According to a 2022 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 6.5 million people in the United States living with some stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Among people aged 65 and older, more than 10% of them have Alzheimer’s, or another type of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, or one or more other types of dementia in various combinations. For people with dementia, they may choose to move to a dedicated memory care facility as their needs for care increase with their capacities diminishing. But just as adults who do not suffer from a diagnosis of dementia, for the most part they prefer to remain in their own homes as long as they can, surrounded by familiar settings and alongside their established support systems
But like any form of elder living, this requires support. Most often, care is provided by spouses, adult children, or other family and friends. In fact, today there are at least 11 million people providing care to elderly adults suffering from dementia. They help with crucial tasks and self-care, such as bathing, dressing, and sanitary tasks like using the toilet. They pay the bills for their loved ones and handle other important paperwork, coordinate medical care, and provide emotional labor in the form of keeping their loved one’s spirits up. They help to keep depression at bay, and cope with the various and unexpected personality and behavior changes that can sometimes be caused by the later stages of the disease.
For family caregivers providing help to loved ones living with dementia, there are certain things that are helpful to know.
- Learning as much as you can about your loved one’s condition will help the adjustment. It’s important to know that any sudden and unexpected changes in your loved one’s personality, demeanor, and behavior are often caused by the disease. For example, things such as wandering, aggression, confusion, anxiety, and sleep problems are all usually developed as a result of the dementia, not in response to anything you’ve done. By recognizing this, and adapting the way you spend time with your loved one, you can help cope with and manage those changes. You can also always seek guidance from your loved one’s healthcare provider.
- People with dementia need mental stimulation. Countless studies have shown that mental stimulation lessens the symptoms, and can even slow the progression of memory loss and other stages of the disease. Find activities your loved one enjoys, and adapt them as needed for their new capabilities, as well as find new ones. Dementia friendly programs are available in most communities, and even things as simple as listening to music, thumbing through a photo album, or doing housework can be pleasant and fruitful ways to spend time.
- Remain physically active. Exercise is important at all stages of life, but for seniors suffering from dementia, even more so. Activities like walking, simple dancing or low stress workouts can be safe and appropriate for dementia patients. Household tasks and activities like gardening also provide physical exercise.