How to Care For Elderly Patients With Dementia

Written by on August 1, 2013 in Insight - No comments

Life expectancy in the United States today is 76 years for men and 81 years for women. As people live longer, their chances of developing dementia also increases. Age is one of the most significant risk factors for developing dementia. According to a recent study led by Dr. Brenda L. Plassman at the Duke University, almost 1 in 7 adults in the US have dementia. That makes an estimated 3.8 million individuals whose suffer from the disorder.

The term dementia covers a group of cognitive disorders that are characterized by memory impairment, problems with language, mood changes, difficulty managing daily tasks, getting confused easily etc. The signs and symptoms emerge gradually.

Caring for an elderly loved one with dementia is not easy. Caregivers may experience emotions ranging from sadness and frustration, to resentment and even guilt for having those feelings. Caregivers may even experience feelings of loss and associated grief though the loved one is still with them.

Caring for a loved one with dementia

In order to be able to provide adequate care, it is important for the caregiver to understand what the loved one is experiencing, prepare them for routine medical visits, and also put a plan in place to make life manageable. The following information can help take care of a loved one suffering from dementia.

1. Create a daily routine and follow it religiously

People suffering from memory loss thrive on the familiar. Dementia patients experience difficulty and confusion when they attempt to do new things. A predictable daily routine will help keep the patient grounded and prevent them from getting distracted or confused. Include routine activities that your loved one used to enjoy before they developed dementia. Did they have a favorite TV show which they liked to watch at a certain time? Did they read the Sunday newspaper? Include these activities in the care routine; at some level, it will give them a sense of familiarity and calm them.

2. Elder-proof the house

Dementia patients suffer from impaired central processing which affects balance and gait. They are at high risk for falls. As age causes the bones to become brittle, the risk of fractures also looms high. Elder-proof the home to minimize the risk of injuries that patients may suffer due to falls. Replace rugs with non-skid mats, rearrange furniture, install grab-handles and railings next to the toilet seat, skid-proof the bathroom, fix bed-rails and also put an additional mattress on the floor beside the bed to ensure a soft landing even if they fall out of the bed. A height-adjustable bed would also be a good idea, because at a very low position, even if they do fall, the distance is short.

3. Communicating with your loved one

Dementia patients may struggle with the language and keep repeating the same things over and over again. Be patient. Speak calmly, clearly and simply. Avoid criticism, instead lavish the patient with praise. Place identifying signs on doors and drawers and keep the surroundings well-organized. Do not talk about the patient to another person as though the patient is not there. Communication is not just about words, a touch can convey a lot more than words can. Hug the patient and hold their hands. This will let them know that they are still valued and cared for.

4. Helping the patient use the bathroom

Advanced-stage patients may become incontinent of urine and stool. It is important for the caregiver to address the emotional and physical needs of the patient at this point. Learn to recognize behaviors before incontinence occurs. Look for cues such as the inability to sit still, agitation etc., which may indicate that the patient needs to go to the toilet.

5. Preparing the patient for medical visits

Visiting the doctor after diagnosis can be a time of apprehension for the patient. Appointments are usually brief, so it is a good idea to be well-prepared. Patients with early-stage dementia may be able to handle the discussion on their own with some help, but advanced-stage dementia patients will need the help of a caregiver. To get ready for the appointment, check with the doctor if there is anything that needs to be done before the visit. Write down all symptoms, recent life stresses, and a list of all the medications and supplements that are being taken by the patient. Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask the doctor as well.

6. Care provided by medical staff

Along with the caregivers at home, the medical staff at hospitals must also be specially prepared to care for dementia patients. A great amount of patience, empathy and understanding are called for to care for a patient with dementia, who may apparently be unable to understand you or follow instructions. Medical staff must take the initiative to talk to family members about dementia-specific tools and services that could make their lives easier. Medical staff must also ask the caregivers about the unique challenges faced by the patient, for example, the propensity to fall, confusion, inability to communicate etc. Regular doctors who usually care for the patient can provide crucial information about the patient, so initiate communication if required. If the patient is admitted at the hospital for any procedure, the staff must update the charts with all the relevant information and also communicate clearly amongst each other to ensure that there are no lapses in care.

Caring for a patient with dementia can be challenging, to say the least. But remember that if we live long enough, we are also at risk to develop the same disorder. Treat your loved one just as how we would wish to be treated if that happens. Follow a routine with gentleness, kindness and patience. Help them live the rest of their life with dignity.

By Nisha Salim

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