Because dementia is both devastating and unpredictable in its effects, caring for someone with the disease is extremely difficult without a plan. As a family caregiver, there are a number of things you can do to try to anticipate its course and help your loved one with dementia during the most difficult time in his or her life.
Each situation—the senior who is living with dementia, the family involved, the way the disease progresses, the resources available—will be unique. All you can do is create a dementia care plan that will help prepare you to react.
Start Sooner Rather Than Later
There are many forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common, and the approach to each varies. If you suspect your loved one has dementia, testing should be conducted sooner rather than later. This will allow you, your family, and your senior loved one to develop your dementia care plan under less challenging circumstances.
Some early signs of possible dementia include:
- Short-term memory challenges
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Mood changes
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks
- Failing sense of direction
- Frequently repeating the same questions or statement
- Difficulty following conversations
If your loved one is experiencing several dementia symptoms, please contact his or her doctor.
Mapping Out Your Dementia Care Plan
1. Obtain Healthcare Power of Attorney
If you are going to be the primary family caregiver, you or someone you and your senior trusts should be designated as the agent with healthcare power of attorney. With this authority, the agent is allowed to receive all medical care and treatment plan information and can authorize decisions concerning care in accordance with the previously expressed wishes of the senior. The senior must be cognitively capable of granting this authority. An agent with financial power of attorney should also be designated as well, to handle the senior’s financial assets.
2. Make a List of Concerns
List out the concerns and symptoms you have observed in your senior. These may include:
- Difficulty communicating
- Money management problems
- Medication management
- Safety issues (wandering, unsafe use of appliances, unsafe driving, etc.)
- Sleep difficulties
- Neglect of hygiene
Note any changes that occur over time.
3. Strategies for Care
As a caregiver, your responsibility will include making adjustments to the daily plan. Some planning and relationship recommendations include:
- Aim for activities that are not too easy or too hard, so as not to bore or insult your senior loved one
- Don’t challenge or argue with your senior
- Take mistakes your senior makes (if they are not harmful) in stride
- Establish a routine of household chores that you can perform together
- Set up recreational activities—games, reviewing photo albums, playing music, etc.
- Do home maintenance projects together
- Try arts and crafts
4. Make a Daily List
Compose a list of activities to complete each day, and allow your loved one to do whatever they are capable of doing without frustrating or angering him or her. You may organize it chronologically into what you will be doing in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
5. Keep a Record
Write down what you observe, so that you can share this information with your senior’s physician, or any home health personnel who may be assisting you.
It is also advisable to keep a list of phone numbers and other contact information for your loved one’s health care professionals, as well as family members and emergency services numbers. In addition, keep a list of all current medications and who prescribed them.
6. Employ Communications Strategies
These communication strategies may include changing the topic of conversation without questioning what the senior said or wants to do. You may find continuing challenges when communicating with your senior, especially as the disease progresses.
The Alzheimer’s Society provides a list of tips for communicating with someone that has dementia.
7. Build a Support System
Reach out to family members and friends for help. This is important because a family caregiver’s care plan should include ways for the caregiver to care for his or her own health.
When they ask what you need, have a list of choices prepared. For example:
- Grocery shopping
- Taking the loved one to a medical appointment.
Even having someone sit with your loved one while you take a walk or run some errands can help you recharge.
You may also want to augment care by using home health services. Consult with a care coordinator. These professionals can supply a wealth of information about the support and care your senior needs and will need in the future.
Prepare for Professional Care
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, your loved one may require around-the-clock assistance and daily care in the later stages of dementia. He or she may lose awareness of recent experiences as well as their surroundings, and have difficulty walking, sitting, and even swallowing. Communication will become extremely difficult, and he or she will be more vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.
As the family caregiver, though your heart may want you to stay, your mind and body will eventually be telling you that you can no longer provide the care and support your loved one needs.
A Care Management Team
Care management teams like the one at Bethesda can help family caregivers by performing the following:
- Evaluate the senior’s needs
- Develop a customized plan of care
- Determine possible eligibility for assistance programs
- Provide guidance in planning for future healthcare needs, as well as those that might be required in the future
- Discuss advance directives, power of attorney, long-term care policies, and other important documents
- Facilitate family meetings
Care coordinators within the team provide answers to questions involving senior care and services. Care management can also make personal care assistants available to help support you and your senior, and the team can provide respite care when you need time away to refresh yourself.
As your loved ones age, Bethesda is here for support. Contact us today to learn how our Care Management program can help you plan and prepare for the future.