Learn more about how to better communicate with and support your loved one with this caregiver’s guide to dementia, including the use of person-centered care to reduce difficult behaviors and increase well-being.
Providing care to a loved one with dementia comes with significant challenges. But with those challenges comes a lot of opportunity for growth, and a deeper understanding of our loved ones.
Kensington Place Redwood City recently partnered with Stanford Health Care to host a discussion for caregivers supporting their loved ones with dementia. Gerontologist Jennie Clark, who manages the Memory Support Program at Stanford, discussed the most common unmet needs of both caregivers and people living with dementia, plus the best ways to communicate.
Challenges and opportunities for family caregivers
Many caregiver challenges no doubt come from watching your loved one struggle and progress over time. This can be immensely stressful and emotional. But some challenges can come from a lack of resources or support.
Learning about your loved one’s dementia once they are diagnosed will help you be prepared for what’s to come at every stage. It also will help you discover the types of support you will need over time.
Developing a care plan can ensure all current and future needs are adequately met.
Addressing the needs of family caregivers
When you’re a caregiver for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important to be informed and realistic. Understanding what your loved one is and will be going through is essential to discovering what both of you will need as the disease progresses.
It’s common for caregivers to lose themselves in the daily stresses and evolving challenges. They often take on too much and have a difficult time balancing their usual tasks with the overwhelming new ones.
If they begin to neglect their own health and social needs, they run the risk of burnout.
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may not need much assistance. In this stage, it’s important to learn and plan for what’s to come. Part of this will be building in your support and understanding what sort of financial and care assistance may be needed in the future.
Middle to late stages
In the middle to later stages, as your loved one struggles not only with memory loss but also with communication, personality, and behavior changes, and eventually with bathing and dressing, you may decide the care exceeds what you are able to do. A move to an assisted living community that has specialized memory care may be the next step in your plan.
Addressing these needs and expectations upfront will help caregivers avoid burnout and remain able to provide the best, most loving care.
Addressing the needs of those living with dementia
While serving as a caregiver for a loved one with dementia has its challenges and frustrations, it’s important to step back and remember how difficult it is for the person who is going through it themselves.
It is incredibly frustrating and scary to experience memory loss and confusion, and to no longer recognize what once was familiar. Caregivers must remember to be patient and empathetic. The most important thing is keeping your loved one comfortable, safe, and content above all else.
In the early stages, caregivers need to meet their loved ones where they are. Allow loved ones to express the anger and fear of their diagnosis, and assist them in remaining as active and independent as possible.
Middle to late stages
As your loved ones progress, their memory loss, confusion, and behavior changes will become more severe. A prepared caregiver who understands the unique needs of those living with dementia will be better able to manage difficult behaviors as they arise.
Difficult behaviors manifest as a result of the disease but are made worse when your loved one feels frustrated by their communication troubles or stressed in their environment.
Caregivers can help ease this stress by using clearer and more effective communication.
Communication tips for dementia caregivers
Communication changes are common as dementia progresses. These changes include trouble finding the right words or organizing words, repeating words, losing train of thought, and describing objects rather than calling them by name.
It’s important to remember that communication won’t be affected in the same way for each person. You will learn how to communicate with your loved one as they progress. Meet them where they are.
These general tips will help guide you if your loved one has begun to experience communication troubles:
- Speak slowly and clearly, in a quiet space with minimal distractions
- Maintain eye contact
- Be patient as they think and respond — don’t get anxious or antsy
- Reassure the person if they get frustrated, or redirect the conversation
- Ask one question at a time, and try to ask “yes” or “no” questions only
- Use gestures, scents, sounds, or smells to aid with conversation meaning
- If you don’t understand, repeat what they said back to them to clarify meaning
- Don’t argue if they say something you don’t agree with — let it go
- Always be respectful
Focus on person-centered care
A person-centered approach to care means focusing on your loved one’s uniqueness and personal preferences instead of their disease. Dementia is just a diagnosis — there is much more to your loved one than that.
Using this approach to care leads to a deeper understanding of our loved ones and what they are experiencing. When behaviors arise, caregivers can recognize which unmet needs may have led to this reaction and solve problems from that angle.
For example, did your mother love taking a bath every night after dinner, and she now gets frustrated when you try to give her one before her meal? Remembering how your loved one lived and enjoyed their life before their diagnosis will help caregivers better incorporate their loved ones’ preferences, leading to greater contentment and satisfaction.
Find resources and loving support at Kensington Place Redwood City
The decision to move your loved one to an assisted living community with memory care is not taken lightly. That’s why Kensington Place Redwood City prides itself on providing the highest levels of loving care and support for your loved ones.
Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. We have two memory care neighborhoods to provide customized support for your loved one — remaining focused on their unique strengths, joys, and comforts at all stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Reach out to us today to learn more about our community and our commitment to your family.