Being a primary caregiver for an individual with dementia or Alzheimer's can be difficult work. Many caregivers often feel overwhelmed, or frustrated because their own life has been put on hold to care for their loved one. However, with some simple tips, caregivers can stay healthy, maintain good self-esteem and seek help and support when they need it.
“In a survey of over 800 caregivers 48% noted their biggest daily challenge was finding enough time for themselves” (www.strengthforcaring.com)
Eat properly and regularly
Keep healthy foods and snacks on hand. Drink plenty of water. Freeze extra food for quick meals. Designate specific nights of the week where others provide a meal for your loved one.
Exercise a little every day
Take a short walk, change your scenery and get some fresh air. If not possible, use a treadmill, and/or do exercises indoors.
Get adequate restful sleep
Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night even though it may be interrupted. Rest when your care recipient sleeps.Postpone houseworkand nap when necessary.
Schedule time out for yourself everyday
Use relaxation or stress management techniques such as meditation and yoga. Write in a journal. Read an inspirational book. Find and schedule dementia respite care so you can take a break and nurture yourself.
Pay attention to your feelings and emotions
Seek support from friends and family, join a support group, get counseling if necessary and do not be hesitant to ask for help.
Attend church, synagogue or other spiritual gathering place. Listen to inspirational programs, books on tape, sermons and messages. Pray for patience, guidance and wisdom.
Stay active with friends and family
When it is hard to get out, invite people over. Enjoy the company of others and encourage them to take an active interest in both you and your loved ones life.
Subscribe to supportive magazines and websites
Read articles related to Caregiving
‘Today’s Caregiver’, ‘Caring Today’ and www.caregiver.org can be a good source of information. Ask others for suggestions on good books and poems.
Tap into community and national resources for support
The Family Caregiver Alliance and The National Family Caregiver’s Association are good starting places.
Ask for help
Usually others want to help but must be told what to do. Let them pick up a prescription and/or sit with your care recipient while you exercise, grab a quick nap, participate in a hobby or attend a support group meeting. Remember no one is perfect and asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
*Tips adapted from author LeAnn Thieman and Family Caregiver Alliance (2004). Ten Real Life Strategies for Dementia Caregiving. Found at www.caregiver.org and www.LeAnnThieman.com.
Dementia can impact your loved one’s ability to communicate. Over time, their ability to understand directions or clearly express his or her thoughts and feelings may decrease. This can be frustrating for both you and them. For this reason, you may need to use some strategies and make changes to your interactions in order to have communication be a more successful and positive experience.
"Remember, people with dementia often react more to our feelings than our words,”
(Family Caregiver Alliance, 2003).
Set a positive mood
Your body language and mood may convey more meaning than your words --- so be positive and show feelings of affection.
Get the person’s attention
Use the person’s name to gain his or her attention, and change the environment to limit distractions as much as possible (For example, move to a quiet room).
Use clear, simple language
Keep language simple, slow, and distinct using a lower pitch. If repetition is needed, first keep your wording the same. If the individual still does not understand, wait a few minutes and then rephrase.
Keep questions simple
Simple Yes/No questions are better to use than open-ended ones. Use visual cues if needed and only ask one question at a time.
Listen with your ears, eyes and heart
Patience is important. Wait for a reply and help the individual find words if he or she is struggling. Be aware of what your loved one’s body language is saying.
Break down activities into simple steps
Too much information may be confusing for your loved one. Simplify whenever possible and use visuals. Make activities and directions easier to follow, and remind the individual of the steps.
Distract and redirect when needed
Change the subject or situation if your loved one becomes upset. Validate the individual’s feelings before redirecting him or her. For example say, “I’m sorry you’re upset.”
Provide comfort and reassurance
When your loved one appears confused or anxious try to provide comfort. If they are confused with reality, provide support rather than by trying to convince the individual he or she is wrong. A hug or gentle touch may be helpful.
Remember good memories from the past
Distant memories are often easier for a person with dementia to recall than recent ones. Rather than asking the individual what he or she had for lunch, instead ask a general question about the distant past.
Keep your humor
Social skills are often maintained in those with dementia. Use humor and provide opportunities to laugh together, as long as it’s not at your loved one’s expense.
*Tips adapted from Family Caregiver Alliance (2004). Fact Sheet:Caregiver's Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors. Found at www.caregiver.org.