The Golden Rule urges us to “treat others as we would like to be treated.” This is easier said than done sometimes, particularly when you find yourself in a stressful or difficult situation – like being a caregiver to a loved one with dementia. Maintaining compassion and a loving approach is essential in this situation for both you and your loved one, but it can be hard to remember or act this way in the heat of the moment.
“Being a dementia caregiver is a 24/7 job, and there are many times when it can be difficult to handle your loved one,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. Getting angry or trying to “talk sense” into your loved one doesn’t work because of how the disease affects his or her brain. In fact, this can make the symptoms worse and make you and your loved one more agitated. Instead, says Andrea, you as a caregiver need to take a step back, practice patience and put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.
“Our understanding of how dementias such as Alzheimer’s affect the body and mind has deepened over the past few decades and given us many tools and tips for how to make daily life better and easier for our loved ones and ourselves,” she says. “Besides making advances in medicine and medical practices, we’ve also discovered just how important a loving approach is when caring for someone with dementia.”
According to Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, chairman of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, a loving approach is twofold: it involves showing compassion and patience, but also being proactive to make the situation better for loved ones and making decisions that you know are best for them.
Initially, many caregivers are trying to “preserve the person they knew for as long as possible, and That’s usually where they get themselves into trouble,” Mintzer says. “Because of this desperate need to try to preserve the person, caregivers will put themselves in dangerous situations, like letting the person with Alzheimer’s drive because it has always been important to them.”
This may feel a little bit like you’re “parenting” your loved one, but it’s important to make the distinction between a loving approach to raising a child versus showing loving concern for a senior with dementia. “Your loved one is still the person you knew and deserves respect and honor,” says Andrea. “It’s important to provide compassionate care without being condescending or belittling.”
Tips for Approaching Caregiving from a Loving Place
A loving approach means having compassion and doing our best to understand how our loved one is feeling. This is hard enough to do when you’re dealing with a healthy person, but can become confusing and difficult when faced with a brain-altering diseases like dementia. Even if they have the best intentions, caregivers might not know where to start in understanding their loved one’s reality. Here are some tips for putting yourself in the right space to approach caregiving from a positive, compassionate and loving place.
1. Approach caregiving as an act of love, not an act of duty.
Many of us begin caregiving for a loved one with dementia because we feel it’s the right thing to do. This is an admirable feeling, but it can lead to resentment, anger and stress. Instead, recognize that caregiving is a gift you are giving to your loved one. It’s about helping them through this journey, not providing care because you feel obligated. At the end of the day, it’s a choice – and thinking about it in that way can be freeing.
2. Let go of the need to be “perfect.”
We all want to be the best at what we’re doing. However, there’s no such thing as “perfect” when it comes to being a dementia caregiver. The disease is all-encompassing, and even professional caregivers can find it difficult at times to manage the realities. If you’re beating yourself up because you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, or feeling guilty because you lost your temper, allow yourself to feel those feelings and then forgive yourself. You’re only human, and tomorrow, as they say, is another day.
3. Educate yourself on your loved one’s disease.
Knowledge is power, and learning everything you can about how dementia affects the brain and body will make it easier for you to understand why your loved one is acting in a certain way, or allow you to anticipate their needs. It also gives you the tools you need to advocate for your loved one’s care and make the most informed decisions. There are many resources available to you, both online and in real life. You may also wish to seek out support groups and your local Area Agency on Aging to find resources, tools and advice.
4. Continue to nurture your relationship with your loved one.
Even as your loved one’s abilities and memories fade, they still remain the same person they were with the same desires, hopes, feelings and history. Take time each day to be with your loved one as a spouse or friend instead of as a caregiver. Pull out old scrapbooks and go through the photos together, or watch a favorite movie that always has you laughing. Get out of the house and go on a scenic drive, visit a favorite location or simply sit on the porch and watch the birds. Creating these memories together will nourish and sustain both you and your loved one and improve your quality of life.
5. Take care of yourself, too.
It’s hard to approach caregiving from a loving place if you’re not feeling your best. That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself as much as you’re taking care of your loved one. It’s the old airplane mask analogy – make sure your mask is in place before assisting someone else. Eat a healthy diet and be sure to get plenty of exercise. Find regular opportunities to do something you love, whether that’s grabbing a coffee with a friend, reading a good book or doing a project. Staying connected to the things that fill you up will help reduce your stress levels, rejuvenate your spirit and help you stay positive – all things that will help you be a more loving, productive and successful caregiver.
For more information about how to be a loving and compassionate caregiver to someone with dementia, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.
Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.