Experiencing Dementia Firsthand
Did you know there are 47.5 million people around the world living with dementia? Of those, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of aging. Over 16 million people in the U.S. care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. While the caregiving journey can be rewarding, it is no secret that it can also be overwhelmingly challenging.
So what happens if a loved one develops some type of dementia? What are the early signs? How will it affect their (and your) everyday living? How should you act?
Currently, my mother and I care for my grandmother who has had progressing dementia for eight years. The early signs were forgetfulness, losing track of time, and becoming lost in familiar places or while driving. Other signs include changes in personality and mood, or difficulty understanding conversations. If you think a loved one is experiencing these signs, schedule an appointment with their physician to better understand the symptoms.
Living with an individual with dementia has not only educated me on the disease, but made me better appreciate the time I have with her. Live every day to the fullest and try to make it their best day. A smile goes a long way. Some simple steps I live by daily, although it may be difficult at times, are listed below.
- Always set a positive mood for interaction. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Never talk to them like a child; they’re adults.
- Do not argue with your loved one. Arguing with your loved one about a forgotten memory will only upset them and further frustrate you. Be willing to let most things go.
- Be patient. Express patience with them. Be patient in waiting for your loved one’s reply. If he or she is struggling for an answer, it’s okay to suggest words or simply say “we’ll come back to that.”
- Be realistic in your expectations for yourself and your loved one. Set realistic goals and learn to expect the unexpected. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations as your loved one struggles with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- Develop predictable routines and schedules. As the disease progresses it is more important than ever to have set routines and schedules. This can help to eliminate confusion and frustration for your loved one.
- Love them in the now. Although this may be tough, don’t try to change your loved one back into the person they once were. Take time to grieve and accept who they are today.
- Rely on family members and other loved ones when needed. After everything you have done to support your loved one with dementia, remember that you also need support for yourself as well. Make sure to have a support network.
- Give them independence when possible. As tempting as it may be to do everything for your loved one, it is important for them to do as many things as possible by himself or herself, even if you need to start the activity. Depending on the severity, children’s puzzles (50-100 pieces) can be a great exercise.
- Remember the good old days. Remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. They may not remember 45 minutes ago, but they can clearly recall their lives 45 years ago. Try to bring up stories from their childhood and actively be engaged.