Top Ten Recommendations for Caregivers of Those with Dementia
I am sometimes asked what degrees I have relating to medicine and healthcare, since I speak at conferences to healthcare professionals about dementia. I always say seriously, "Well, I have an advanced degree that was so hard to complete and took five full years to get - a D.Le."
After the blank stare, I giggle and say, "I like to say I have a: Doctorate of Life Experience!" After the nodding laughter, I frequently hear, "Oh yeah, I'm starting to work on that one myself! After twenty-five years in healthcare, I thought I understood how difficult it is to care for someone with dementia, but now that my own parents are showing signs - I really get it!"
I have noticed that more and more healthcare professionals are also becoming caregivers for their own aging loved ones-and struggling just like everyone else. I even had a Geriatrician (an MD with specialty in Geriatrics) with twenty years of experience say as she was buying my book, "I've written four books, but my own mother won't read them or listen to anything I say. I'm hoping she'll read your book and finally realize she's starting to get dementia-I don't know what to do!"
Hummm, I decided it might be helpful to make a Top Ten List of the key points I wish I knew when I was starting my caregiving journey with my parents. Let us know your ideas!
1. Look into Long-Term Care Insurance while everyone is still healthy and before a diagnosis of any type of dementia.
2. Have "the talk" with your elders about their end-of-life wishes and get everything in writing. Consult an Elder Law Attorney to get Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial and Health, as well as Advance Directives, prior to any diagnosis of dementia.
3. Realize that when your loved one does something that strikes you as illogical or irrational-it is! Call the Alzheimer's Association immediately (800-272-3900, specialists in all forms of dementia) and ask for a referral to a geriatric dementia specialist.
4. If dementia is diagnosed, find out what type it is, as there are many. Ask the doctor about the medications: Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Memantine, which can slow/mask some symptoms. Make sure vitamin B-12, folate, thyroid and depression are checked-all of which can cause dementia-like symptoms. Optimize nutrition and fluid consumption.
5. Often people with dementia are helped by an anti-depressant, so consult with the doctor about it, as it can help smooth out irregular moods.
6. When demented episodes surface and illogical and irrational things are being said, realize your loved one may be trying to work through unresolved issues of a lifetime. Don't use logic or reason and don't argue the facts. Instead-validate feelings and live in their reality of the moment, which may help to bring some degree of closure to past experiences.
7. When your loved one gets stuck doing or saying something over and over-use calm, non-threatening body language, and then distract and redirect them to something pleasant that they have an interest in. Capitalize on their long-term memory and talk about pleasant memories of the past.
8. Enroll your loved one in Adult Day Health Care, with professionals trained to manage dementia patients. This helps to maintain a daily routine and keeps loved ones busy during the day so sun-downing is reduced and everyone sleeps better at night.
9. Call your Area Agency on Aging and the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) for resources. Attend a support group regularly.
10. Strive to shift your perspective to being grateful for the lessons you are learning, even though they are hard. Celebrate the life that is left and stop focusing on the dying. You are required to make sure your loved ones are safe, that they have excellent doctors and the right medications, but you are not required to let caregiving destroy your life-nor would they want that for you.
You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.