Dementia can be a life-changing diagnosis for the patient and their loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a singular disease, but a term for a decline in mental ability that has crippled daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common condition under this umbrella, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
Dementia can manifest as memory loss, comprehension issues, or an inability to communicate.
Dementia can manifest as memory loss, comprehension issues, or an inability to communicate, to name a few symptoms. What makes matters worse is that it’s a progressive condition, getting worse as your loved one ages. It can even lead to death, with fatal cases predicted to quadruple by 2040 in one area studied.
So if your loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, what can you do? Is it possible to maintain a quality of life with dementia? Thankfully, the answer is yes, with hard work and the right advice.
When your loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, it’s time to have an important conversation. What should you do next? There is no shame in needing help from a professional service. As the disease progresses, the caregiver duties may become more than you or your family can handle. Professional caretakers can take some of that stress off your shoulders.
If your loved one is staying in their home, a home health care service may be necessary.
If you decide to find professional help, you’ll need to figure out what kind you’ll need. If your loved one is staying in their home, a home health care service may be necessary. If they’re still mentally capable, a companion service may be all that’s needed. More severe cases may need specialized assisted living facilities. Making these decisions early in the process can save you a lot of grief down the road. Make sure that the nursing home or aid conversation is productive and calm.
If professional help is not needed, spread the caregiving duties equally in a group. Trying to do it all yourself will only lead to caregiver burnout and resentment. Issues that had been bubbling under the surface may arise at the worst times. Establishing a plan as a group will ensure everyone is helping and you get a chance to take care of yourself.
Around the House
So, once you’ve made your caregiving decision, it’s time to start actually giving care. If your loved one is staying in their home, there are ways you can dementia-proof the house. Often, patients with dementia may become homebound, making this step even more important.
When getting the home dementia-ready, you need to assess the home through the eyes of your loved one. What may seem commonplace to you may be confusing or upsetting to them. Keep in mind that vision problems are also common, so account for this. For example, dark rugs may seem like holes in the floor. Overly-active or cluttered patterns can cause anxiety or confusion. Use different colored rugs to help steps stand out from the rest of the floor.
Overly-active or cluttered patterns can cause anxiety or confusion.
This also means cleaning the house, and keeping it that way. This will eliminate tripping hazards and clutter, which can overstimulate your loved one.
Finally, remove the locks in bathrooms or your loved one’s bedroom. The desire for privacy is natural, but removing the locks prevents them from locking themselves in. In the case of an emergency, access to your loved one can keep an issue from turning into something worse.
Eliminate Access to Dangers
Once the home is aesthetically ready, it’s time to deal with dangerous rooms or items. Chief among these hazards is the kitchen. Most kitchens will have obvious dangers like the stove or knives, but most people store poisonous cleaning supplies there too. Make the kitchen an off-limits area of the house, by either locking the door or disguising the entryway. Other off-limits areas to ponder are the garage, a stairway, or even other bedrooms. You should consider anywhere that your loved one doesn’t need to be that can be dangerous to them.
If making a room an off-limits area isn’t an option, secure or remove any hazards.
If making a room an off-limits area isn’t an option, secure or remove any hazards. We’ll use the kitchen as an example. Install automatic shut-off switches on the stove and disconnect the garbage disposal. Lock any drawer containing hazardous materials, like the knives or cleaning supplies. You may even consider connecting dangerous appliances to a circuit breaker and shutting them down when you aren’t there to supervise.
If your loved one owns any weapons, like an old hunting rifle, lock or remove them. This can be a tricky subject, but access to guns can be dangerous. Alzheimer’s has been known to turn otherwise peaceful people violent through anger or confusion. The condition can also lead a patient to confuse a caregiver for an intruder. As the disease progresses, there is little reason for your loved one to have access to a gun.
Dementia-sufferers can ingest poisonous or inedible objects thinking they are food.
You should also remove hazardous decorations from the home. This is especially true for any poisonous or inedible plants or food-like objects. Dementia-sufferers can ingest poisonous or inedible objects thinking they are food.
These are all a part of a larger safety strategy – adapt, don’t teach. This means that if you think something may be dangerous, remove it or adapt to deal with the danger. Don’t try to teach your loved one to avoid it. You can learn more in-home safety tips from the Alzheimer’s Association “Home Safety Checklist.”
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Ultimately, your loved one may eventually need more care than you can give. In the meantime, you can help them maintain their quality of life in their own home, surrounded by family. You can only achieve this, though, if the home is safe and secure for them. With these tips, you can help your loved one enjoy their home for as long as possible.
Daily Caring — Dementia Proof Your Home with this Safety Checklist
Family Caregivers Alliance — Ten Real-Life Strategies for Dementia Caregiving
VeryWell — 12 Things About Dementia People Wish They’d Known Earlier