Dementia is a mental disorder in which a person gradually suffers from loss of mental function as a result of certain brain diseases. Almost 50 million people suffer from dementia from all over the world while health organizations claim that the number will triple by 2050. The most common type of dementia in the world is Alzheimer. In United States, more than 60% of people (More than 5 and a half million) become victim of dementia because of Alzheimer. Other most common types of dementia are vascular dementia and lewy body dementia.
In all cases and types, the end result is often similar like loss of memory, judgment and loss of reasoning. It also causes anxiety, anger, behavioral changes, sadness and loss of muscle and weight. As loss of memory and resulting aggression is a common symptom, taking care of people suffering with dementia is often a very challenging task.
Even though, a small proportion of young people also suffers from dementia but most of the people get affected while growing old. In fact, the number of people suffering from dementia doubles with every 5 years of age bracket.
To provide better care for dementia patients, it is necessary to understand the disease which helps counter gradual changes in the behavior of patients. Even when there is no present cure of dementia conditions like Alzheimer, there are reported cases in which good care and help from families significantly delayed the more severe conditions of dementia.
Once dementia is diagnosed, it follows a downward trajectory that usually consists of three steps.
In the initial stage, which is also known as mild dementia, people begin to show difficulty in learning new things, remembering names and often fails to perform more complex tasks like operating a smart phone or driving. They also begin experiencing sadness, stress, anxiety and loss of interest in healthy activities and entertainment.
The second stage is moderate dementia in which senses are affected. The affected person suffers from loss of physical function, loss of judgment and more severe memory loss. At this stage, person also loss interest in proper diet, begins to wander and often uses inappropriate language and sentences that does not make any sense. At this time, challenges for care givers begin as they need to invest more time and energy.
In the third and last stage, person suffers from complete memory loss, difficulty in eating with no control over bowl and bladder. The mobility also becomes limited. At this stage, round-the-clock care is required that is why many people seek professional care givers to help them cope with the growing needs of patients. At this time, most patients also stop recognizing family members making it easier to introduce professional caregivers.
Caring for Dementia Patients
When taking care of people suffering with mild dementia is easy, the real challenge starts with moderate to severe dementia stages. At this time, care givers may have to deal with aggressive and in some cases, violent behavior of patients which is result of growing confusion, fear, sadness and anxiety.
Learning Basics of Care Giving
Listed are some basics of taking care of dementia patients.
No Aggression: First thing that care givers need to learn and understand is that whatever the dementia patients do, they are not doing it on purpose. Reacting with anger or aggression can only result in more violent behavior of patients in future.
No Argument: There is no point in explaining things to patients especially in the last stage. In simple words, no one can reason with dementia patients and can make them understand as they have lost their ability of learning and judgment. In fact, trying to reason with patients can result in adding confusion and triggering aggression.
Dos and Don’ts while Dealing with Aggressive Behavior
In many cases, a simple refusal of doing a routine task grows into violent speech or actions. While dealing with such situations, you need to understand that the violence committed by the patient is not on purpose.
Don’t: As aggression by patients often caused by fear, responding in harsh way can only worsen their condition. Don’t force the issue that is discomforting the patient or engage into an argument. Until you have no other option left, use of force can make the situation worse.
Dos: Instead, make sure to look for the cause of fear and try to provide them with the comfort zone that usually keeps them calm. Communicate in a reassuring but calm manner diverting their focus to something else.
Dos and Don’ts while Dealing with Confused Questions
Dementia patients often get confused about the time and place. They often want to be in a place or time when they were in more control or felt safest in their life.
Don’t: Long answers, reasons and explanations are not going to help. Instead, they will add to confusion and more questions. In some cases, lengthy reasons and arguments trigger violent behavior in patients.
Dos: Provide simple answers in reassuring and helping tone. Use photos and other reminders in the house. If the questions are insisting, it is better to redirect their attention to something else instead of trying to answer the questions again and again.
Dos and Don’ts while Dealing with Poor Judgment
Family members may have to face accusations from patients or actions that are result of cognitive problems and thinking errors. Alzheimer can cause people to have untrue beliefs, delusions and poor judgment.
Don’t: No matter how ugly it looks, never question the accusation or patient’s ability to handle particular situation. Letting him believe that he is in control can help otherwise the confusion can result in aggression or anger.
Dos: Help patients in keeping their stuff organized. Even when it looks difficult, accept the accusation and let him/her believe she is right and in control.
Tips that Can Help
Few simple tasks and small adjustments to your daily life can make life much easier of the care giver. Some helpful tips are listed below.
- Graded Assistance to Encourage independence. There are reported cases in which dementia patients maintained functional independence for a long period of time when independence is encouraged. The technique “Graded Assistance” is used to help patients accomplish their work without providing extensive help. Instead, verbal instructions, physical demonstrations and other means are used keeping least amount of physical assistance.
- Make Your Daily Routine more Smooth. Make things simpler for dementia patients by maintaining simple to follow routine in your home. Simple daily routine can help dementia patients to adapt quickly providing them independence to work alone.
- Simple and Direct Communication. Use of simple sentences, reassuring tone and loving gestures can make things simpler for you and patients.
- Limit Distractions. Make sure the patient is not distracted while eating or doing routine work. Provide calm and quiet environment that can help patient concentrate on eating or other similar tasks. Limit the number of baths as physical activity required for shower may make some patients aggressive or uncomfortable.
- Ensure Family Activities. Plan comfortable routine activities with patients that attract their interest. Engaging patients in healthy activities can help delay downward behavior trend. Just don’t push any activity in which the patient is not interested.
- Follow Consistent Bedtime. Make sure to keep the bed time consistent to develop the internal clock that works on its own. Provide peaceful environment with no noise.
Taking help from Professional Caregivers
In many cases, family members taking care of dementia patients often begin suffering with anxiety, stress and growing depression. As care givers have to sacrifice their social interactions, put more time and effort along with compounding grief of seeing loved ones in poor mental condition, they develop their own mental problems like depression.
This is why taking help from professional caregivers is often very important as they not only take good care of the patients but also conduct sessions with family members which help them understand their feelings. With professional advice, family members can develop strategies to deal with the growing stress while taking better care of loved ones.