For many, looking after an aging loved one is a daunting task. When they start to exhibit symptoms of vascular dementia, the task becomes even more complicated. Behavioral and cognitive changes from dementia can also develop unpredictably, and some parents may resist care.
If you are looking after a loved one with dementia, the first thing you need to do is understand the condition. While Alzheimer's disease is just one type of dementia, it has the most pronounced stages. Alzheimer's is a progressive condition. In other words, the severity of the symptoms increases as time goes on.
Typically, Alzheimer patients live four to eight years after the diagnosis. However, some live with the disease for up to two decades. If you are familiar with the stages, it can help you identify your loved one's behaviors, address them accordingly, and update care when needed.
Alzheimer's Disease: Three Major Phases
The brains of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's begin changing long before symptoms of the condition start to manifest. This is referred to as the disease's preclinical phase. According to the National Institute on Aging, the following are the three stages of Alzheimer's disease:
1. Mild (Early Stage)
During this stage, your loved one might still live independently—they even work, drive, and enjoy some social time. However, most can sense that something is different. For instance, they already tend to:
Forget names of familiar people
Have difficulty remembering recent events
Have trouble finding items in the store or making a grocery list
Gradually lose the ability to organize or plan events
2. Moderate (Middle Stage)
This stage of the disease tends to last longer than the others. In some instances, patients can remain in the moderate stage for several years. Prevalent symptoms include:
Increased memory loss
Difficulty getting dressed
Difficulty following instructions or paying bills
Becoming restless and wandering
Screaming, kicking, and cursing
3. Severe (Late Stage)
This is the last stage of Alzheimer's. Patients at this stage often have:
Difficulty walking or sitting up without assistance
Trouble swallowing or eating
A need for 24/7 care
Massive changes in their personality
Maintaining Quality of Life: How to Look After Loved Ones with Dementia
The needs of your loved ones will also progress along with the condition. It is recommended that you coordinate closely with the patient's physician when providing care. Ensure you can maintain a good quality of life for your loved one with dementia by keeping the following tips in mind:
Do your research.
While unfortunate to note, caring for a loved one with dementia is not always intuitive. In other words, it won't ever come naturally. At times, what seems logical may not always be the right thing. For instance, if they experience chewing or swallowing difficulties, insisting that they eat won't help.
Consider it ideal to learn all there is to know about the condition and consult with their physician if you need any guidance in terms of caregiving. Here are other things you also need to keep in mind:
You don't have to be perfect. Your focus should be on providing empathy and compassion.
Do a reality check. Expect ebbs and flows and know that things can become hard to predict as the disease progresses.
Be ready to face the future. With the condition, the only thing constant is change.
Memory challenges may only be one part of the equation. At ties, personality changes and other mental symptoms can manifest.
Make your home a safer place.
When patients transition from the mild to moderate stage, you might need to make a few changes at home to reduce risks. With patience and resourcefulness, you can add a safety layer while ensuring your loved one remains comfortable.
Here are some things to consider:
Carefully assess the situation. Some areas at home can present issues for your loved ones with dementia. Carefully examine workshops, basements, yards, and garages. Ensure that cleaning supplies, chemicals, and tools are stored securely in a safe place and out of harm's way.
Prevent kitchen catastrophes. When you're not in the room, ensure your loved one with dementia cannot turn on the stove. Turn off the knobs or consider installing a concealed gas valve. Make it a point to always scan tables and countertops for items like bottles of seasoning or other kitchen decors and consider it best to get rid of them.
Make sure rooms and walkways are well-lit. Check if staircases, doorways, entryways, hallways, and bathrooms have adequate lighting at all times. Ensure you also have nightlights placed strategically, so accidents are avoided.
Prepare for emergencies.
Check smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and carbon monoxide detectors consistently to ensure they are working accordingly.
Consider installing latches and locks and putting away area rugs. In some cases, patients with dementia might need their bedroom outfitted with a toilet.
Find resources to help you deal with caregiver stress.
When caring for a loved one in the moderate or severe stages of dementia, it is reasonable to experience high caregiver stress levels. When you find yourself in a similar situation, comparing notes with a social worker with experience working with dementia patients might provide some much-needed solace.
The following thought-starters can also help:
Take routine breaks. This can help you avoid caregiver burnout, which can be brought about by caregiving's overwhelming demands.
Schedule regular me-times. If your caregiving situation is excessively demanding, the need to properly look after yourself also becomes increasingly important.
Don't do everything on your own. You don't have to take the difficult job of looking after your loved ones all by yourself. When feeling overwhelmed, seek support from family, outside resources, and your trusted friends.
Know when to invest in outside help.
At times, even if you are willing to take on the demands of caregiving, you just can't do it alone. If and when this time comes, in-home care is an option you can look into. In-home care services can often help with the following:
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be very challenging. However, it is reassuring to know you don't have to take on everything on your own. When required, seek help from other members of the family or professionals. Doing so can help ensure you can provide a quality life for your loved ones without compromising your own.
About the Author
Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.