As we start another new year, we have a tendency to look back at the old year and review. If you’re a caregiver of one with dementia, how did you do?

As you’d expect, in my world as an Alzheimer’s care specialist, I’ve come across every kind of situation you can imagine. I’m called upon for guidance and direction, to give referrals and to just simply come up with answers to circumstances and situations. I have found out later that most take my advice while for some strange reason others don’t. I hate it when they learn later on that I was right, because that usually means an unfortunate outcome for their loved one. They didn’t take away the car keys, they didn’t do an effective job of managing their medications, they weren’t insuring they felt safe and concentrated on keeping them in their “happy place.” Etc. etc.

Being a caregiver is not easy. Formal and informal caregivers of those with dementia are a very special lot that face challenges where the lines keep moving. After all, Alzheimer’s dementia is a progressive disease, and although the changes come slowly, they still come when you least expect them.

For years, I’ve reminded my readers to look at the information that I share as reinforcing and not redundant. Why? Because the information needs to be repeated and reinforced.

With that in mind, let’s look at some key tips for caregivers.

Their doctors often need to be educated by you. Tell your doctor what’s going on at home. Are they up all night? Are they paranoid? Are they wandering? Are they hallucinating or delusional? Make sure that when you are sharing this information with their doctor that they ARE NOT in the room for this conversation. It will only upset them, and they are more than likely to accuse you of making it all up.

You can’t do it all by yourself. It’s easier to accept help than it is to ask for it, so when given that opportunity say yes! Not everyone is born to be a direct caregiver, but they can help in other ways: shopping, picking up prescriptions or just staying with them, allowing you to have a break.

Don’t overestimate or underestimate what your loved one can do. Because caregivers are busy, I’ve seen situations where they would feed their loved one to expedite things. The result? Their loved one forgot how to feed themselves. Help them to do what they can do so they stay as independent as possible. Likewise, don’t over-task them and say things like, “come on, you can do this.” That’s right up there with “you remember don’t you?” They don’t. Never forget, processing is a huge challenge for them.

Tell, don’t ask. Rather than ask them what they want for dinner, tell them that it’s time for dinner. Rather than ask them which coat they want to wear, tell them that we’re going to wear our parka today because it’s cold and we want to stay warm.

Don’t be fooled by those days when all seems well. This usually occurs in the early days of the diagnosis. One day you’re concerned because they were really “off the mark” and then the next day everything seemed normal. Enjoy those lucid days but take action by setting up an appointment with the appropriate doctors. Likewise, start planning for some significant changes in your life.

As always, remember that not all individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia are alike. While most will display symptoms and behaviors that are similar, you have to treat them as the individuals that they are. Some will become agitated while others become compliant little lambs. Some will wander while others never will. It’s incumbent on you to learn as much as you can so you can better understand the illness and what you are now and going to be dealing with.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join The Journey.

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