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How Caregivers and Family Can Help People With Dementia Thrive

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Someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every three seconds. Alzheimer’s disease is a severe form of dementia, and dementia is when someone has an inability to think, make decisions, or remember. The CDC estimates that 5.8 million people have Alzheimer’s disease and relative dementia, so this is something that many families continue to face.

Usually, when people mention Alzheimer’s, they will say that their loved one “suffers” from Alzheimer’s, but I question that wording. After working in facilities that treat people with Alzheimer’s disease for the past four years, I have seen many individuals living with dementia — many of whom live content lives for as long as they are able. They may have visitors come to see them, they may also have caregivers or family members make them hair and nail appointments, and they may even paint art projects with assistance. Many of the people I’ve worked with enjoy petting animals, like looking through old photo albums, and enjoy having engaging conversations.

As much as the idea of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be frightening, there are also so many ways society is combating, managing, studying, and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. There has been extensive research into preventive techniques, like healthy eating, limiting or stopping smoking habits, getting enough rest, exercising regularly, having good sleeping habits, avoiding social isolation, managing depression, exercising your mind, and avoiding injuries. There has also been research into the fact that everyday tasks, like flossing your teeth regularly and preventing urinary tract infections can tremendously delay symptoms of dementia.

Recently, there was a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s disease prevention. Studies have shown that having hobbies and practicing lifelong learning is a great way to delay cognitive impairment. The more we challenge our brains, the more we may delay Alzheimer’s in our own lives.

Working in facilities that treat clients with dementia has its ups and downs. I see the best and worst of every form of dementia, but once in a while, a client will surprise me — sometimes with the help of their community. I see spouses that will do all they can to help their partner’s dementia remain minimal — which may mean having a date with them a few times a week. I see family members drop off personalized books read with their own voices that explain who their family members are and how they are related.

I see family members ordering the individual pill box reminders that are timed to announce and release medicine, at the accurate times. I see caregivers who go out of their way to give these individuals the respect and care that they deserve, asking their clients questions like, “Would you like me to paint your nails red or blue?” I see certified nursing assistants who work with families to put up pictures of things that matter to the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. People with dementia may slowly become more and more confused, but these loved ones comfort them through the confusion.

A lot of individuals with dementia may feel a bit unsure or worried after seeing their reflection in the mirror, so it may be best to limit hanging mirrors if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Some individuals develop “sundowners,” which is a name for when they start getting confused, mad, concerned, and frustrated because they don’t know what time of day it is. Although there is no cure for “sundowners,” having dark curtains up at night and letting the person with dementia see the sun during daylight hours may assist in limiting the confusion — as well as having a visible virtual clock. I have also seen family members leave notes that help their loved ones if they do become distressed.

A simple, “You have a caregiver with you to help you if you need anything. We all trust them, and if you need anything, they will help you until we see you tomorrow” can really be comforting to someone who has dementia. Although there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, there are many ways we can help individuals with the condition thrive and have happy, content lives.

Getty image by PIKSEL.

Originally published: September 24, 2022
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