THE THERAPY ROOM: Dementia and caregiving

Posted on 19 April 2018 by LeslieM

Part 2 of a 3-part series on dementia

Today, there are more than 9.9 million people caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Last month, the initial column in our series on dementia discussed dementia as a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it difficult for those diagnosed to think and communicate clearly and to even take care of themselves. This month, in part two of our series, we discuss practical strategies for caregivers who manage others with dementia.

Many families find it difficult and frustrating to communicate with a loved one with dementia. It is important to remember that a person with dementia cannot control behavior caused by their dementia.

Here is a list of common dementia behaviors and helpful suggestions for caregivers:

Eating and Nutrition: People with dementia forget their need to eat and drink, and complicating this may be dental problems, weight loss, irritability, disorientation, poor sleep and even bladder issues. Caregivers should consider serving meals away from a television and other distractions. Being flexible with food and beverage choices helps — a person with dementia may suddenly develop new food choices or reject ones that were liked in the past.

Bathing: Forgetting proper hygiene, such as bathing, combing hair, brushing teeth and changing clothes are common among people with dementia. Being cleaned by another person can be frightening, embarrassing and humiliating to a person being cared for and frustrating to a caregiver. If your loved one is modest when it comes to bathing, acknowledge that by making sure doors and shower curtains are closed. Keep a towel over private body parts and have a robe ready after bathing. Never leave a person with dementia unattended in a bath or shower and have all necessary bathing products in place for ease of use.

Sleeplessness: Restlessness and disorientation are troubling behaviors people with dementia experience and often it gets worse at the end of the day and throughout the night. Caregivers can increase daytime activities and discourage daytime naps, limit intake of sugar and caffeine and, if needed, consider speaking with patient’s physician about medication for sleeping issues.

Hallucinations and delusions: Seeing or hearing things others do not and false beliefs may occur as dementia progresses. Caregivers can offer reassurance and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings relating to hallucinations and delusions and use distractions to help such as suggesting a walk or simply moving to another room.

Caregivers at times forget to focus on their own needs.

Here are self care practices to consider:

Learn and use stress reduction techniques, such as exercise or yoga

Get rest and proper nutrition

Seek and accept support from others

Talk to other family members and the dementia patient’s physician about new concerns and seek their guidance for suggestions on additional or alternative care-giving assistance

A caregiver cannot stop the impact of dementia for someone they care for, but there is a great deal they can do to take responsibility for their own well-being and to have their needs met. When a caregiver’s needs are addressed the person being taken care of will benefit as well.

Dr. Julia Breur is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. Further information available at www.drjuliabreur.com.

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