Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and other dementias poses many challenges. These are progressive disorders that diminish clear thinking, memory, communication, and eventually the ability to take care of oneself. Many times dementias are accompanied by behavioral changes including mood swings, anxiety, depression, fear and irritability. As the caregiver of a friend or family member, you are taking on an important role that demands patience, awareness and a special understanding of the obstacles ahead.
Aside from day-to-day considerations – such as preparing healthy meals, making a safe environment, assisting with activities of daily living and tending to healthcare needs – there are other aspects of dementia caregiving that must be addressed.
Here are 10 important things you should know if you are responsible for the care of someone with dementia:
1. Keep Track of Their Financial Information
Bills still need to be paid. Financial mismanagement is one of the earliest signs of dementia. At some point, your loved one will become unable to handle their own finances and is likely to forget to pay bills on time or even at all. Look for unopened mail, late payment notices and other telltale signs of financial lethargy. Learn about their financial affairs and begin the legal steps to have someone take control of this area of their lives when it becomes necessary.
2. Set Up a Filing System
As their memory declines, your loved one will require additional help with personal, financial, legal and professional paperwork. Even if the dementia patient has kept meticulous records, the nature of their disease may cause them to rearrange files or discard important information. Organize these documents so you’ll know where to locate them if needed. It's also important to share this information with another just in case you are unable to tend to these matters.
3. Review Their Insurance Information
Work with your loved one to locate and understand their insurance policies – what is covered, how to make a claim, the doctors they can see, etc. It can be possible that they are over-insured in some areas. Beyond the attention needed to handle insurance bills, there are the available benefits of the coverage they carry. Most policies will contain a main number that can be called to receive information and have questions answered; be prepared however, the insurance company may seek permission from the owner of the policy before they will talk or disclose information to a third party.
4. Organize Their Schedule and Plans
A dementia patient can still lead an active life. Their schedule doesn't suddenly disappear because they become forgetful. By organizing their plans and obligations, you can keep them engaged and social, while also having the benefit of knowing where they are at any given time. If they miss an appointment or are late returning home, you have valuable information to aid in a search for them.
5. Learn About Their Medical History
It is critical to learn your loved one’s medical history. Help them to compile a list of surgeries and medical treatments, including all medications they have taken or are currently taking, and any allergies they have. This information can be invaluable when helping a doctor make decisions about their current and future care.
6. Manage Their Future Wishes
Dementia is a progressive disease. There will eventually come a time to make tough decisions concerning your loved one’s growing needs when they require more care than you can provide. Have a conversation about these things while they are still able to express their desires. Help acquire the necessary legal documents, so they can designate who they would prefer to make these decisions for them when they no longer can.
7. Keep a Record of Their Contact Information
Your loved one built a lifetime of meaningful friendships. Help them continue these relationships as long as possible. Be sure to let your loved one’s friends and family know about the progression of their dementia symptoms. Educate them and keep them up to date and include ways in which they may remain an important part of their friend's life.
8. Know Where Valuables Are Stored
When coping with dementia, your loved one can misplace things of sentimental or monetary value. If your loved one has such items, be sure to learn where they are kept or if they need to be given to any intended recipients. (For items of considerable value, you may wish to seek legal or professional advice prior to the liquidation or gifting of such items.)
9. It’s OK for You to Need Care Too
The details of everyday life can be overwhelming to a dementia caregiver. Research has shown that caregivers themselves are often at increased risk for depression and illness. Be on the lookout for any signs of your own stress, and seek out support or assistance when needed. Remember, you don't have to shoulder this alone, our community has a wealth of support resources and programs for caregivers. Reach out and ask for help when you need it; look for respite programs for your loved one and take a much deserved break to recharge and refresh your own energy stores and battery.
10. Remember, You Cannot Be a Perfect Caregiver
Dementia touches lives in different ways. There is no perfect formula to help a loved one face their challenges with memory loss. Remember, you have the right to the full range of human emotions, and there will be times of frustration and impatience. Learning to forgive your loved one as well as yourself is essential in the caregiving journey.
If you have any questions or concerns about providing dementia care for a loved one, please contact us by email at SeasonsALF.com or call give us a call at 727.330.7898.