At Sunshine Gardens, we understand the essence of dementia and the challenges it brings to families. Whether you have a loved one in our memory care facility, or you are simply looking for resources, we hope this article helps explain the impacts of dementia not only on memory impaired individuals, but their caregivers as well.
The Essence of Dementia
The dread of failure is every caregiver’s nightmare. Try to relax and observe your loved one closely. Learn as much as possible from him or her day-to-day. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember, every person living with dementia responds differently.
His or her personality will never totally vanish. If your father or mother were jokesters, you better stay on your toes! He or she might be planning the next caper after many years into their disease. Enjoy these moments and remind yourself hour-by-hour that your loved one may no longer have a concept of time or current reality at that certain moment.
Again, learn from these people. One of the reasons why I get so aggravated with the medical profession is that the vast majority of doctors and nurses refuse to listen to the caregivers or patients. You are the caregiver, the foreman more or less. You may be the responsible party, but always include your loved ones in their medical decisions. Incorporating them within these important conversations and choices, will help keep them at ease. Obviously, there are many reasons that you need to accompany them to that doctor’s appointment or medical emergency setting. Memory-impaired patients may not answer for themselves, safely. You might be the only one around who recognizes when they’re just playing a little tomfoolery or not completely understanding the questions.
Many will categorize a person with dementia as mentally encumbered. Well, my father struggled with the disease for over ten years and always maintained a sense of humor, regardless of all the depression that culprit of a disease rained down upon him. (Except for an earlier stage when the frustration became overwhelming, and his personality then turned on the offensive side; but this passed with time.)
One of the most challenging symptoms with most dementia-related diseases will be the changes in behaviors. Unfortunately, this characteristic can often be the deciding factor in a family’s decision to place their loved one in a residential care facility.
Poor behavioral symptoms of dementia patients can include a large group of side effects, such as: aggression, agitation, confusion, suspicion; that’s just to name a few. The sudden change in a patients’ demeanor can appear suddenly without any pre-warning or logical reason. A large percentage of such changes seem to develop from frustrations, growing anxiety and fear that can cause your loved one to act out in anger or burst out sobbing.
Trying to predict these mood swings is a difficult thing to master. Each situation is unique as it varies with which dementia-related diseases he or she is diagnosed with. One woman told me that the worst part of her day was usually the first part of the morning, caring for her Alzheimer’s stricken husband. Myself, I had more hardships with my father, and now my mother, during the late afternoon and evening hours, with me mother now experiencing Sundowner’s, otherwise known as Sundown Syndrome.
There is an abundance of Sundowning theories about what sets off these shifting behaviors. Among them can even be physical discomfort or poor environmental conditions. Whatever the cause, I believe that keeping to a daily routine will be the best preventive measure. Limit as many distractions as possible. Always speak slowly in a soft, calming tone. If patients begin to become agitated, try shifting their focuses to a fresh and relaxing activity such as listening to quiet music, taking a walk together, watching the sunset, and the/like. Redirection will become one of your best options. Learn when and how to use it.
If combativeness is involved, take a step back and draw in a couple of deep breaths. This will help you release any adrenalin building in your system so you may remain calm. If both of you become worked up, this is a battle no one will ever win.
Once you have yourself in the right state of mind, provide reassurance that they are safe. Promise that you will stay by their side and do whatever it takes to makes things better. Take away any unnecessary chatter, ask whoever else is in the room to leave until the situation is resolved.
If these plights start becoming more frequent and severe, talk to the physician. There are several medications which help control anxiety. This worked well for both of my parents.
Learn to be aware of the warning signs. Watch for restlessness, fidgeting or pacing. This may be a good time to ask if they would enjoy going for that walk I mentioned. Search for any safe outlet that will release the escalating energy. Things like asking if they would like to help you with the dishes will keep their hands and minds occupied and possibly assist you in avoiding any emotional explosions.
Remember—never, ever argue with them. It is not only pointless but will only, probably provoke your loved one further.
This is going to be a learning process for both of you. Do your homework!
Gary Joseph LeBlanc is the author of Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness, The Aftereffects of Caregiving, Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors, and coauthor of While I Still Can. He was a weekly columnist of “Common Sense Caregiving” published in the Tampa Tribune, Hernando Today, and many other health publications. He has had over 350 articles published in national newspapers on dementia care. He is now a national speaker on dementia caregiving. Learn more at www.commonsensecaregiving.com