Caring for a parent with dementia is hard. There’s no point beating around the bush: it’s difficult for the person suffering and it can be difficult for their loved ones to know how best to deal with the challenges this condition brings up. It is especially complicated because there are actually 200 subtypes of dementia, each with their own traits that need to be considered.
On top of that, with holidays come new challenges, such as how best to navigate the season with the whole family together. For example, younger family members may be around who don’t understand how to handle a parent with dementia.
We’re not going to try and paint a rose-tinted view of this condition. If you know or are living with someone who has it, you already understand that supporting a dementia sufferer requires hard work. However, by understanding the best way of dealing with an elderly parent with dementia, we can craft tools and coping strategies to balance the fight in your favour and, ultimately, create the best possible quality of life for your loved one with the condition.
At Melrose, that is what we’re all about: providing people with the ability to live the best lives they possibly can. With that in mind, here are some key pieces of advice when looking after someone with dementia.
Understand their condition as best as you can
This doesn’t just mean understanding dementia generally as best as you can – although, of course, knowing more can never hurt. But we mean more specifically in terms of knowing the person you’re caring for and the extent of their condition.
The difficulty in understanding this condition is hard on people, especially when they have known the person suffering their whole lives. Often people find themselves unable to process how to talk to a parent with dementia and getting hep for a parent with dementia feel like an overwhelming task. However, with some patience, getting to a place of betting understanding is possible.
Like we said, there is a huge variety of different kinds of dementia out there – hundreds. Everyone deals with these in different ways and there are varying levels of severity. This means that grasping all these factors as fully as possible is key to providing the best possible care.
Better understanding comes in a variety of ways. If they have had a previous carer, then they can be a really excellent source of knowledge, as is any advice you can get from medical professionals about the specifics and severity of their condition. Your GP should help ensure that the family are made aware of any specialist advice and support, as well as advising on treatments and assessments.
Finally, a big part of this also comes simply from experience. The longer you spend helping someone, the better you’ll be able to help going forward. This will also allow you to notice if things progress and, therefore, be able to better prepare and adapt in that regard.
Remember to look after yourself
This one is really simple. It’s completely natural to want to do more when your parent has dementia but, ultimately, you can only help others if you are well enough to do so. And the only way to be well enough to do so is by looking after yourself. This means both physically and mentally. Just because you are able to physically cope that doesn’t mean that you don’t need support emotionally.
Being a carer can be draining, and that’s no reflection on how much we love the people we care for. It’s just a reality that there’s only so many hours in the day, it’s hard work, and everybody needs to rest. So, with that in mind, don’t be afraid to ask for support.
You can get a carer’s assessment from the NHS which can recommend ways to help. These assessments are usually face to face but can take place over the phone if that is more convenient for you. They can really point you in a direction where you are not only happier and healthier, but so too is the person you care for, because we all do a better job when we’re also looking after ourselves.
Avoid loosing patience with a parent who has dementia
None of us are perfect and it is understandable that sometimes people get frustrated and are concerned about losing patience with a dementia parent. After all, it can be a very challenging job and all too often, a thankless one. That is why our last section is so important because that extra assistance can help you to not feel unappreciated and can provide support which can help avoid feelings of frustration.
But more broadly, coping strategies are important if you find yourself becoming frustrated or upset. If you need to take a moment to catch your breath and you have the opportunity to do so, don’t feel afraid to take it. The chances are that continuing to push yourself while in a bad mood is something that will also affect the person you are caring for. It could end up actually being less helpful.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you are getting frustrated is that the parent you are caring for is not being deliberately difficult. It’s simply that dementia can be a very confusing and stressful situation for the person suffering from the condition too.
For example, if a person changes what food they like and dislike one day, that’s not them trying to upset you. It could be that they no longer recognise the food put in front of them. That’s just one example. Everybody is different, and every carer can give you their own specific examples. Ultimately though, what is always important to keep in mind is that none of this is that person’s fault. They are a victim of a condition which can make them behave in ways they would not otherwise.
If you are preparing for guests over the holiday season, especially younger people and relatives, it is also important that you have this conversation with them as well. This way, they can understand how to respond to any potentially confusing behaviours.
Let them help as much as possible
One big mistake that people often make is that they think the best thing they can do for a dementia sufferer is as much as possible. The less the person with dementia has to deal with, the better, right?
Wrong! One of the best parents with dementia tips is that – while, of course, you should absolutely help in every area where you can and are needed – it is very important that your loved one continues with as many activities as they are still able to. If they are capable enough to garden, shop or lay the table for dinner, then they should continue doing those tasks for themselves.
This keeps the mind active which remains important even after diagnosis. Not only that but it improves the quality of life of the person you are caring for. Another way to help them remain as active as possible is to utilise memory aides, which brings us onto our last point…
Make your house as dementia friendly as possible
There are lots of different ways to help make your home dementia friendly, and this can also allow the person suffering from the condition to stay as mentally and physically active as possible.
One great tip is to use labels and signs around the house as reminder for things like bathrooms or where to find cups, to give just a couple of examples. Some other ways you can help is by getting safer flooring, such as avoiding things like rugs which can cause confusion. So too can reflective surfaces, as the person may be concerned if they no longer recognise themselves.
Reducing excess noise is another great way of improving their home life, especially if the person with dementia also wears a hearing aid. Better lighting can also help make things clearer for them – in fact, this is actually a good idea for people living with all kinds of medical issues.
These are just a few examples and all the above advice feeds into each other. For instance, by knowing the condition of the person you are caring for better, you can more effectively customise their home to their needs. Another important point is that if you are having people over, especially throughout the holiday season, it is vital that they respect the changes you have made in the interest of the person suffering with dementia.