Coping With Dementia: Strategies for Caregivers

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Caring for a loved one with dementia comes with many challenges. In addition to the obvious emotional challenges that come with a diagnosis, the day-to-day care of your loved one will become increasingly difficult and, at times, frustrating. Many of the symptoms of dementia produce behaviors that are difficult to manage, put your loved one at risk, and can generate conflict. It an be hard for caregivers to understand why formerly agreeable loved ones begin acting out in uncharacteristic ways, but it’s important to remember that their behavior is a product of their disease and the result of changes deep within the brain.

Here are some practical coping strategies to help minimize stress for both you and your loved one:

1. Acknowledge that you are not a perfect caregiver and forgive yourself for making mistakes.

It’s common for family caregivers to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the perfect caregiver for their loved one, seeing to their every need with an inexhaustible supply of patience and warmth. Remind yourself that you are doing your best each and every day, but you are still human. You will continue to experience a full range of emotion, and frustration is a part of that. Feeling frustrated by a behavior, incident, or overall situation does not make you a bad caregiver.

Learning to recognize your warning signs and manage your emotional response will prevent you from lashing out at your loved one or suffering the negative health consequences of chronic stress. Strategies that work for many people include slowly counting to ten while taking deep breaths, removing yourself from the situation to go on a short walk or into another room until you calm down, and practicing daily relaxation techniques so that you are prepared to deal with frustrating circumstances when they arise.

2. Learn to pick your battles and recognize circumstances when lying can be therapeutic.

Dementia causes people to lose touch with reason and reality, so using rational or logical arguments to ground your loved one in the truth is a losing battle. People with dementia are not receptive to rational arguments. It’s not easy to accept, but sometimes the easiest and least painful thing is to let someone with dementia to simply proceed with their version of reality. Reminding someone with dementia of something important they’ve forgotten—for example, the loss of a parent—can often cause a fresh feeling of pain.

People with dementia often develop convictions that are untrue, such as that their son-in-law is their assisted living nurse. Contesting these harmless convictions can cause them to become defensive or even aggressive, sparking an argument that is distressing for all involved. Rather than challenging your loved one’s version of reality, you can redirect their attention, explain the situation in simple statements, or use white lies to make circumstances easier to accept. We all want to be honest with our loved ones, but with dementia in the picture, compassion sometimes requires therapeutic lying.

3. You can’t do it all, and there will come a point when your loved one needs more care than you can provide.

It’s hard for many caregivers to accept that their loved one needs full-time professional care, but trusting your loved one’s well-being to trained experts is often the best thing for both of you. Caring for someone with dementia long-term can be a drain on your emotions, energy, and time. While there are many benefits to being the primary caregiver while your loved one still has lucid days and moments, it’s important to acknowledge that they will eventually need more care than you are able to provide—and that’s okay.

It’s up to you to decide when to make the transition, but rest easy in the comfort that your loved one will be well cared for. Choose a memory care center close to your home so that you can pay frequent visits and stay informed about how they’re doing.

Vista Prairie offers memory care services in many of our communities in Minnesota and Iowa. Visit our memory care page to learn more and find the community closest to you.

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