Understanding the disease: How to care for your loved one
Understanding dementia and how to care for your loved one can be challenging. The disease has many layers, affecting the basic brain functions of clear thinking, memory, communication, and caring for themselves. The effects of the disease can be frustrating for sufferers and caregivers alike. In our previous blog , we outlined what the disease is, the types of dementia one can get, and how it affects the brain. This blog will outline methods for assisting someone with the disease, caring for and loving them during this difficult time, and creating a new normal.
Ease the transition
Personality and behaviour changes are the biggest challenges faced by caregivers. Watching your loved one change and coping with the unpredictability of the disease can be difficult. Dealing with this change involves understanding that they are not in control of their brain and that their behaviour change is a result of this. Below is a list of attitudes to help the transition –
- Communication – The way in which your loved one communicates with you will change. Be open to understanding this and take the time to find ways to communicate with them as well.
- Patience – You cannot change their behaviour. When they may seem irrational and erratic, remember, their brain is struggling with basic functions; practise patience and the journey will be smoother.
- Flexibility – Leave room for flexibility. As a result of the disease, and their inability to think clearly, they may no longer have a routine or be able to stick to a plan. Being flexible in the moment will lead to less frustration for all involved.
Treating dementia depends on the cause. Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of diseases that affect the brain, progressively declining its basic functions. Patience, communication, and flexibility will help with the potentially overwhelming feeling of helping your loved one treat the disease. The treatment of dementia has been greatly aided by medical advancements and our growing understanding of how the brain functions. Depending on how far along the disease is, different treatments are used. The two main forms of treatment are medication and therapy. Cognitive-enhancing medication helps with improving memory function, mood balancing, and lowering blood pressure. High blood pressure strains the arteries of the brain over time, narrowing artery walls and starving it of essential nutrients; this damage to brain cells can prevent the proper function of the brain. As of yet, the connection between high blood pressure and dementia is inconclusive; however, doctors always recommend lowering blood pressure.
Rehabilitation and occupational therapy are examples of dementia therapy treatments. Rehabilitation retrains the brain’s pathways, improving mental and physical function. Occupational therapy is able to help individuals improve their basic daily skills, which may include assistance with living and work skills.
Helping and caring for your loved one with dementia can take an emotional toll. Understanding their and your own emotional needs while navigating treatment and a new normal is important. As a result of the progressive decline in brain function, their psychological and emotional needs will be impacted. Maintaining flexibility and a sense of humour will ease the tension of the new normal.
The emotional needs of a dementia sufferer will increase; they will feel overwhelmed and bewildered at different times of the day and will need compassion and empathy. It is important to remember that they are not trying to deliberately frustrate you, anger you, or cling to you. They are going through a period of adjustment and will become more sensitive and even emotional. Making yourself available to them as a source of support will make them feel more capable.
When does dementia become worse?
As more and more research about dementia and its different associated diseases emerges, it is easier to understand the behavioural patterns that indicate the progression of the illness. Sleep disturbances are common among Alzheimer’s patients. Commonly referred to as ‘sundowning’, pacing, confusion, anxiety, agitation, and disorientation can continue throughout the night. The link between restless sleep patterns and dementia has not been clearly identified; however, contributing factors do exist.
Dementia sufferers are more alert earlier in the morning, making time for important appointments early in the day will be advantageous. Ensure that there is a scheduled routine in place. Even though individuals with dementia can become overwhelmed by changes, it is important to have a flexible routine, encourage waking up at the same time each day, scheduled meal times, and walks outside; giving the brain activities to focus on and time to relax is important. Identifying triggers of sundowning will help ease the anxiety and agitation experienced by the patient and the caregiver.
Needs of the Family
Caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s can become all-consuming. Even though you want to give them the best care possible, taking some time to rest will benefit both you and them on the journey. Caring for someone who is experiencing a decline in their nerve cells can easily lead to feelings of frustration, agitation, and even burnout. Many caregivers feel overwhelmed and disheartened, neglecting their own health and well-being. Supporting your loved one through this difficult time is important, however, the needs of the family are equally as important. Caring for your loved one as a family can have its rewards, there should not be a feeling of a ‘broken’ family unit. Spending time together enjoying familiar activities can refresh and revive the patient and the family.
Helping and caring for your loved one through any illness is not easy, more so, when they are suffering from a disease that affects their brain. Taking the time to understand their needs during the transition to a new lifestyle, while remaining flexible, patient, and loving will be beneficial to everyone involved in the caregiving journey. At Faircape Health, our dementia caregivers are equipped to navigate the effects of the disease. We understand that dementia affects each person differently, and we provide the best care for each individual. We take great care to ensure that each patient receives the respect and care they deserve while overcoming the challenges of their illness.