Caring for someone who has dementia can be extremely challenging. An estimated 47 million people around the world are affected by dementia, which is generally defined as a deterioration of cognitive ability. It can be manifested in a variety of ways, and will have long-term impacts on a person’s quality of life (as well as their family’s). One of the most common dementias is Alzheimer’s disease, which you can learn more about here. As the Baby Boomers continue to age, we can expect to see more and more cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s. These diseases are unique in that they impact primary caretakers and family members almost as much as the patient themselves; it is incredibly difficult to watch a loved one slowly lose mental faculty. While there is not a cure for these progressive diseases, there are ways to mitigate their effects and enhance quality of life for those living with dementia. Let’s take a look!
Borrow concepts from communities made specifically for those with dementia
Did you know that there are communities in the Netherlands built specifically for seniors with dementia? It’s a fascinating concept, and not unlike the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show.” In a place called Hogeweyk, a mini-community has been established with residential space, a grocery, a bar, restaurant, parks, walkways, and more. All of the residents have been diagnosed with severe cases of dementia, and all of the “employees” are also medical personnel. According to this site, “Residents within each house have their own large bedroom and then meet with other residents to share the living room, kitchen and dining room. There are no locks on the doors and residents are free to mix and walk or cycle around within the village, including choosing to visit the supermarket or cafe, just as they would in the real world.”
So what is the benefit of this, and what can primary caretakers borrow from this concept? The residents at Hogeweyk require less medication and generally lead more active, healthy lives. Even if you can’t fully replicate Hogeweyk, caretakers can make a conscious effort to integrate daily tasks and routines for those suffering with dementia. For instance, make a weekly shopping trip together, or set the table together for each meal. These are simple tasks that can make a big difference in someone’s quality of life.
Using music therapy for those with dementia
There is something primal about music - virtually every culture throughout time (including our own!) has a vibrant history of instrumentation, beats, and movement. So it’s not surprising that music can have a very positive effect on those living with dementia. Here are some different ways for primary caretakers to incorporate music therapy into the lives of their loved ones:
- Use music to evoke memory and help with recall. For instance, play your mother’s wedding song to help her remember her husband, or sing popular songs from when she was a child. Clap along, or encourage her to sing with you. This can help bring back memories, with the added benefit of meaningful interaction.
- Use music to help de-escalate a situation. Dementia can be disorienting, frustrating, and confusing...especially during times of lucidity when a person realizes that their cognitive function is declining. When a situation gets overwhelming, music can be a great resource to help calm someone down and provide comfort.
Remember what it was like to raise a child
A common occurrence for those with dementia is that a person loses skills in the reverse order that they initially learned them. For instance, a child will generally learn to talk, then becomes potty trained, and then gains greater skills like tying shoelaces and buttoning pants. Later in life, a person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s may first lose the ability to dress themselves, then become incontinent, and eventually lose the ability to speak. So here is a valuable tip for caretakers: if a loved one is upset and not able to verbalize or communicate why, think back to what it was like raising a child. Perhaps they are hungry, constipated, tired, confused, or perhaps their shoes are on too tight. Run a mental checklist to help discern why a person would be upset, and you’ll be better prepared to provide excellent care.
Exercise for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s
Depending on how far these diseases have progressed, it may still be possible for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to benefit from cardiovascular exercises. This can include anything from walking to gardening to swimming or dancing; they all increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Exercise has also been shown to improve mood and health, and is a great way to get outside and reap the benefits of nature. Of note, dementia can impair a person’s balance and visual perception, so it’s important to engage in activities that don’t present a serious fall risk. Caretakers can incorporate exercise into a daily routine for their clients or family members, and even participate themselves to create a socially (as well as physically) beneficial environment.
Caretakers: take care of yourselves, too!
Being the primary caretaker for someone else is at once rewarding, tiring, fulfilling, and sometimes stressful. All of these emotions can be magnified when working with someone whose cognitive faculties are declining, or who may not be able to communicate well. You will be a much better caretaker for someone if your gas tank is full. Check out this article about ten different ways to take care of yourself to ensure that you can provide the best care possible.
There are a lot of resources for caregivers working with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients; the tips we discussed above can go a long way towards helping elderly loved ones with declining cognitive function. You may also find this article interesting: 3 Phrases to Avoid when a loved one has dementia. For other articles that are useful for primary caretakers, please visit our blog, or contact us today to see how Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses can assist your family members with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.