Routines can make caring for dementia patients easier
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming, but establishing routines is one way to make the process easier.
Judy Breland, county coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service office in Stone County, said planning set times for meals, baths, regular outings and even restroom breaks, helps to lessen the stress on caregivers and their loved ones. Breland is a caregiver for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.
“Probably her most meaningful things each day are meals. That’s what she looks forward to the most,” Breland said of her mother. “She wants breakfast, dinner and supper. It’s not about what she is eating; she just doesn’t want to be hungry.”
Breland added that routines such as daily car rides also can be helpful.
“When I get home each afternoon, she is usually packing her bags because her concept of home is the town where she grew up, and she’s expecting her parents to pick her up,” Breland said. “I find that if I drive her around the block each day after work, it makes a difference because I’m moving her from one location to another, and that physical movement takes her out of the setting where she thinks she’s in another place and time.”
Erika McDaniel, Extension agent in Chickasaw County, said that helping loved ones remain as independent as possible is important.
“These individuals are adults, so treat them that way. Speak to them with respect, and let them make their own decisions when possible,” she said. “Don’t automatically assume that they are incapable of completing a certain task. When they do need help, assist them in a way that lets them maintain as much dignity as possible.”
A positive mindset can affect both the caregiver and the loved one. Avoid speaking in negatives, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
“Don’t scold or talk down to your loved one. Do not say, ‘You’re doing that wrong.’ Instead, use positive language like, ‘Let’s try that this way,’” McDaniel said. “Many times, these individuals are capable of understanding more than we give them credit for. Explain what is going on, or why you are doing something.”
Seeking medical help at the first sign that there might be a problem is critical. Anyone with a family history of dementia should monitor potential precursors.
“Individuals who are diagnosed early can follow a treatment plan that can greatly maximize their quality of life,” McDaniel said. “Key warning signs of dementia include memory loss and difficulty performing everyday tasks. Disorientation and loss of time are also red flags. Changes in mood and personality can be caused by dementia, along with problems speaking and misplacing items.”
Patients respond in a variety of ways to different types of care, and each case should be approached individually. In every case, asking for assistance is acceptable.
“The caregiver’s health and peace of mind is just as important as their loved one’s. It’s OK to take a break from caregiving to care for oneself,” McDaniel said. “There are professional services available -- adult daycares, sitting services and faith-based organizations -- whose purpose is to give caregivers a break. Some are even offered at no cost, while others accept insurance, or Medicare or Medicaid.”
MSU Extension offers publications with more information on caregiving for loved ones.