This week, we have a guest post from one of our readers, Annabelle Short. Anna is a caregiver to her mom who is living with dementia and she has some valuable advice on coping strategies for dementia caregivers.
Sometimes, the decision of becoming a caregiver is not entirely up to you. Unexpected life events might lead you to start taking care of a loved one, and suddenly you realize you have a new career commitment: to care for someone else. This was precisely what happened to me when I had to start taking care of my mom.
My mom suffers from dementia, which is a ruthless disease; it changes completely the people you love, leaving them in a state almost impossible to recognize. My mom has always been an independent woman. She took care of my father until he passed away and she kept active for as long as she could; but there came a time when she was the one who needed care and supervision. Honestly, I was not prepared for it. We struggled a lot in the beginning, but I believe we have found the right pace now, and I would like to share a few coping strategies I have learned.
Tip 1: Keep a Routine
I have tried to keep her routine as best as possible. Everything she used to do in past years, such as drinking her morning coffee, taking a short walk and shower time. We might change the schedule a little bit when visiting doctors or preparing for health exams. Routine is reassuring for most people who require special assistance; it keeps them calm and self-confident by knowing how their day will be.
I also encourage my mom to do the most she can by herself. It is frustrating for someone who has been used to do everything by themselves to suddenly depend on someone else, even if that someone loves them very much. So, even when I notice she is struggling with a simple task, I fight hard the urge of stepping in and doing it for her.
Tip 2: Protect the house
It is usual for seniors to lose some motor skills and balance, especially those with cognitive impairment. It is crucial to prevent injuries and accidents that can happen within the house. We have installed some grab bars in critical zones, such as the shower. I got rid of all her slippery rugs (which she still mad at me for) and fixed some loose stones and tiles on the patio. Even though I do all the cooking at home, and we have an electric kettle for the tea, my mom likes to turn on the stove for some reason. So, I have installed a device that turns off the oven or stove automatically.
My mom also has several bookshelves, so I have asked a friend to help me secure them to the walls for safety reasons. I try to keep everything within her reach to avoid her trying to climb, but sometimes it is difficult. I am still considering removing them and finding a new place for her books and other things.
Tip 3: Learn how to interpret behavior
My mom is usually calm; on rare occasions does she exhibit undesirable behavior. But as we have been together for some time now, I already know what triggers her bad mood. Most of the time it is because she doesn’t want to go to the doctor; or I have changed something around the house she didn’t like (like removing her rugs). Sometimes it’s because she is bored, or she has some pain. In the beginning, when she was still trying some new prescription medications, she also had some drastic mood swings. I communicated to her doctor about it, and luckily, he was able to change it.
My suggestion is to understand the root of any unusual behavior. Sometimes the person you take care of can’t express what they are feeling with words, so it is up to you to decipher. Try checking to see if the person might be hungry, tired, in pain, frustrated, or so on. Unfortunately, dementia is a degenerative disease, and chances are the person will be less and less capable of communicating properly over time.
Tip 4: Enjoy your time together
Through ups and downs, you can try to make the best of your time together. My mom is still lucid most of the time, and it is a blessing for now. We enjoy our teatime, watching some TV together, and listening to her favorite songs. It is not always easy to listen to her tell over and over the same past stories, but I try to encourage her to remember everything she can. Some days she spends hours going through our photo albums, simply remembering when she was young, when she met my father and so on. She still remembers most of our family, so it is another weekly thing we practice.
Tip 5: Technology could help you care for your loved one
My mom can still be left for a few hours by herself, but I used to be terrified if something happened and I wouldn’t know in time. That’s why I decided to invest in an alert system at home. This system allows her to request help with just the press of a button. The package I chose includes a 24/7 monitoring center that will respond to her call. In case your loved one is unable to speak, the responder will call home first, and then the contacts listed on the profile.
There are several different packages available which might bring some extra peace of mind, some include GPS and fall detection. You can just choose according to your needs and budget available.
Aside from medical alert system, I have also invested in medication reminders and smart home system. With the advent of recent technologies has come some relief from much of the difficulty that comes with at-home caregiving.
Taking care of someone with dementia can be overwhelming and exhaustive. No one is “born ready” for the job, and unless you have studied to be a professional caregiver, chances are you will learn as you go. So, read about the disease as much as you can, and seek support and knowledge through local communities related to dementia. Also, take advantage of what technology can bring, and invest in equipment that could offer a better life quality for yourself and loved one.
About the author: Anna Short is a professional seamstress based in NYC. She’s a primary caregiver for her mother with dementia. When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. Annabelle is a mother of two and she likes to make crafty projects in her free time. www.homesecurityheroes.com