Keeping Your Sanity When a Loved One Has Dementia
Posted 6/23/2016 by UHBlog
It’s painful to witness the decline of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. As the illness progresses, your loved one may experience memory loss, confusion, loss of interest in once-pleasurable pursuits and the inability to perform daily tasks.
Staying on top of your loved one’s care is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your own well-being, says neurologist Karla Madalin, MD.
“Guilt from caregivers is real and can result in depression, anxiety and physical problems,” she says. “It can affect your immune system and cause colds and infections. Caregivers may also have serious problems with their own health, but are neglecting it because they’re so involved with taking care of their affected family member.”
Some caregivers are spouses, siblings or friends, but most are adult children – many of whom are juggling a family and full-time job. Dealing with a parent with dementia adds another layer of stress to an already busy life.
Since all caregivers – even the saints among us – will experience frustration from time to time, Dr. Madalin offers these suggestions to make caring for a loved one with dementia more bearable:
- Educate yourself. Learning how dementia progresses can prime you for what lies ahead and help you reassure family members and friends as new symptoms emerge. Your doctor, the Alzheimer’s Association and support groups for dementia caregivers are great resources.
- Acknowledge your limitations. “It’s okay to not feel you need to be there 24/7,” Dr. Madalin says. “No one can do that. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
- Find other outlets. Exercise relieves stress. If you have limited time for yourself, try walking with the Alzheimer’s patient. It can benefit both of you. Devoting even a small amount of time to reading or other hobbies can help clear your mind.
- Seek counseling. “Developing symptoms of depression or anxiety can be a red flag,” Dr. Madalin says. “If a caregiver is so stressed they can’t function, that’s a reason to ask for help.”
- Organize your loved one’s environment. Folks with dementia have difficulty assembling an outfit, putting dishes in the correct cupboard and making phone calls. Lay out clothing the night before, label cupboards and keep a list of phone numbers by the phone. Because dementia patients often develop balance and gait problems, remove clutter so your loved one doesn’t trip. These steps allow earlier-stage dementia patients to retain some measure of independence. If they’re less frazzled, you will be, too.
- Practice patience. As the illness progresses, your loved one may experience an exaggeration of usual traits. It’s important to control your reaction.
“If they were suspicious or paranoid before they got dementia, they may become more so,” she says. “If they were passive, they become more passive.”
Frustrated with the inability to do things for themselves or remember pertinent information, dementia patients often lash out at caregivers. Don’t take the bait. Arguing with dementia patients further agitates them – and you.
- Watch their finances. Earlier-stage dementia patients who are living alone may neglect paying bills. They also may fall prey to the “Grandfather Scam” and other schemes that ultimately deplete their finances. Monitor their money early on because it can save you a lot of frustration later. If funds are scarce to begin with, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association can often refer you to community resources for help.
- Enlist outside help. If your loved one is in the earlier stages of dementia and doesn’t want to move to assisted living, consider hiring an aide for a few hours a day or even overnight. This person can ensure your loved one has companionship and is safe, bathed, fed and taking medications properly. Adult daycare programs also provide a safe, nurturing place for dementia patients and allow family members to work, run errands or even take a vacation without guilt.
Karla Madalin, MD is a neurologist at University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Madalin or any other University Hospitals doctor online.