Community Blog

5 Ways to Cope With Caring for Loved Ones With Dementia

By Doug Feltman

Caring for our elderly family members who suffer from dementia is one of the most difficult challenges we’ll ever face.  Research shows that caring for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is so stressful that caregivers are at increased risk for a litany of emotional and physical illnesses.  Fortunately, there are steps we can take to relieve some of that stress so we can remain healthy and provide the best possible care to our loved ones.

  1. Take care of yourself. Physical illness among caregivers for dementia patients is often due to exhaustion and poor nutrition.  Feelings of hopelessness and isolation make depression extremely common, as well.  Make time for adequate sleep, exercise, recreation, and socializing. Staying healthy mentally and physically will make us the most capable and effective caregivers. Although your parent may think that you are indispensable, consider respites by hiring some competent caregivers to give you a break.

 

  1. Blame the disease, not the patient. Behavior of dementia patients can be disruptive, inappropriate, embarrassing, and even aggressive.  Remember that the challenging behaviors of loved ones with dementia are symptoms of the disease, not the fault of the patient.

 

  1. Focus on why. Behaviors that may seem unpredictable in dementia patients are often triggered by environmental or physiological factors.  Noise, fatigue, and hunger are just a few common triggers.  Being mindful of environments our loved ones find stressful and keeping them on a regular schedule can prevent many undesirable behaviors before they start.  To relieve anxiety, one of our clients now has a robot cat that purrs when stroked and allows our client to feel that she really has a pet and a “buddy”

 

  1. Pick your battles. Simply because a behavior is odd or embarrassing doesn’t mean we should try to curtail it.  If a behavior isn’t truly harmful, it may be best to allow it.  Giving our loved ones freedom to make choices, even if those choices seem strange or inappropriate, reduces our own stress and can give them a sense of control that may even prevent other, far more undesirable behaviors from emerging.

 

  1. Use your resources. Being informed and supported enables us to provide the best possible care to our loved ones.  Dementia information websites, online discussion forums, and caregiver support groups are great resources for education and support.

When a family member has dementia it’s all too easy to focus completely on their needs and forget about our own.  As closely as we monitor and tend to them, we also need to take stock of our own physical and emotional health and perhaps implement a few of the steps above to reduce our stress.  Feeling healthy, confident, and supported in our caregiving efforts will help us to provide the compassionate care our loved ones need.