How to successfully care for your aging parent with dementia
It has been projected that of the 35 million adults 65 years of age and older in the United States, there will be at least 140,000 older adults diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment. For many, it is a hard realization the parent who once cared for us, now has been diagnosed with “dementia”. Dementia is use to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses, in which brain cells shrink or disappear. It is a progressive decline in the ability to remember, to think, and to learn and make judgments.
As the disease affects different areas of the brain, different functions and abilities are lost. Each individual is uniquely affected and at widely varying rates of progression. As a result, there must be an individualized approach to the care of each individual.
There is no cure for dementia at this time and it is currently not possible to restore brain cells affected by the disease. However, there are treatments to help caregivers and the aging adult cope with the challenges they face. A patient with dementia can still experience love, joy and sadness. Effective and individualized care combined with emotional support can improve the quality and richness of a patient's life.
Many aging adults and family members want to age in their home or remain in familiar surroundings as long as possible. The benefits of remaining in familiar surroundings has been shown to allow the aging adult to have a better quality of life and reduce or avoid admission to an institutional setting.
The first step in this process is planning ahead. Involve your parents in as many aspects of the planning as possible. Work together to get organized. Address issues, such as durable power of attorney for health and finances. It is also important to put an Advanced Directive in place now. Five Wishes is a form of an Advanced Directive that is easy to use and a comprehensive approach to addressing end of life issues. Identify where the important legal and financial documents are kept and identify their professional advisors.
Review medical/health insurance and long term care policies. Be prepared should a crisis occur.
If your parent is uncommunicative, consult a legal or financial professional on your own to learn your options.
Assess the home environment and make the necessary changes to the home as the disease progresses. Safety is the ultimate concern. You may have to curtail activities that pose a safety risk, such as cooking, driving, operating machinery.
Educate yourself about resources in the community; talk to professionals early on, to learn what options, such as in-home support, adult day care, home visiting physicians, and behavioral specialists that are available in your area. Bring in a professional, such as a care manager or elder care consultant to assist you in maneuvering the health care delivery system and coordinating care.
If you are making the decision to care for your aging loved one with dementia at home, there are classes on how to approach the aging adult when they exhibit behaviors such as agitation, hoarding and disrobing. They will also teach you how to respond to those behaviors or even prevent such behaviors. Psycho education, includes teaching coping strategies and problem-solving skills to families, friends, and/or caregivers to help them deal more effectively with the aging adult with dementia.
Being proactive and taking the time to receive individualized, specific education and training on how to understand and manage disruptive and depressive behaviors before they occur, can decrease the stress level of the caregiver.
Find a support group either at work, through a local hospital, or on the Internet. Even listening can be enlightening and comforting.
Use the Internet to educate yourself about a particular condition or disease, and network with professionals and other caregivers on-line. Investigate online skill training. With outside support and understanding, the situation is can be greatly improved, and can allow for a better quality of life for everyone involved.
There are some significant steps needed to ease the stress on caregivers as well. One large part is to make sure that all siblings and family members are getting involved. They may not realize how much work is actually required and must be reminded that their help is needed.
If other siblings live far away, they can still participate in other ways, such as financially or providing support through phone calls. It is crucial for the caregiver to not feel alone or as if there is no one to fall back on.
It is important for the caregiver to take care of themselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Utilizing community services, such as adult day care, family counseling or individual counseling, and home care services can empower the caregiver to maintain a positive attitude, lead a healthier life and maintain social contacts to avoid isolation and decrease stress.