As the population grows older and healthcare costs rise, family members are taking on bigger caregiving responsibilities. In the United States alone, a little over one in five people have acted as informal caregivers within the past 12 months (2020, AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving).
As a patient’s dementia progresses, they will experience a decline in their physical and mental abilities. This can lead to an inability to communicate, a reduction in mobility, and overall decrease in their quality of life. When these changes become too severe, hospice care is often suggested. Hospice care is designed to make the patient as comfortable as possible, providing palliative care for the patient’s remaining days.
It can be difficult to figure out the right time to transition a dementia patient to assisted living. While assisted living will not be the right choice for everyone, it can be beneficial for some patients and offer caregivers respite and support.
Many of us make it a goal to directly support our parents, grandparents, and other elderly loved ones for as long as possible. However, for some families, the time will come when they decide that they need to move their loved one with dementia to a living facility (also known as a nursing home or assisted living facility).
A hospital visit can be an incredibly stressful endeavor for a person with dementia. Depending on the stage of dementia, new, loud, and bright environments can be disorienting and confusing for your loved one. Hospital staff are not usually able to spend ample time with each patient, and while your loved one is getting treated for their hospitalization, their dementia symptoms could worsen with the stress.
As dementia is a condition that affects the brain, people diagnosed with it are liable to experience paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions during the course of their illness. These conditions cause the patient to see, hear, and imagine things that are not based in reality. This can cause immense confusion, anxiety, frustration, and even fear for your patient. As their caregiver, you want to do your best to comfort and soothe them.
No matter how great of a caregiver you are for your loved one with dementia, there will be times when you’ll need to take a break. For shorter periods of time, this could look like a close relative or friend stopping by while you go shopping or exercise. For those days you may need several hours or even a full workday, adult daycare is an option.
You may notice your dementia patient has begun repeating the same stories or activities frequently. They may even undo an activity or chore they’ve recently finished because they are unaware of their surroundings, or have forgotten that they’ve just completed it. Individuals with dementia tend to do this because they are looking for security, familiarity, and comfort. Another term for this phenomenon is known as “Dementia Looping”.
Irritability and agitation may become frequent occurrences as a patient’s dementia progresses. There are many common signs associated with irritability, usually stemming from a need not being met. These signs can range from hostile speech to physical restlessness. The first step in these instances is to identify the cause of the irritability, and then work to address it. It can also be helpful to take notes of their irritable behaviors and what solved it, so you can track if there are specific repeat behaviors that indicate a certain need.
In the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday season, it can be easy to accidentally exclude your loved one in the chaos of planning and celebrating with family. Loud and bright decorations, changes in environment, and a wave of new faces can overwhelm and disorient your loved one. On the flip side, secluding them from holiday festivities can make both of you feel disconnected and depressed.
Wandering is a common symptom of dementia patients, often caused by your loved one looking for someone or something they have lost (or think they have lost). It may also be the result of a distressing emotional state, such as agitation or anxiety — which can be caused by external factors or the dementia itself.
Gradually, a person diagnosed with dementia may show signs of troubling, unusual, and unpredictable behavior. For example, a person with dementia may become excessively anxious around people they don’t recognize or in situations that are stray from their established routines. This may gradually result in them socially withdrawing or becoming angry and aggressive.