Dementia and the Role of a Caregiver

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With more than 5 million Americans living with dementia, most people either have a loved one or know of someone with the disease.

Dementia is a general term that refers to the severe decline of mental function. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that disrupts a person’s memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia with a new diagnosis every 67 seconds in the United States.

It is important for caregivers to create a plan of care with loved ones before their progression is too far along.

As your loved one progresses through the disease, they will require changes in the level of care given to them.

The following are some things to expect with each of the three stages of progression:

  1. Mild Dementia
    • Difficulty remembering words and names
    • Learning and remembering new information
    • Planning and managing complicated activities such as driving
    • Experiencing sadness, anxiety or disinterest in once enjoyable activities ​
  2. Moderate Dementia
    • Poor judgment
    • Problems with personal hygiene
    • Inappropriate language
    • Wandering
  3. Severe Dementia
    • Extensive memory loss
    • Limited or no mobility
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Bowel and bladder control issues
    • Difficulty recognizing family members and caregivers

Not only is the disease hard on the patient, but mentally and physically exhausting for their caregiver. Many caregivers experience increased stress during the moderate and severe stages of the disease. They might also suffer from anticipatory grief due to the impending death of their loved ones.

It is important for caregivers to seek support to help deal with these issues and ensure that they maintain their personal health and well being so that they can better care for a loved one.

Here are some tips caregivers should consider for themselves:

  • Make time for you – you should participate in activities outside your role as caregiver such as going to a movie or pursuing a hobby.
  • Talk to others – you should relieve stress by talking to a family member or friend that will listen. You might find it helpful to talk to a professional or join a support group.
  • Get temporary help – ask a friend to spend an evening with your loved one or hire a home healthcare worker for regular breaks.
  • Accept your emotions – many caregivers experience moments of frustration, sadness or resentment. These are normal and must be accepted in order to move forward
  • Know when to make a change – the time may come when you can no longer safely care for your loved one. Making a change may be what is best for everyone.

There are many resources that caregivers can utilize such as the Alzheimer’s Association or the Area Agency on Aging. It is important for caregivers to have a strong support system so that they can effectively care for a loved one battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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