Unforgettable Safety Tips for Dealing with Dementia
As people age, they experience more mental and physical concerns that often make it difficult for them to remain safe in the home without proper supports in place. Dealing with dementia can be an emotional and challenging time for any family. As mentioned in our previous article, difficulties involving mobility and personal safety can prove very challenging for many seniors and their family caregivers. With persons experiencing dementia, these concerns can become amplified.
Dementia involves progressive and steady cognitive decline. Areas affected involve memory, language, attention, ability to reason, use and understand abstract information and use proper judgment. Often dementia in a person can remain undetected for quite some time, particularly if they live a life filled with routine or have someone caring for them. Odd as it may sound, even the family caregiver doesn’t notice dementia as the illness can progress slowly enough that the caregiver hasn’t noticed that they have taken on more tasks or household chores. Individuals with dementia can live with the illness over a long time span, in some cases 20 or more years. These individuals can continue to live in the comfort of their own home given that they have special supports available such as supportive family, specialized dementia programs, and Dementia Caregivers to help them through the day and night.
Certified Dementia Care Through the Alzheimer’s Association
At Harmony Caregiving, professional Caregivers are certified in dementia care through the Alzheimer’s Association. As such they have a unique understanding of the daily struggles and supports that individuals with dementia need. Dementia Caregivers can provide a variety of activities that can more fully engage your senior loved one’s mind, including the use of specialized dementia kits. Through Harmony’s dementia care services, you and your loved one can access multiple resources such as music care, art activities, books and multi-sensory boards. Maintaining regular schedules and routines have been found to be highly important in keeping seniors with dementia more calm and comfortable within their surroundings. To this end, Harmony can develop individually structured dementia care programs to keep your loved one’s day interesting, consistent and well structured. This article addresses some of the common safety concerns that can affect persons suffering from dementia. It also gives information as to why these concerns are occurring and offers safety tips on how to best deal with them.
Parenting your Parents with Dementia
“I’m not doing that, and you can’t make me!!”
The struggles of handling problematic behaviors in persons with dementia and tips on how to deal with them.
Going through the behavioral effects of dementia with your senior loved one can be a scary and life altering experience. As your loved one loses more cognitive abilities from dementia, family caregivers often notice many changes occurring in their personality and behavior. Individuals with dementia can become agitated in a very short amount of time and the reasoning behind this behavior may not be readily apparent. They may flail out in anger and even physically strike those close to them. Sometimes this is done out of anger or fear. Whatever the reason behind the aggression, such behavior can be extremely confusing and hurtful to family members. It is important for family caregivers to remember that this behavior is due to the illness and to try not to take it personally. The person with dementia may have limited ways of communicating and does not know any other way of expressing their fear or discomfort. They may not fully recognize or remember who their family members are and thus react with distrust. As well, those suffering from dementia often lose a lot of personal choice and power in their lives with can lead to anger or frustration. They may refuse to do something or become stubborn not realizing you are trying to help them.
Dealing With Dementia Behaviour
Dealing with dementia is a sensitive and challenging topic. According to the Savvy Caregiver, it is important to examine difficult behaviors from an objective as opposed to a personal stance. They recommend observing what occurred before, during and after the behavior to find clues as to what might be causing it. It is not an easy process to find out what may have caused the behavior in your loved one. It can take both time and trial and error. They also suggest paying attention to the underlying emotions behind the individuals behavior, as their ability to communicate emotions in a more calm and direct manner are compromised by the illness. Addressing the underlying feeling may bring relief to both you and your loved one.
The following are some more tips to help dissipate behavioral outbursts in people with dementia.
Pick your Battles
It is often said that when dealing with independent-minded teenagers, parents often have to pick the battle they know they can win, or they can feel like they are in an all out war. The same often holds true for seniors with dementia. Person’s with dementia often lack insight into their behavior and its effects. Family caregivers should ask themselves which behaviors they can tolerate and which they cannot. For example, letting a person with dementia wear a robe all day may not be that big of an issue, especially if they are not going to some social gathering. If they insist on wearing the robe and it is not interfering or harming them in any way, that it is probably not worth the time or energy to fight about it. Seniors, even those with dementia may want to assert their independence or express their feelings but no longer know how to go about doing that. By picking your battles and knowing ahead of time what you can and cannot tolerate, you can reserve your energy as a family caregiver to attend to the matters that are of greater importance regarding your loved one’s care.
Stop the incident or situation that led to the behavioral outburst.
If your loved one suddenly loses their temper, discontinue that activity and move toward something else that may be more calming or soothing for the person. Sometimes simply moving your loved one from one setting to another (e.g., to another room) can make a huge difference, especially if it takes the person away from the source of the stress/irritant. If your loved one is becoming aggressive and hitting others, it is important to remove them from the situation. If they are in a safe location, you may choose to remove yourself or others temporarily from the situation for a few minutes. These strategies can give the person with dementia and yourself a chance to calm down.
If the activity or task is important, try it again after the person has had a chance to calm down. It may also be a good idea to try a different environment and/or modify your approach to the task or activity. For instance, attempting to find the humor in a situation can be a great way to de-escalate the situation for both of you. For instance, you may remind them in a lighthearted fun way about how they made you take your medication or how they made you eat something you did not want to eat as a child. Just be careful not to insult them or they may become even more stubborn and resolute.
- Give them some limited choices throughout their day. As the illness progresses more and more of their power is taken away. Even if they don’t recognize or recall who you are, on some innate intuitive level, they may remember that they were your parent or the ones in control. They may become obstinate and more stubborn with you as opposed to others. Offering them two options at a time to choose between may empower them and encourage them to perform the behavioral/action.
- Reminiscing about happier times can be a good way of calming down a person with dementia. Once they are in a better mood, they may be more willing to participate in the task at hand.
- Learn what items or activities have a calming or soothing effect on your loved one with dementia. Having these items or activities on hand can help if there is a sudden behavioral outburst. This is particularly true when in a new or different environment. For instance, doctors office, family gathering, or at clinics.
- Anticipate problems before they occur. Examine your loved one’s behavior in different settings, during different times in the day and with different people. Knowing how they will likely react in situations will help you plan ways to circumvent negative or explosive behavior. Having a plan in place is helpful not just to your loved one but also for your own peace of mind as you know exactly what to do if the behavior occurs.
Difficulty paying bills due to inability to retrieve the mail
“Sorry, the cheque’s not in the mail.”
Many seniors may not check their daily mail as a result of difficulties physically getting to and from the mailbox. As well, individuals with memory problems or dementia may not open or respond to their mail because they have forgotten to check the mailbox. This, in turn, can lead to difficulty reaching people, paying bills on time and staying informed. Also, some seniors, particularly those who have cognitive deficits are susceptible to mail fraud and scams that try to take money and resources from them.
If your loved one is having trouble with retrieving or responding to their mail, it is suggested that you or another family member take over this task for them, particularly if they have dementia. As dementia progresses, the family caregiver often has to ensure that bills are paid on time and handle their loved one’s personal and business correspondence. This can be an overwhelming and daunting task for a family caregiver to take on by themselves. Taking over another person’s finances can be highly complex. Family caregivers that are in such a situation may need to seek outside supports to help.
Harmony’s Dementia Caregivers can assist your loved one with dementia by helping them regularly check, sort and respond to their mail. They can help your senior loved one pay bills on time and inform you and/or other family members about important mail so that it does not get missed or fall through the proverbial cracks.
Undressing the mystery of Dressing Inappropriately
As seniors age, they may misread social or environmental cues and wear clothing that is not appropriate for the weather or social occasion. As their contact with the outside world decreases some individuals may not feel the need to groom and dress as they did previously. They may begin to look disheveled, not bathe as often, or not dress appropriately for situations. There can be some reasons behind this behavior including social isolation and depression. As well, some seniors may become more uninhibited due to memory problems, dementia and or other illness. Such individuals may wear inappropriate or little clothing.
If you notice any of these changes in your elder loved one, it is suggested that you explore the reasons behind these behaviors. Taking your loved one to a doctor to rule out any health conditions. For instance, a senior suffering from disabilities or dementia that may be contributing to the changes in appearance is the first step.
If you find the reason for inappropriate personal care or dressing is due to social isolation, then the following suggestions may prove helpful.
- Have your loved one spend more time with their friends and other family members. To encourage this, you may have to arrange times when they can mutually meet.
- Setting aside a regular day every week for a special lunch, brunch or dinner may encourage your loved one to attend more to their outer appearance.
- Scheduled outings can also be beneficial to raising a seniors spirits. Edmonton has many venues, museums and attractions and parks that have wheelchair accessibility if the person is limited regarding being able to move on their own. As well, Edmonton has many free entertainment activities throughout the year for the entire family to partake. Some seniors with disabilities may also be eligible to receive a recreation pass to see many of the attractions offered in Edmonton at an either a discounted price or free through the Leisure Access Program. Check with the city of Edmonton and your family doctor to find out if your senior can qualify for any of these passes and discounts.
If your loved one has lost the ability to dress appropriately, you may have to take over the task of assisting them with daily dressing. Please keep in mind to always involve your senior loved one, as much as possible, in clothing and hairstyle choices, so they retain a feeling of independence and dignity.
The following are some tips that may prove helpful.
- Go through your loved one’s closets and sort or pack away clothes according to the season. Being more organized and having fewer garments to go through will help your loved one access their clothing more easily
- To help your senior loved one dress appropriately for social occasions it is helpful to have a family member or caregiver set aside clothes ahead of time for that day and assist them with showering and hair styling
- Call your loved one at the start of the day and let them know what the weather is like and how to prepare for it if they are going out
- Check the forecast for the following day and lay out your loved one’s clothes in advance. Remember to allow them as much input as possible as to what they wish to wear
- Provide your loved one with easy access to comfortable, warm cover-ups throughout the house (e.g., robes; caftans, sweaters).
- Place a comfortable coat and warm boots right by the door in case they step outside their home
- During cold weather keep all mitts, scarves, coats prepared right by the doorway or doorways, so your loved one puts them on before going out.
At Harmony Caregiving Inc., our Dementia Caregivers have been specifically trained and certified in Dementia care by the Alzheimer’s Society. As dementia progresses to later stages, individuals need increasing levels of specialized care and monitoring. Our Dementia Caregivers can help your senior loved one with all their dressing and personal care needs on a daily basis. As well they can provide daily companionship that keeps their minds active and engaged.
Searching for your wandering loved one
“Where’s Grandpa Waldo?”
Unlike the fun activity book we grew up with as children, when a senior with dementia wanders away it can fill us with a sense of fear and dread. This situation is akin to that of temporarily losing your child during a family outing. As the minutes drag on searching for your child, the anxiety becomes unbearable for both the parent and the child.
Some seniors experience memory issues as they age. Some of these memory problems can be mild such as forgetting an appointment or misplacing an item. They may even get lost in an unfamiliar place but have the cognitive ability to ask for directions or help.
For seniors who have dementia, the situation is vastly different. They suffer from much more complex memory problems and have difficulties with thinking. Dementia is a progressive illness, meaning that it gets worse over time. Persons with this illness have problems with both short and long term memory. They may go outside one day and completely forget where they are or why they are there. This can become problematic especially if they become lost during cold or severe weather. They may wander away from home without the appropriate clothing and be unable to get back home. This can lead to physical injuries such as frostbite or hypothermia, not to mention the emotional fear and anxiety the person goes through when such a situation occurs. Sadly, wandering and pacing behaviors are common in persons with dementia.
Dementia Precautions & Safety Tips
Family members can take precautions to prevent such occurrences with their loved ones who have memory problems or dementia.
- Having an alarm/security system installed throughout the house and garden area so that family members can be alerted if your senior loved one steps outside may prove useful
- There are some GPS tracking systems that can be embedded in the seniors clothing (shoes, hearing aids, etc.,) to help track your loved one should they get lost. This is a good option for seniors that have a tendency to wander away and walk for long periods of time or distance.
- Have your loved one wear a tracking or medical alert necklace with their name, medical conditions and number on it in case they get lost and need assistance
- Keeping a warm coat/mitts and boots by every door of the house may encourage the senior to dress more appropriately before venturing outside
- Ensure your loved one wears sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes/boots with good grips so that if and when they pace or wander away from home they can avoid injury
- Alerting friends and neighbors about your loved one’s dementia and tendency to get lost may also be helpful so that they can keep an eye out for them
If you are finding it difficult to keep track of your loved one with dementia, it may be time to hire a professional Caregiver from a company like Harmony Caregiving, to keep them well occupied and help them throughout the day with tasks/ activities. Many individuals with dementia like to pace and walk for long periods of time. When your loved one leaves the home, the Caregiver can walk with them further ensuring that they do not wander away.
Caring for Someone Dealing With Dementia
Caring for loved ones with dementia can be a daunting and seemingly unending situation. It can fray anyone’s nerves to the point that they feel burned out beyond repair. As the illness is progressive, its effect can become increasingly stressful to the family caregiver over time. For family caregivers who spend much time and energy caring for persons with dementia, it becomes increasingly necessary to rely on outside support systems. At Harmony Caregiving we offer many supports to family caregivers including the following:
- A Caregiver Support group which meets on a monthly basis. It provides family caregivers a chance to talk about their struggles and find information or resources to help their loved one in the community
- Artwork shops and music care so that family caregivers have an opportunity to express their feelings
- Legacy workshops so that family caregivers can find ways of preserving positive memories of their loved ones with dementia
- Access to dementia care kits and our library of resources to help those with dementia and their caregivers
- Daily and weekend respite care services to provide family caregivers with time to attend to other concerns or interests in their lives
- Transportation services so that your loved one can go to day-dementia care programs, medical appointments or other social gatherings.
- Accompaniment to medical or clinical visits so that the family caregiver does not have to take time off work to take their loved one to scheduled appointments.
Proper Support For Dementia Care in Edmonton, Alberta
Knowing about and having proper supports in place can prevent a family caregiver from experiencing caregiver burnout. As well, having additional supports can allow your loved one the opportunity to stay at home within a loving and familiar environment longer. Learning more about dementia and what to expect as the illness progresses can also help dementia caregivers plan for the future. Much of the information contained in the above article can be found in the Savvy Caregivers Guide. This manual and other Savvy Caregiver educational resources can provide more in-depth information regarding dementia.
Please feel free to contact Harmony Caregiving Inc. for more information regarding dementia as well as resources and tips for dementia caregivers. Our team can help you learn how to care for someone with dementia especially dealing with dementia denial. Please stay tuned for our next article “Confused by Apparent Changes in your Aging Parent.”