If someone you love is living with dementia it can be a stressful and challenging time. If it is a partner, parent or grandparent that is living with the illness, you’ll probably find it hard to think of yourself as a carer, this is especially true if your loved one has previously cared for you - getting used to that role reversal can be tough!
However, with the right support, caring for a loved one who has dementia can be incredibly rewarding, and can even strengthen the bond between you.
Care In Kent takes an in-depth look into caring for someone who is living with dementia, including how to help your loved one with everyday tasks and personal care, and where you can turn for support.
Becoming A Carer
It might not have been in your life’s plan, but you have found yourself in a caring role for a loved one who is living with dementia. In order to ensure that you’re going to get all of the support you need during this time, it’s a good idea to start off by registering as a carer with your GP, as well as doing some research into any training courses that could help you in your new role.
It’s also worth looking into whether you are eligible for any benefits as a carer, as well as getting a carer’s assessment. A carer’s assessment is free and available to anyone over the age of 18. A typical carer’s assessment might recommend things like getting someone to take over on occasion so that you can take a break, train you on how to lift safely, and putting you in touch with local support groups. Find a job in care with us here
When your loved one is first diagnosed with dementia, it’s likely that they’ll still be able to enjoy life the same as they have always done. But dementia is a progressive illness, and as symptoms get worse they might start to feel stressed or anxious as the fear that they will start to forget things begins to take hold.
Your main role at this point will be to support your loved one in maintaining their abilities as well as help them to continue as active a social life as possible. This is important for their self-esteem and self-worth.
Support your loved one in continuing with everyday tasks such as:
- Walking the dog
Laying the table
You can use memory aids around the home to help your loved one remember where things are, such as putting labels on cupboards and drawers. You also might find that because dementia affects how someone communicates, that you have to change the way you interact with your loved ones, especially as the disease progresses.
Someone who is living with dementia might not realise they are thirsty, and so it can be easy for them to dehydrate quickly, leading to all sorts of health problems such as headaches, constipation and urinary tract infections. Not staying properly hydrated can also make them more confused, exacerbating the symptoms of dementia.
There can also be issues surrounding food such as forgetting what foods they like, not recognising certain foods or asking for strange food combinations. As symptoms worsen, a person with dementia might also refuse or spit out food. These issues can occur for a number of reasons such as mouth pain, confusion and problems with swallowing (dysphagia).
If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you can make meal times less stressful by encouraging your loves one to help prepare meals if they are able, and also by:
Offering food you know they like and in smaller portions
Setting slide enough time for meals so they don’t feel rushed
Preparing finger foods if cutlery is becoming difficult to use
Serve drinks in a glass or cup that is easy to hold
Another tip to remember if you are caring for someone with dementia is to make sure that they continue to have regular dental check-ups to help treat any causes of oral pain or discomfort that is affecting them eating.
Using The Toilet
For a person who needs care, urinary and bowel incontinence can be upsetting and embarrassing, and is often caused by things such as urinary tract infections, constipation that can put added pressure on the bladder, and some medications.
As symptoms get worse, someone who has dementia can forget that they need the toilet, or even where the toilet is. Dealing with helping someone use the toilet or with someone who is incontinent can sometimes be one of the most difficult things to deal with as a carer - especially if you are caring for a loved one. It’s important to be as understanding as possible, and to keep a sense of humour where appropriate.
Some tips that can help are:
Putting a sign on the toilet door
Making going to the toilet part of the daily routine
Keeping your loved ones as active as possible to help with regular bowel movements
Watching for signs that they might need the toilet, such as standing up and down or fidgeting
Keeping the toilet door open and the light on at night
It can also help to speak to your GP about referring you to a continence advisor who will be able to help you with things like waterproof bedding and incontinence pads.
Bathing And Washing
People living with dementia can often become quite anxious about personal hygiene and may worry about things like the bath water being too deep, falling, getting undressed in front of someone else, or the rushing sound of water from an overhead shower. Washing is something personal we do in private and so, if you are caring for someone with dementia, it’s important to be sensitive and respect their dignity.
Some things that will help make the process as stress-free and comfortable for your loved one include:
Ask your loved one how they would like to be helped. Perhaps they need to be helped into and out of the bath, but would like to be left alone to bathe, for example
Be reassuring if they are concerned about getting hurt
Use a bath seat or handheld shower
Label shampoos, soaps and shower gels to avoid confusion if they are washing themselves
Dementia can cause a person’s sleep patterns to become disturbed, and while this is an issue that may settle over time it can help to:
Provide a bedside clock that shows whether it is day or night as well as the time
Encourage them to cut out caffeine and alcohol in the evenings to aid a better night’s sleep
If possible, limit day time naps
Make sure your loved one’s bedroom is comfortable and has things like blackout blinds and a nightlight
Try and ensure that your loved one gets plenty of daylight and physical activity during the day
Caring For Yourself
Caring for someone who is living with dementia is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, so it’s important to remember that looking after your own health is just as important as looking after the health of your loved one - after all, if you aren’t looking after yourself, how can you be expected to care for someone else to the best of your ability?!
Speak to friends and family to see if they can help give you a break from time to time, even if it’s just for an hour so that you can have some time for self-care. If you’re on your own, other options include day centres or respite care, which can be provided either in your own home or in a care home.
Care In Kent offers a variety of services to help support those who are caring for someone who is elderly and vulnerable, including those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you would like to speak to someone about respite care, or other at-home support, get in touch with a member of our experienced and dedicated team. Contact us