Today’s guest post comes from Leann Reynolds. Reynolds is President of Homewatch CareGivers, an international home care provider, well-known for its development of Pathways to Memory — a specialized dementia care program. Follow her on Twitter at @hwcaregivers.
Dementia never stands still. The condition, its symptoms and its manifestations are constantly changing, and with them, your loved one’s needs. One of the most maddening aspects of providing dementia care for a loved one is realizing that a technique that works today may not work tomorrow.
Dementia slowly weakens one’s mental abilities, causing changes in personality, behavior and capacity to perform everyday activities. Perhaps worst of all, the condition also dramatically hinders the communications skills of those who suffer from it.
The deterioration of communication skills in people with dementia is difficult for caregivers. But it’s even tougher for your loved one. It may be hard for them to find the right words, follow conversations, or understand the meaning of what you are saying . And they may get impatient when they can’t say what they want.
The best way to approach these challenges? Try to understand what your loved one is going through by putting yourself in her place. How would you feel if you couldn’t make sense of what was happening around you? You would get scared, angry and frustrated. This is exactly what your loved one with dementia experiences.
To help your loved one comprehend their environment and converse with family and friends, try these simple techniques:
- Remain calm and patient. Your panic or frustration can negatively impact your loved one.
- Use short sentences, ask simple questions and limit the number of choices.
- Give easy-to-follow instructions, one at a time.
- Speak slowly and allow some extra time for a response. Rephrase a question if your loved one doesn’t understand what you are trying to say.
- Watch your tone of voice, body language and facial expressions; smiles truly are the universal language and will go far in establishing the proper tone.
As a caregiver for a person with dementia, expect to see changes in personality and impulsive behavior. You may notice that your loved one has good days and bad days. Getting upset, worried or angry for no visible reason are all examples of such changes.
Once again, try to understand where your loved one is coming from. As dementia clouds their memory, they might get anxious when people and settings look unfamiliar or when they don’t know what behavior is expected. Feeling overloaded can lead them to respond abruptly or act violently. In these situations,
- Don’t argue or try to reason with your loved one; reassure them that they are safe.
- Allow them to calm down, then redirect their focus.
- A challenging behavior can be caused by discomfort (tight or itchy clothes, the need to go to a restroom, hunger, etc.,) or health problems (pain, medication side effects, infections). Try to understand the reason for their agitation.
When caring for a loved one with dementia, pick your battles. If your mom wants to wear mismatched socks with her sneakers today — let her. It’s not going to harm anybody and will make her feel that she is still in control.
You can find more practical dementia care tips in our Guide to Living with Dementia.