How Can I Care for a Family Member with Dementia?

What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive cognitive compromise that gradually deteriorates the patient functionally. It is divided into several stages:

Mild stage: there are cognitive changes that can be initially classified as normal and associated with age, the onset is gradual, so it is not easy to specify the time at which it begins in all patients.

What appears initially is a deterioration in recent memory, temporary disorientation, diminished initiative and motivation, commitment to language due to a decrease in the number of words, difficulty in making decisions, depressive symptoms and irritability.

Moderate stage: memory commitment is more severe compromising daily issues (for example, not recalling if they ate) and the names of people and objects, and daily activities.

Severe stage: the patient has greater difficulty in carrying out activities, compromising the basic ones such as eating, recognising family and friends, being inside the house, incontinence, difficulty in walking and inadequate behaviour.

How can I care for a family member with dementia?

The care of a patient with dementia is not easy, in addition to cognitive and functional commitment, the disease generates behavioural changes that make coexistence a challenge for the family. It is usual that the responsibility for care rests with only one person and this complicates the picture, since it affects the caregiver socially and emotionally and, on the other hand, the patient, because a depressed or anxious caregiver will have more negative emotional responses with the patient, which will produce less favourable outcomes.

There are guidelines for the care and management of this type of patient that help to improve coexistence and give the patient a better quality of life, which include:

  • Routine maintenance
  • Maintain independence
  • Take advantage of the person’s abilities
  • Avoid discussions
  • Simplify tasks
  • Take security measures
  • Stimulate physical health
  • Maintain communication
  • Use memory aids

What should I watch out for with a dementia patient?

Monitor behavioural alterations and psychiatric symptoms:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Repetitive behaviour
  • Attachment (greater than historically known)
  • Loss of objects
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior (undressing in public, fondling or touching another person)
  • Ambulation
  • Violence and aggression

What about me as the caregiver?

The main caregiver is the person who assumes responsibility for the daily care of the patient; they are the one who accompanies the patient most of the time. Symptoms of caregiver overload:

  • Emotional: anxiety, depression, irritability, guilt, hypochondria, among others
  • Somatic symptoms: insomnia, hyporexia, tachycardia, pain, dizziness, gastritis, fatigue, hair loss.

Help for the caregiver

  • Family: accepting (and demanding) help from other family members, one person should not carry the burden.
  • Share problems: with other family members or family support groups. And keep in mind who to go to in an emergency.
  • Have time for you: share with other people, dedicate yourself to them. It is not healthy to focus solely on the patient and forget yourself, this can make you sick and cause greater difficulties in the long run.
  • Seek advice: group meetings or professional support when required.
  • Caregiver self-care: stay physically and emotionally well.

It’s not always necessary to take on the entire burden of care for a dementia sufferer, as hiring professional caregivers to provide dementia care at home allows you to be involved in caring for your loved one without the risks and stress involved in being solely responsible for their welfare.

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