Caring for someone with dementia
Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, but a few simple tips may help caregivers manage the health and wellbeing of the individual in their care.
Dementia describes a group of cognitive and behavioral symptoms that stem from a decline in brain function.
People with dementia have difficulty taking care of their own needs. They may need someone to ensure they eat properly, wash regularly, and generally stay safe. They are also at risk of isolation and various health issues.
Caregiving can be a full-time job. A person acting as the sole caregiver for someone with dementia may experience emotional and physical fatigue, known as caregiver burnout.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, but it is not the only type. While the various types of dementia can cause different symptoms, certain care tips are common to all types.
In this article, we share some tips to help people care for an individual with dementia.
Tips for a healthy routine
The following tips may be helpful for people caring for someone with dementia.
Creating a daily routine
People with dementia can benefit from a consistent daily routine.
It may include the following activities:
- waking up and going to sleep at set times
- bathing, getting dressed, and other personal care activities
- cooking and eating meals at regular times
- taking a break or nap
- socializing with friends and family
- engaging in gentle physical activity
- doing relaxing or creative activities
Minimizing stress is important when taking care of a person with dementia.
A caregiver can help by:
- choosing activities that are less likely to cause agitation
- limiting situations that cause the person to become withdrawn, frustrated, or confused
- creating a calming environment by keeping the immediate surroundings free of loud noises and harsh light
- staying calm and positive, especially if the person becomes angry or aggressive
To diffuse tension, a caregiver can try redirecting the situation. For example, they can suggest a different activity or ask the person if they want to move to go for a walk or sit in another room.
What happens when people with dementia get angry?
Maintaining a clean and healthy environment
As far as possible, caregivers need to ensure a person with dementia follows a regular hygiene routine, including bathing and changing their clothes. This can lower the risk of rashes, infections, infectious diseases, and other health issues.
At certain times of year, there may be a higher risk of infectious diseases.
Ways of reducing the risk of passing on or getting infectious diseases include:
- avoiding close contact with people who are unwell
- covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently used objects and surfaces
- washing the hands regularly with soap and water
- using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- having all recommended vaccinations
People with dementia may require additional support and visual cues to help them remember essential hygiene practices. Caregivers may wish to consider practicing thorough hand washing with the person.
They can also place a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in an easily accessible place, such as near their favorite chair.
A person can learn how to practice proper hand washing here.
Assess the person’s physical health
Caregivers will need to monitor the person’s physical health, as the individual may not be able to say if they have pain or other symptoms.
They should also look for signs of injury, such as bruises, cuts on the skin, or pressure wounds.
If the person has a chronic condition, such as heart disease, a caregiver will need to ensure the individual takes their medications and attends all appointments as needed.
During surges in COVID-19 cases, caregivers should look for signs such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
It may help to keep at hand a list of contacts of healthcare and other relevant professionals in case of emergencies.
Communication is an essential element of caregiving. As dementia progresses, the person may find it increasingly hard to express themselves and understand others.
Tips that can help friends, caregivers, and others communicate with someone with dementia include:
- maintaining eye contact
- using the person’s name
- discussing one topic at a time
- asking yes-or-no questions
- using open and relaxed body language
- expressing positivity and affection through facial expression and tone of voice
- using straightforward, distinctive language
- speaking with a calm voice
Get some tips for talking to someone with dementia.
Here is a list of activities that people with dementia can do at home:
- light exercise, such as walking, tai chi, and dance
- cooking or baking, with assistance
- listening to music
- watching a movie or a television show
- playing a simple game
- household chores, such as folding the laundry or washing up
What are the best activities for people with dementia?
When to seek medical help
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, increased confusion is one of the first signs that someone with dementia may be ill.
Caregivers should seek urgent medical help if a person with dementia shows symptoms such as:
- new confusion
- a high fever
- chest pain
- breathing difficulty
- diarrhea and vomiting
They should also seek immediate help if the person is at risk of harming themselves or another person.
Does Medicare cover dementia?
Services that can help
The following services may be helpful for people who are caring for someone at home:
- delivery services for groceries, medication, and other essential household items
- online support groups for caregivers
- telehealth services
- online resources from the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging
What support groups are available for people with dementia and their caregivers?
How caregivers can help themselves
Caring for a person with dementia can be challenging and tiring.
Doing the following can help relieve stress while caring for a person with dementia:
- eating a varied and nutritious diet
- exercising regularly
- spending time with friends and other family members
- keeping legal, medical, and financial information up to date
- making a list of emergency contacts in case of unexpected illness or disability
- considering working with a mental health counselor or joining a support group
Learn more here
- What is caregiver burnout, and what can you do about it?
- How can you manage caregiver depression?
- Caring for a parent with bipolar disorder: Stephanie’s story
- What tips can help when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s?
- How do you change Power of Attorney when someone has dementia?
Taking care of a person with dementia can be challenging but rewarding. The challenges will depend partially on the individual and the type of dementia they have.
But tips that are common to all types include:
- creating a daily routine
- minimizing stress
- focusing on communication
- encouraging good hygiene
- keeping an eye on the person’s physical health
- seeking support and taking care of your own wellbeing
It is essential for caregivers to practice self-care and look after their own physical and mental health.