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What You Do Matters: Caring for a Person with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

November 18, 2019

No matter what stage of life a person is experiencing, we all want to feel loved, supported, and that what we do matters. This can often be a challenge for people who find themselves thrust into the role of caring for someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed very quickly, not only with their loved one’s demanding physical needs, but with their emotional, mental, medical, and financial needs as well. Over 50 million people live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and caregivers often experience a feeling called “caregiver burnout”. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, especially when the caregiver does not receive the help they need, or when they try to do more than they are able to do.

You may experience feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, exhaustion, and guilt may find themselves asking questions such as, “Is keeping my loved one a home the best option?” “How long can I do this?” “Is my loved one’s illness getting worse?” “Do they qualify for nursing home placement?” “What is assisted living, and would it be better for my loved one?” “How are we going to afford my loved one’s on-going medical care?”

As a former home health aide and person who has had several loved ones stricken with dementia, I know first-hand the tough choices families have to make. The person with dementia will eventually require around-the-clock care. They need assistance with simple tasks. They need assistance with major tasks. Day to day life becomes harshly repetitive. They no longer remember your name. It hurts to the core that this person you love so dearly is becoming a stranger before your very eyes. It begins to take a toll on your well-being.

Some of my most wonderful memories took place when I cared for a client who was progressing through the stages of Alzheimer’s. The client never knew my name, but would light up when I came in. Not only did I have to figure out how to take care of this client’s physical, emotional, and mental needs, I had to overcome a language barrier. You see, English was not the client’s first language, and as the dementia progressed, the client began reverting back to the language of the client’s childhood.

Paying attention to phrases spoken during our activities, I figured out what some of them meant. The family taught me a few more phrases. Sometimes I would use Google Translate to help with simple commands. The client appreciated these efforts tremendously and it made communicating much easier.

Before the client fell ill, sitting in the kitchen and dining on coffee and hearty bread was a favorite past-time. So, that’s what we did. Sometimes I would stop and pick up a loaf of thick Italian or French bread, brew a pot of coffee, and we would sit and chat. We celebrated birthdays and holidays, and sometimes we dog-sat, which the client loved. The client also liked to crochet. So I brought crochet hooks and yarn, and we would spend hours crocheting together.

It was ok if the client asked me the same questions over and over. I answered each one as though it was the first time I was asked. After showering, we would apply lotion and cologne. During a haircut, we raved that the client looked like a movie star. It didn’t matter to me that at this stage the client had problems swallowing  and  would  often  spit  into  a trash can. It didn’t matter that the client never knew my name. Nor did it matter that the client often forgot where they were. What mattered was that I was preserving as much of this client’s quality of life and dignity as possible. It showed the family that their loved one was in capable hands. I found  a  way  to  move  into  the  client’s world,  instead  of  forcing  the  client  to move into mine. It gave me great joy to be a part of the care team for my client. What you do matters, even if it’s just the little things.

Elderly woman being kissed by her daughter

Although I am now the Corporate Soul Payroll Specialist for Priority Life Care, one of the aspects I love the most about the company is our complete dedication to our residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Our assisted living communities are full of highly trained professionals with an intense focus on memory care. We are working in our residents’ homes and build strong relationships with the residents, families and medical teams. Our communities have numerous daily activities and frequent special events that fully engage our residents and their loved ones. Memory Care Neighborhoods are designed to allow residents with dementia the same freedoms as those without dementia, in a safe, positive, and dignified environment. I never knew what assisted living and memory care were until I began working for Priority Life Care. Now that I do, I encourage everyone I can to explore this option.

What Can You Do?

Though making decisions about the well-being of your loved one with dementia can be a difficult process, it doesn’t have to be. Please know that there are many options available to you, and that you are not alone. Reaching out to an assisted living community with a memory care neighborhood can answer many questions you might have regarding assisted living, living with dementia, and memory care. The Alzheimer’s Association is also an excellent resource and has a very user-friendly website at www.alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association website also offers assistance with finding local resources available to you, and has a 24/7 helpline: (800) 272- 3900.

What you do matters. Let us know what we can do to help!

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