Watching your parent decline from worsening dementia is heartbreaking. Alzheimer’s is one of about fifty varieties of dementia, and depending upon the type of dementia and the area of damage in the brain, you will see a variety of symptoms and changes.
Except for some major physical and behavioral markers, there is no way to predict how your loved one will suffer from this disease or how fast they will decline. Therefore, dementia care is an ongoing process of learning to provide the care needed which will help you cope and prevent burnout.
The rule of thumb is that short-term memories and those with little emotional relevance are the first to go: a phone call 15 minutes ago, where the clean clothes were put, how to work the new stove, remembering to take a bath. Long-term memories that do have an emotional component are retained the longest, but most times folks will need a prompting reminder.
If your loved one becomes anguished by their inability to recognize something they know they should remember, change the subject. People with dementia are easily distractible, and it’s best to do that with something you know will make them smile.
Get used to the fact that you will need to constantly remind your loved one of just about everything. Learning to accept this reality will reduce your irritation with them. Talk to your loved one calmly without barking orders, giving one piece of instruction at a time. Wait for the completion of that task before giving them the next instruction. Never give choices. They will always do better following your stepwise direction. It’s better to say, “Let’s go get you a shower,” than “Do you want a shower or a bath?”
Delusions and Hallucinations
A common theme is the accusation that someone is stealing from them. This usually happens because they can’t find what they are looking for or can’t remember what belongs to them. Many times they will believe they saw someone or something hiding near them. These situations will cause them to become distraught.
Always show them you are taking their concerns seriously. Let them see you search for what they think they have lost or think they have seen will calm them down and make it easier for you to distract and redirect them to another topic or activity.
Constant Pacing or Walking
Don’t try to stop them, rather find a safe place for them to continue this activity. Many times this behavior is self-calming. If you find this activity occurs at night, consider their lifetime sleep habits before trying to make them stay in bed.
Many times, physical problems can be the cause of unwanted behaviors. A headache, toothache or even or ingrown toenail are examples of painful situations that will be expressed as agitation. Look for telltale signs such as holding their hand to their head, putting fingers in their mouth, or kicking their shoe off.
Your body language and attitude is the most important tool. Keep your attitude positive and loving with a genuine smile. Keep background noise to a minimum, such as the TV or radio, when you are talking. They are so sensitive to loud sounds, it alone can cause unwanted behaviors.
Take your loved one to the bathroom on a schedule of every 2 hours which will prevent incontinence and the agitation associated with their discomfort and unrecognized need to void.
It is a distressing loss to watch your parent or spouse change into what seems like a different person, many times losing all connection with them by the end. The best dementia care means not trying to change the person, but rather provide a loving, safe and supportive environment.