Caring for someone with dementia or other significant impairments is difficult work, even when the burden is shared. If you are the primary, 24/7 caregiver, it can be overwhelming.
Although Daystar is not a dementia care facility, residents with cognitive impairment who do not exhibit extreme behaviors can often be cared for in our assisted living program. Extreme behavior would be any behavior that might require 24/7 monitoring, such as wandering, resistance to care or aggression.
Generally in consultation with their families, residents with cognitive impairment can choose from a selection of customized services, from monitoring medication, to bathing, dressing or getting to and from meals.
According to womenshealth.gov, a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, research shows that caregivers:
- Are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis
- Have higher levels of stress hormones
- Spend more days sick with an infectious disease
- Have a weaker immune response to influenza or other viruses
- Have slower wound healing
- Have higher levels of obesity
- May be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention
If are already a caregiver, or are contemplating becoming one, you need plenty of tools in your toolkit: knowledge of the disease or condition your loved one is suffering from; a network of people you can call for assistance; at least one person who can listen to your stories and offer empathy and support (not judgment).
Communicating with a loved one who has dementia is one of the most stressful aspects of caregiving. Knowing with certainty how much your loved one understands is nearly impossible, because that can change from day to day or moment to moment. The Family Caregivers Alliance has a wonderful website with tips for communicating with people with dementia. Here are the top five suggestions:
1. Set a positive mood for interaction. Remember, your tone of voice, body language and facial expression matter at least as much as what you say, maybe more. Be positive and reassuring.
2. Get the person’s attention. Reduce background noise and distractions as much as possible. If the person is seated, get lean or squat down so you are at eye level.
3. State your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone.
4. Ask simple, answerable questions. Open-ended questions can be difficult. Try to phrase choices as either/or, or yes or no.
5. Break down activities into a series of steps. Your loved one might not understand all the steps involved in getting ready to go to the doctor, so just focus on one step at a time.
Above all else, respond with affection and reassurance. As Family Caregivers Alliance explains, “People with dementia often feel confused, anxious and unsure of themselves.” Let them know you understand and that it’s okay to forget things, that you are helping them and they are safe. “Sometimes holding hands, touching, hugging and praise will get the person to respond when all else fails.”
Check out these resources to find more information or a caregivers support group:
King County Caregiver Support Network (http://www.kccaregiver.org/)
Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County (http://www.agingkingcounty.org/)
Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alzwa.org/cms/active/sg_searchresults.asp)