Navigating Dementia Care: Strategies for Families and Caregivers

April 11, 2024
Aging hand on grab bar

Dementia care is a complex journey often filled with challenges, stress, overwhelm, and deep commitment to caring for loved ones with this difficult condition. In our latest post, let’s explore how caregivers are often the unsung heroes, and acknowledge the unspoken truth that they are the invisible second patients. 

We’ll delve into the heart of dementia care for elderly loved ones, unraveling effective communication strategies, memory-enhancing activities, and the comforting embrace of in-home care provided by compassionate professionals. 

By taking care of our elderly loved ones while taking care of ourselves, we can navigate the path toward understanding, support, and dignity for those facing the twists and turns of dementia. 

Understanding the Impacts of Dementia

Dementia is an elusive category of symptoms, making it challenging for families and caregivers to grapple with. Dementia is an umbrella term for different progressive diseases relating to loss of memory, language, and other cognitive abilities that impair daily life. 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but the other types include:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Frontotemporal
  • Mixed dementia

Nearly 14 percent of Americans over the age of 71 have some form of dementia, which can be devastating for those affected by it. 

Dementia in all its forms has a major impact on individuals living with it and those close to them. It can be painful to watch your elderly loved one forget important things, get confused, or struggle to perform daily tasks. 

The burden can weigh heavily, leaving family caregivers especially vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and lowered quality of life. This makes it all the more important for families and caregivers to be equipped with strategies for navigating dementia care for elderly loved ones. 

Effective Communication

If your senior is living with dementia, it can feel daunting to navigate communicating with them. Cognitive changes may affect their ability to talk with you or express themselves the way they used to. That’s why developing effective communication strategies is so important in ensuring their needs are met with empathy.

To promote healthy communication through in-home care, or during their time in a care facility, try some of these helpful tips: 

  1. Listen actively. Active listening demonstrates you are paying attention to the person. Make eye contact, nod, and offer other signs of encouragement as they speak to you.
  2. Use short, simple sentences. Speaking clearly, with short, simple sentences will allow the person time and space to process the information. Avoid complex or distressing topics that could cause overwhelm or confusion.
  3. Speak calmly and slowly. Avoid talking with a sharp or raised voice. Instead, promote calmness by speaking to them at a slower pace, with an even-keeled tone. Strong emotional undertones may be upsetting for some people with dementia.
  4. Use a conversational style. Instead of asking the person multiple questions in a row, try speaking to them conversationally. And include them in conversations with others. This will help combat feelings of social isolation.
  5. Be patient and empathetic. Patience and empathy will go a long way when communicating with an elderly loved one. They may need help finding their words, remembering certain details, or processing information quickly. Be patient and avoid interrupting or rushing them through their thoughts to express empathy.

Memory-Enhancing Activities

Dementia can take a toll on an individual’s mind, from memory retention to language and daily tasks. However, seniors with or without dementia can majorly benefit from activities that challenge the brain. Anything that promotes neuroplasticity–the brain’s ability to form and strengthen new neural connections–can help protect a person’s cognitive skills and enhance memory. 

As a caregiver or family member, how can you help your loved one stimulate their mind? Here are effective memory-enhancing activities to try out.

Learn Something New

Learning something new doesn’t have to stop at a certain age. The pursuit of lifelong learning challenges your brain in amazing ways throughout life, building new neural connections and enhancing memory. By picking up a new hobby, skill, or craft, like an instrument or second language, people with dementia can ward off the progression of cognitive decline while fostering a sense of personal satisfaction.

Play Brain Games & Puzzles

Brain-boosting games, puzzles, and video games can improve memory, social skills, reaction time, logic, and the ease of performing daily living activities.

There are dozens of examples of brain games and puzzles to enjoy. A few examples include: 

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Crossword puzzles 
  • Sodoku 
  • Chess
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Monopoly

The latest studies also suggest that “serious games” are especially effective at boosting cognition in aging people with dementia. The three types of serious games are video games, board games, and virtual reality games

Try Memory Recall Exercises

Along with brain games, memory recall exercises are a good way to sharpen the mind and improve short-term memory. Memory recall exercises involve committing a list of items, facts, or numbers to memory, and then remembering them.

Practice a memory recall exercise with your senior regularly for the best results: 

  • Memorize words: give them three unique words in the morning to remember, and ask them to repeat the words at night.
  • Clothing details: ask them to notice three things about your outfit today, and ask them to recall the details tomorrow. 
  • Grocery shopping list: Give them 5 items to memorize off their grocery list. Then have them remember and shop for those items together at the store. 
  • Simon electronic game: Want something more interactive? Get your loved one an electric Simon toy. This game involves hitting colored buttons in the correct sequence based on memory recall.

Want more memory-enhancing activity ideas? Take a look at McGill University’s free dementia activity booklet.

Self-Care & Resources for Caregivers

If you’re taking care of someone with dementia, you know how challenging it can be. Primary caregivers need support, as they are more susceptible to depression, social isolation, poor physical health, and financial hardship. 

The psychological impacts can be heavy, which is why it’s so important to take care of your mental health and seek extra support from professional caregivers and your community.

Here are some self-care tips and professional resources you can lean on as a caregiver of a senior with dementia: 

  • Schedule regular breaks throughout your day to recharge.
  • Set boundaries for yourself so you don’t burn out or feel taken advantage of.
  • Ask for help from family or those in your community when you need it.
  • Regularly spend quality time with family and friends.
  • Enjoy activities that relax you or get your body moving.
  • Seek out local community organizations for resources.
  • Join online forums or in-person dementia care support groups.

Sometimes, you just can’t do everything on your own. Consider easing the burden by delegating everyday caregiving tasks to a professional caregiver.

Consult the Care Experts

Caring for a loved one with dementia is a challenging but rewarding journey, one that you’re not alone in. By improving communication, encouraging mind-enhancing activities and brain games, taking care of your mental health, and leaning on the help of professional caregivers, you can successfully support the well-being of your senior.

Ready to learn more about how we can support you in caring for a loved one with dementia? Get in touch to discover how our numerous caregiving services at Sitters, LLC can offer the help you need, from in-home care to facility care and beyond.