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How to Understand Your Loved One's Dementia

A diagnosis of dementia is life changing both for your loved one and for you. The road ahead will be fraught with challenges. Your loved one may experience cognitive difficulty, agitation, behavioral problems, wandering, paranoia, nutritional deficiencies, and other physical and mental difficulties, each of which can push you to your limit as a caregiver. It is important to remember you are not alone in this new chapter in your life, many have experienced the same challenges and have offered helpful advice to aid you in your journey. Below are some tips to help you better understand your loved one's dementia.

Educate Yourself

The more you know about dementia, the more understanding and patience you can provide to your loved one. There are many different forms of dementia, focus your learning on the particular form your loved one has been diagnosed with. The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life is a good place to start. Also ask your loved one's doctor for additional educational resources. 

Take Care of Yourself

Flight attendants teach passengers to first secure their own air supply before doing the same for their loved ones. If you don't survive, you can't possibly provide care for someone else. Caregiving is a demanding job, with few breaks, it's easy to put your loved one's needs first at all times -- at the risk of your own health and well-being.

Caring for your loved one and yourself isn't necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, if your loved one is physically able to join you for daily walks, you'll both benefit from the outing, exercise, and routine. Likewise, serving nutritious family meals is good for your health and the one you’re caring for.

Get Support

Support is crucial in any caregiving journey, and it takes many forms such as:

  • Family support- Can other family members pitch in periodically? Some may want to help but not know how to contribute or feel that you have it "all under control." You may need to tell them exactly how they can help.
  • Professional support- Home care agencies have specialized dementia caregivers that can provide everything from occasional help and respite care to 24-hour live-in care. Whether you need someone to help with light housekeeping and companionship each week or a regular caregiver for hands-on bathing and toileting assistance, supplementing your own caregiving with professional home care services can ease your load.
  • Support groups- Finally, consider joining a support group for families affected by dementia. Having a safe place to share stories and experiences is a good way to cope. You'll also learn more about what to expect as your loved one's dementia progresses, and you'll realize that you're not alone on this journey.
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