By Joe Fleming, Co-Founder and President of Vive Health
Dementia is not a disease. It is a medical term that refers to several signs and symptoms that occur due to a steady decline in brain function and memory. It is usually accompanied by behavioral and personality changes that are severe enough to disrupt a person’s social abilities and quality of life. Dementia has several types. The most common and widely known type is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5 million elderly Americans. As you age, your risk of having dementia also increases. Caring for people with dementia can be a challenge, but special considerations and thoughtful changes can make a significant difference.
Alzheimer’s disease is the 5th leading cause of death among individuals who are older than 65 years old in the United States. This is according to the Alzheimer’s Organization. Likewise, it is also one of the leading causes of disability. Due to the rapidly aging population, the number of people who will suffer from dementia is projected to increase to as high as 16 million in 2050.
Needless to say, caring for your loved ones with dementia is emotionally and physically challenging. Here are some special considerations that you might need to take note of when caring for patients with dementia:
- Remember that people with dementia are generally older adults. If they find it hard to read, write, or understand you or your written words, get their eyesight and hearing checked to eliminate the possibility of eye and ear problems related to aging.
- Patience is very important when communicating with people with dementia. Give them time to understand you. Also, use simple words when talking and explaining to them.
- Orient them if you are going to do something like changing their clothes, giving them food, and taking them to the bathroom.
- Avoid talking to them in a loud, noisy environment because they will find it hard to understand you. Worse, they might become agitated.
- Keep your voice modulated. Maintain eye contact when communicating with them and choose kind words of appreciation and motivation. They still have feelings.
- Do not laugh at them or insult them when they say something even if it’s unintelligible.
- Give them simple options to choose from.
- If they ask a question, give them an answer. Encourage them to express their thoughts.
Food and Nutrition
- Carefully monitor their food intake. People with dementia might forget that they need to eat and drink, making them at risk of dehydration and malnutrition.
- Give them meals that are familiar to them.
- Use plates with plain designs.
- If they are having difficulty in chewing food, eat beside them so that you can demonstrate how it’s done. Let them copy you.
- If they find it hard to use eating utensils, opt for finger foods instead.
- Check the temperature of their food and drink before giving it to them.
- Remove artificial foods from your house because they might mistake it for real food.
- Encourage them to participate in age-appropriate physical exercises.
- Do not scold them for losing interest in personal hygiene. Encourage and motivate them to bathe.
- Give them short step-by-step directions on what to do. Assist them if you have to.
- Prepare the items they need and lay them out in sequence.
- Ensure that the bathroom has adequate lighting to prevent confusion. Install grab bars, slip-free mats, shower chairs, and handheld showers to prevent slipping and fall-related injuries.
- Check the temperature of the water.
- Choose bath time when they are calm. Play calming music if you have to.
- Label prescribed medications accordingly. Secure their medicines in a medicine cabinet.
- Inspect them for bruises or minor injuries and find out where they got them.
- Put additional locks on your doors. Consider installing cameras and sensors for monitoring, security, and safety purposes.
- If you are going to take them outside, orient them of the place. Avoid bringing them to noisy and crowded places.
- If a family member or a friend is coming for a visit, reorient your loved ones with dementia to prevent confusion and agitation.
- Remove clutters, trailing wires, and other tripping hazards from the floor.
- Keep the hallways, their bedrooms, and bathrooms adequately lighted.
- Always bring a first aid kit ready with basic supplies such as gauze pads, elastic bandages, cold and heat packs, wound care solutions, emergency medicines, and a list of emergency hotlines.
- Assess their temperature from time to time. They might already have a fever but they don’t recognize it. Take note that fever in elderly individuals is often associated with a serious viral or bacterial infection. Since elderly adults have diminished thermoregulation, they might not develop a fever until such time when infection is already severe. Learn more about the best ways to measure temperature here: https://www.vivehealth.com/blogs/resources/best-no-touch-thermometer
Be reminded that people with dementia didn’t choose to have the disease. Be as compassionate as possible. If their dementia worsens, you might consider getting professional help when caring for your loved ones.