are very challenging for them. They need you to direct and guide them by being firm but nurturing. 

Help the Doctors
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You know your loved one better than anyone. If you’re taking care of them, you understand their behaviors, triggers, and cognitive functions. Doctors may rely on you for important information. This information will help them dictate the care that your loved one needs.

If it helps, keep a journal of behaviors and things you notice about the dementia patient. Is there condition worse in the morning? Do certain words or actions cause them to be easily irritated or become combative? This is all important information that the doctors need and only you can provide.

Understand Doubt 

No one wants to believe that their loved one is suffering from dementia. This reality is difficult for both the patient and you, as the family member and caregiver. Don’t be tricked into thinking one lucid day for your loved one means they’re cured of their condition.

Dementia is unpredictable and often starts out with gradual changes to memory and cognitive function and worsens with time. Avoid false hope. Understand that even if the sufferer seems to have a “good day” where they remember your name, the date, and their favourite things, this doesn’t mean they’re cured or that tomorrow they may forget it all again.

Caring for a dementia patient is a virtual emotional rollercoaster. Being informed and educated about the condition will help you better deal with the changes and you and your loved one will experience throughout the process.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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