Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the tough things in life came with an instruction manual? That way, you would know exactly what to do when a problem arose, understand how things will progress and basically have all the answers on hand at all times. Unfortunately, life can be messy and complicated – which you, as a caregiver to someone with dementia, probably know all too well.
“Dementia is a disease that progresses differently for everyone and can seemingly change day to day,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the past decades to understanding how the disease affects individuals and what can be done to make an individual’s life as meaningful as possible, but even professional caregivers don’t have all the answers. If you’re a family caregiver, you’re facing a dual struggle: managing the disease while also maintaining a healthy relationship with your loved one.”
“Being a dementia caregiver is a day-in, day-out, 24/7 responsibility that can easily dominate your life,” says Andrea. “In order to maintain a sense of balance for yourself, avoid caregiver burnout and reduce everyone’s stress and anxiety, you’ll need to find ways to successfully manage your loved one while keeping them safe and cared for. That’s why we at The Reutlinger Community have 10 Guidelines that we follow to provide the best care to our residents with dementia.”
These guidelines, she says, are not specifically “rules” that must be followed, but guidance to shape your interactions, thoughts and feelings in order to move forward in a positive way. “Keeping these 10 Guidelines in mind will help you care for yourself as well as care for your loved one and help you nurture and deepen your relationship during the time you have left,” she says.
The 10 Guidelines of Dementia Caregiving
- Don’t argue or use logic to try and make a point.
It’s natural to want to correct your loved one if he or she is acting in a way that doesn’t make sense or is wrong about something. However, trying to use logic to explain to your loved one why something needs to happen (for example, not allowing them to drive because they are no longer safe behind the wheel) is a futile gesture. More often than not, your loved one will become more confused, angry or agitated because they simply don’t have the capacity to view things logically. Instead, find ways to address the situation that avoid an upsetting confrontation (for example, move your loved one’s car to a storage space so it can’t be seen).
- Redirect as necessary.
Redirection is one of the best tools a caregiver has in his or her toolbox. Instead of arguing with your loved one about why it’s important to take a bath, or if you notice that your loved one is becoming agitated and asking the same thing over and over, redirect the conversation or situation to get his or her mind off whatever track they’re on. This can help to immediately diffuse a situation and make things better. After your loved one is calm, you may be able to resume the task at hand.
- Provide simple choices.
People with dementia can sometimes lack the ability to make a decision from a long list of options or an open-ended question (such as “what do you want to eat tonight?”). However, giving them choices can narrow down the options and help them feel empowered. Ask your mom if she’d like fish or chicken for dinner instead of opening the fridge and asking her to choose.
- Never shame.
No one likes to be shamed, no matter how old or young we are. Scolding or making your loved one feel bad about something, whether it’s not remembering a conversation or because they had an accident, is one of the quickest ways to shut them down and hurt your connection. Although you may be exasperated about having to clean up another spill, take a deep breath and find ways to help avoid the issue in the future.
- Provide comfort and reassurance as much as possible.
Many disruptive or unwanted behaviors, such as agitation or repetition, stem from your loved one feeling insecure or afraid. Remind your loved one that they are safe, that you care about them and that you won’t let anything bad happen to them. Sometimes that is all that’s needed.
- Reminisce instead of asking “remember when?”
Sharing memories is a great way to bond with your loved one, but avoid asking “remember when,” especially when it comes to more recent events. Instead, take the lead and talk about memories and past events as statements to share your feelings and emotions. It’s possible, especially if you’re talking about long ago events, that your loved one will chime in with his or her memories.
- Treat your loved one with dignity and respect.
Even as your loved one’s abilities fade, he or she remains an adult who deserves respect and to be treated with dignity. Never condescend or talk down to them. Instead, ask for their involvement and permission, and include them in conversations. Mom or Dad may not be able to participate in the conversation but being included can do wonders for making him or her feel secure and fulfilled.
- Celebrate their remaining abilities instead of focusing on what’s lost.
Adapt favorite hobbies and activities so that your loved one can continue to enjoy them, even if their abilities make it impossible for them to do what they’ve always done. Maybe Mom can’t do delicate needlepoint anymore, but she can do a sewing exercise with yarn. Dad may not be able to whittle, but he can help you put together a birdhouse. Find things you can do together to make the exercise even more meaningful.
- Meet them where they are.
People with dementia can slip into their own world and forget about the here and now. Mom may think she’s a schoolchild again, or Dad may believe he’s off to work at the factory just like he’s always done. Instead of trying to bring him or her back to the present (and perhaps cause emotional hurt), ask yourself if the delusion is harmful – and if it’s not, play along with them or offer explanations that fit into their current version of reality.
- Remember that you can’t do it all.
You’re just one person, and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Being a caregiver is tough work, and you deserve and need some down time. Ask friends and family to help you out or connect with community services to see what’s available to you. Having a support system is essential for helping you care for your wellbeing, which in turn will make you a better caregiver for your loved one.
For more information about dementia caregiving, or to learn more about our community, 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.