Dementia refers to a group of diseases that cause abnormal changes in the brain, which can result in a loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to impact one’s daily life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, signs of dementia can look different for each person. However, many individuals with dementia display common symptoms such as problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments and traveling out of the neighborhood.
At some point, people with dementia will require additional support with activities of daily living, such as bathing, getting dressed and preparing meals. In fact, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, and other related dementias are receiving care in their homes. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a caregiver is a person who tends to the needs or concerns of a person with short- or long-term limitations due to illness, injury or disability. For those with dementia, the role of a caregiver can change as the disease progresses and the individual with dementia cognitively declines.
Role of the Caregiver
There are three main stages of dementia—early, middle, and late. During the stages of dementia an individual’s needs may change and require more assistance from their caregiver. Here is what caregivers can expect as their loved one moves through the stages of the disease.
Caregiving in Early-Stage Dementia
During the first phase of dementia, an individual will most likely be able to function independently and continue on with their daily activities such as driving, working, completing at-home tasks and maintaining their social life. Those caring for an individual in the early stages of dementia should prioritize maximizing independence for their loved one. The person living with dementia may need cues and reminders to help with their memory, but it’s important to focus on the person’s strengths to support their overall independence. Here are some ways caregivers can provide support to their loved one, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
Caregiving in Middle-Stage Dementia
An individual with dementia can stay in the middle stage for many years. During this period of time, they may need a greater level of support from their caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, those with middle-stage dementia may experience symptoms such as:
Caring for an individual with middle-stage dementia can be very emotionally and physically draining. During this period of time, changes in behavior can become a concern. Caregivers may see their loved one become more depressed, anxious and irritable. Oftentimes, these behaviors are linked to an unmet need. Over time, caregivers may be able to recognize what behaviors are signaling and provide the appropriate support.
Communication can become very difficult for someone with middle-stage dementia. Caregivers can make simple changes to help—such as speaking slowly in a gentle tone. Basic daily tasks also become challenging in middle stage dementia. Caregivers should encourage their loved one to do as much as they can independently, but be prepared to offer support when needed. This might include assistance with choosing appropriate clothing, bathing, toileting and preparing meals. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these day-to-day tips can be useful:
Caregiving in Late-Stage Dementia
During the final stage of dementia, individuals may lose their ability to control movement, speech and respond to their environment. Significant personality changes may also arise and often requires around-the-clock care. Those with late-stage dementia will undergo changes in their physical abilities, which often include the ability to walk, sit, communicate and swallow. In addition, individuals can become very vulnerable to illness and infections. The main responsibility of a caregiver providing support to an individual in late-stage dementia is to make their loved one comfortable. Caregivers should focus on showing care and love through the senses. This can be done through:
During this phase of dementia, caregivers may require additional support, as the physical strain of caregiving can become intensive. Many caregivers seek support through residential care such as a hospice unit or nursing home.
Questions to Consider Before Caregiving
Deciding to become a caregiver to a loved one is not something to be taken lightly. While undoubtedly rewarding, caregiving can present a huge strain on your life and your family’s life. Before committing, it’s important to go through these questions ahead of making the final decision:
Supporting Caregivers at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how important the work of caregivers is to older adults, especially for those with dementia. Our communities offer caregiver support groups and respite care for dementia patients to provide an opportunity for caregivers to rest and rejuvenate. To learn more about our communities and to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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