Caregiving can be challenging, and those who care for loved ones with long-term memory loss, dementia or other cognitive impairments face unique obstacles. Caregivers looking after loved ones with these ailments typically take on more responsibilities than the average caregiver, helping their family members with most daily living activities, such as bathing, eating and personal care.1
So how can you help your loved one navigate this difficult transition and offer them the support their condition requires? These five tips may give some insight and guidance.
1. Get a professional diagnosis and educate yourself
If your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment, they are not alone – and neither are you.
But in order to care for your loved one, you first have to know their precise condition. Seek a comprehensive medical evaluation to rule out side effects from medication or other health complications. An accurate diagnosis should help you properly plan for your loved one’s treatment and long-term care.
people worldwide are living with dementia – and the number is projected to increase to 131 million by 2050.2
Once you know the diagnosis, educate yourself on your family member’s condition. This will help you:
- Feel less alone as you learn about others’ experiences.
- Identify signs of the condition’s progression.
- Seek appropriate health and service professionals.
Partner with your family member’s medical professional to stay informed and help keep your loved one’s care on track.
2. Establish a baseline for their new normal
As people age, slight cognitive decline, such as difficulty recalling distant memories or increased forgetfulness, is normal. But cognitive impairment is different; it means quantifiable struggle in one or more of the areas:3
- Attention span
- Learning ability
- Problem solving
- Psychomotor ability
- Reaction time
- Social intactness
To determine whether you family member is showing signs of long-term memory loss or just regular cognitive “slowdown,” keep notes and talk to other relatives for their impressions. Even if your loved one in question has already been diagnosed with a cognitive condition, this baseline can help you assess if the condition is progressing or leading to delirium, which may require medical intervention.3
3. make a plan for your loved one's needs
With the condition accurately diagnosed, now you can create a routine for the level of care needed. Be sure to document this schedule so another family member can step in when you need to decompress and take a break.
This document may detail the care your loved one needs for the following activities:
- Personal care, including bathing, eating, dressing and grooming.
- Household care, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and managing finances.
- Healthcare, including medication routines, appointments and physical therapy.
- Emotional care, such as companionship and conversation.
- Supervision to prevent physical harm.
4. Remember it's the impairment, not your loved one
Another challenging aspect of caring for a loved one with memory loss is that their personality or behavior may change. It can be a significant shift from what you’re used to, which may explain why 52 percent of dementia caregivers say they need help managing their own emotional and physical stress.1 It may help to remember not to push your loved one if they have trouble identifying you or communicating with you.4
Ways to deal with challenging behaviors:4
- Keep your questions simple and ask one at a time
- Give short instructions
- Be patient, allowing time for them to respond
5. Know (and respect) your own limits
Cognitive impairments often mean your loved one will have good days and bad days. If the bad days get overwhelming, check in with yourself and take a break. Ask someone you trust to supervise your loved one while you de-stress.5
Tips for avoiding caregiver fatigue:5
- Eat well
- Get enough rest
- Devote time to your favorite hobby
Caregiving requires both emotional and physical endurance, but remember, it doesn’t mean you’re letting your family member down when you take time to care for yourself. Make sure your needs are met so you can keep offering the support your loved one needs. Sites such as Caring.com, the Family Caregiver Alliance and AARP’s Family Caregiving provide community support, resources and solutions for caregivers.
Along with emotional and physical duties, caregiving may also come with financial responsibilities. Plan for your loved one’s future care in the event you pass away. Getting a life insurance policy can help alleviate financial strain and provide funds for a replacement caregiver when you’re gone.
1 Dementia Caregiving in the U.S., National Alliance for Caregiving, 2017.
2 World Alzheimer Report 2016, Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2016.
3 Assessing and Preventing Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly, American Nurse Today, 2017.
4 Caring for Adults With Cognitive and Memory Impairment, Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center of Caregiving, 2018.
5 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout, Health in Aging, 2015.
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