How to Care for a Loved One With Dementia

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses that cause impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interfere with the performance of activities of daily living. According to Dementia Australia, there are currently about 480,000 people living with dementia in Australia, and nearly 1.6 million Australians will be involved in their care in 2022. 

Each person experiences dementia in their own way, but generally, those affected eventually need help with all aspects of daily life. Although dementia can happen to anybody, it is more common after the age of 65 years. Dementia in people under the age of 65 is considered younger onset dementia. 

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by the damage or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that is damaged, dementia can have a different impact on people and cause different symptoms. There are many different forms of dementia, and each has its own causes. 

Some of the main risk factors for dementia are smoking, excessive alcohol intake, head injury, hearing loss, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, depression, and several heart conditions. Most cases of dementia are not inherited.  

Forms of dementia

The most common types of dementia are: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD)
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia diagnosis among older adults. In Australia, it represents 70% of diagnosed cases of dementia. 

The most common signs and symptoms of dementia

The signs and symptoms of dementia will vary depending on the specific form and stage of the disease. However, common symptoms include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Confusion of language. Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects or forgetting words.
  • Difficulty performing everyday tasks
  • Losing interest in normal daily activities or events
  • Hallucinating or experiencing delusions or paranoia
  • Acting impulsively
  • Experiencing drastic changes in mood
  • Losing balance and experiencing movement problems
  • Difficulty in speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts
  • Wandering and getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Repeating questions

Learn more about the signs of dementia and how to identify them here. 

Caring for a person with dementia: Some practical tips

Although there are many different forms of dementia, the strategies and tips for caregivers of people with dementia are similar. Quality of life for people with dementia can be greatly improved by helping them to maintain an active life, social relationships, and healthy lifestyle habits, including nutrition and being surrounded by a comfortable atmosphere.  

Dealing with some of the behaviours of people with dementia can make caregiving a challenge. It is therefore very important for the person caring for the person with dementia to understand that these behaviours are part of the disease. 

Tips for caregivers of people with dementia 

The signs and symptoms of dementia interfere with daily life and activities. People with dementia will need help with these tasks, which can end up upsetting the person. We want to share with you some tips to consider early on and as the disease progresses, which will make help more effective, kind and welcomed by the person with dementia: 

  • Try to keep a routine in daily eating and grooming schedules. 
  • To make memory loss less noticeable for the person, help them write lists of chores, appointments, and events. You may also find helpful a system to remind them to take their medication. 
  • Plan activities that the person enjoys and try to do them always at the same time. 
  • Allow the person to be as independent as possible within their capabilities in daily tasks, and give them enough time to do these. 
  • Be gentle and respectful.
  • Make their home a safe place. Remove barriers and difficulties that can cause accidents, and clear away objects that can be dangerous or confusing. 

Tips for improving communication with people with dementia

Communication can be difficult for people with dementia because they may have trouble remembering things, struggle to find the right words, or ask the same questions repeatedly. As a result, they may become agitated, confused, or even angry. 

The caregiver can become frustrated or impatient, so it is important to understand that the illness is causing these changes in communication skills.

Some tips for improving communication are:

  • Speak and listen calmly. If the person is upset, try to show that you understand. 
  • Consider quiet times during the day, and combine them with activities. 
  • Keep safe objects for the person, such as photographs or familiar objects around the house, to make them feel more secure. 
  • If the person with dementia does not remember you or someone else they know, remind them who you are, but avoid asking them if they don’t remember.

Tips for a healthy and active lifestyle for people with dementia

Eating healthy is good for everyone and is especially important for people with dementia. As the disease progresses, finding ways for the person to eat healthy foods may be increasingly challenging.

On the other hand, physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and for maintaining both physical and cognitive wellbeing. Doing these activities in groups with other people contributes to socialising, improving self-esteem and mood and enhancing general wellbeing. 

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Consider activities that the person can do to stay active, such as household chores, baking, or gardening. If the person has a hobby or likes something in particular, encourage them to continue doing it, adapting it to their abilities. 
  • People with dementia may lack the interest or initiative to start an activity, so planning an activity for them will make it easier to get them involved. 
  • Listening to music can be a relaxing and stimulating activity for people with dementia, so consider including it in activities. 
  • Plan light to moderate physical activity activities, depending on the person’s abilities and energy. This can range from walking to long walks, dancing, etc. 

At The CareSide, we offer high-quality home care tailored to the different needs of each individual. We work with the best professionals to provide the best home care in Australia and help your loved ones enjoy a high quality of life in their own home. If you are looking for the best home care for a loved one, contact us.

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