Although many different conditions cause dementia, one thing is certain: you need help to care for a person with memory loss. As your relative’s symptoms get worse, the emotional and physical demands will tax your ability to remain healthy yourself.
Surprising situations arise
There are difficult ethical decisions to confront. Your relative may do things that you never would have imagined. It can be crazy making! This is why you need the balance of help from others.
We suggest the following:
- Get a diagnosis. Some causes of dementia can be treated. Some medications can slow the progress of symptoms. Even if there is no cure, these medications can result in a better quality of life for you and your loved one. Getting a diagnosis involves many different types of tests. Talk to the doctor about a dementia evaluation. A care manager can help guide you through the process.
- Educate yourself. Once you have a diagnosis, learn as much as you can about the condition. Ask the doctor for printed information. You can also go to the website of the national organization dedicated to that illness. Find those websites in the Specific Conditions section of our Educating Yourself page.
- Develop a plan for managing your stress. More than any other condition, caring for someone with dementia demands a lot from family caregivers. Create a plan to manage and reduce your stress. Read our article about coping with stress. It’s filled with suggestions from experienced family caregivers. Family caregivers who feel stressed have much greater health problems than those who do not feel stresses. The key is good stress management.
- Join a support group. The Alzheimer’s Association offers support groups for all family members coping with dementia, even if the care receiver does not have Alzheimer’s disease. There are even support groups for persons who are in the early stages of the condition. Many other organizations offer disease-specific support groups for family members.
- Look for support services. In the early stage, your family member may be able to live independently, with the help of support services. For instance, a bonded bill-paying service can handle balancing a checkbook and organizing monthly bills for payment. A care manager can do an evaluation to help you identify the level of dementia and which local services would offer the most appropriate support.
- Take breaks. Everyone needs breaks. It’s not selfish. It’s essential! Dementia caregivers are frequently the subjects of stress research because caring for someone with memory loss is incredibly stressful. Take time away on a regular basis. You will be a better caregiver when you return. And you will increase your stamina for the long haul. Whether it’s an hour or a couple of days, you need time when you are free of caregiving responsibility. Arrange to have friends or family visit with your family member. They can take him or her to the park, to church, or out for a drive. Or, some places provide daytime activities and supervision for persons with dementia. Some even help with transportation. They provide pick-up and drop-off services right at your door.
- Consider in-home care. Having help come to the home is the first choice for many families. However, it can be expensive. And there are challenges to hiring paid caregivers on your own. Our article about finding help can guide you. Talking with a care manager can also be helpful. These professionals understand employment laws. They can help you select a paid caregiver suited to your family member’s needs and resources.
- Consider a new living situation. There may come a time when your relative needs more round-the-clock support. A long-term care facility may be more cost effective than in-home care. Many different levels of care are available. Assisted living facilities meet the needs of persons who are still fairly independent. Dementia facilities provide security and specially trained staff to care for persons in the later stages of the disease. A care manager can do an assessment of your loved one and talk to you about local options that fit your unique situation.
- Support the spouse or partner. If your relative lives with a “significant other,” that partner is likely under a tremendous amount of stress. Dementia causes profound changes in personality and behavior. Your relative may no longer recognize his wife or her husband. He or she may treat the spouse rudely or make overtures to others. The relationship is likely to become very one sided. The “well spouse” does all the giving and the person with dementia only receives. And he or she may receive without showing any gratitude. The manners part of the brain simply stops working. A spouse or partner often must function like a nurse while dealing with his or her own feelings of loss and frustration. If this is a later-in-life union, the demands of caregiving can be especially challenging. Add to this a partner’s own health problems and the combination can put your relative’s spouse at risk. In fact, the illness and mortality rate for stressed partners of persons with dementia is significantly higher than for partners whose loved ones do not have dementia. For all these reasons, stress relief is especially important for caregiving spouses and partners.