An Educated Caregiver Is a Better Caregiver

  • Caregiving can be tough work. Caring for a person with Alzheimer's or a similar dementia, particularly in the later stages, can be particularly tough work. I often write about caregivers taking a break and about realizing that we, as caregivers, will never be perfect.


    The flip side of that, however, is that caregiver's behavior can bring out the worst in a care receiver. Therefore, not only is it good for the caregiver to get breaks in order to be a better caregiver, it's important for a caregiver to get educated about caregiving, especially when dementia is part of the issue.


    One of the most common frustrations with Alzheimer's care seems to be that people with Alzheimer's often fight bathing. Okay. How do you, the caregiver, react when your loved one fights over a bath? Do you start off in a soothing manner, but then out of frustration, lose it? Well, if it's happened, forgive yourself. But then learn more about what may have caused this battle.

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    People with Alzheimer's can be very frightened of running water, especially if it's coming down on their heads. Why wouldn't they? They don't understand what's going on.


    Or, maybe the bathroom isn't warm enough, or the water temperature is uncomfortable. Maybe this person has memories of being forced to bathe when he or she was a child who physically fought a parent trying to plunk them into a bath. You may not know this, and they certainly can't tell you, but could this be an issue?


    I've read terrific advice from many readers - use a soothing voice, quiet music, warm room, tell the person softly about each thing you are doing to them - it's all good. Sometimes, however, you may to back off and just give them a sponge bath and clean clothes. Sometimes you are lucky if you can do that.


    This is a good time to contact your local Alzheimer's organization and ask if they have someone who can come out to the home and help you learn to do the bathing routine better. Or perhaps this is a time when you should hire an in-home agency, after specifically asking if they have people trained to help bathe a person with dementia.


    My mother-in-law hated to be given a bath. She couldn't do it herself and she wouldn't let me help her. I knew that she was a very, very modest person. I figured out that, to her, having a family member bathe her was unthinkable. I found that hiring an agency worker to bathe her helped, as this person was more like a nurse and she was taught to do what medical people said, so she grudgingly allowed the baths. Somehow, for her, it was better with a stranger. The opposite was true with my mother. With her, it was fine to have me help. Everyone is different.


    I'm writing a lot about baths here, just as an example, but in all caregiving we have to remember that our facial expressions, body language and tone of voice can convey our true feelings, no matter what words we are using. If we are frustrated, our frustration will most likely show. And negative body language may only make matters worse.


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    Reaching out for help from a care agency or from your local Alzheimer's organization, checking out the posts on sites like HealthCentral's OurAlzheimer's and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, at, can give you lots of information.


    Get help so you can have time to yourself. Get educated about caregiving issues you may have not thought about before. Is your body language showing anger? Maybe that is part of what is agitating your loved one. You have a right to your frustration and even your anger, but when you feel upset, it's better to find someone else to take over so you can take a breather.


    Yes, I know , it often it seems impossible to get any help. But do try. Log on to your state's Web site and look under aging services. There you will find your state's version of the Family Caregiver Support Program. You'll get support through that program, and you should be able to get training and education. A support group can also help, because you can blow off steam.


    If you find you are having battles with your care receiver, try one or all of these routes to a better caregiving experience for both of you. Whether the battle is over bathing, food or going to bed, fighting with someone with Alzheimer's isn't going to help anyone. You are a human being in need of solutions. There are groups out there who want to help. Pick up the phone or go online. You'll likely find some friendly advice and education about some of those troublesome issues that make your job so much harder.


    You also may want to join the Alzheimer's Foundation of America telephone support network call, "Care Connection,"  Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Dial toll-free (877) 232-2992 and, when prompted, enter the Guest ID: 271004#.  For schedules and further details on Care Connection, call the AFA or visit the Web site


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Published On: January 24, 2010