Patience Makes Dementia Caregiving More Enjoyable, Plus Other Tips for Healthier Caregiving


Patience Makes Dementia Caregiving More Enjoyable, Plus Other Tips for Healthier Caregiving


My father had always been a bit absent-minded, so I didn’t give it much thought when he started repeating questions and stories. The problem persisted and progressed, however, leading to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, Dad could not remember what day of the week it was, where he lived, or me – his only son. With no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there was no stopping what was happening to Dad; I could only watch helplessly and keep him as comfortable and safe as possible. 

Family caregivers dealing with Alzheimer’s disease can find this time immensely stressful – losing Dad this way is likely the hardest thing I will ever face in life. Caring for someone with dementia or any other condition that affects mental function may be more difficult than a physical health condition. While injury dressings can be changed and medications can be provided to reduce pain, there are no bandages and/or pills to stop cognitive decline.

If you’re the caregiver for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, here are some recommendations, based on my experience, to help both you and your loved one. 

Dementia Caregiving Tip #1: Practice Patience

Family caregivers will find those affected by dementia routinely repeat themselves when speaking. Instead of getting angry with Dad, I learned to respond calmly and appropriately – as if I had never heard his question or story before. You may also find that trying to explain facts to a person with dementia can be frustrating and futile; they may have difficulty understanding. Instead, go to where they are going. Whether your loved one is “remembering” going on a family holiday that never occurred, mistakenly identifying you as an old friend, or watching the boats come into dock outside a long-term care room window, the conversation can be far more enjoyable if you imagine and affirm what they’re seeing and experiencing. 

Dementia Caregiving Tip #2: Promote Physical Health

Many scientific studies have found a direct connection between physical and mental health. When a person’s memory starts to fail, his/her physical condition can also decline. During visits to my father’s long-term care home, I spotted other residents slumped in their wheelchairs and parked in corners alone. Care home staff explained that these residents had worsened so much that they were unable to participate in activities. It was a sad picture, and I vowed to help the care home staff keep Dad moving for as long as possible. I chose to walk with Dad, though seniors could also benefit from practicing chair yoga, swimming, dancing, gentle stretching, and/or lifting light weights. 

Dementia Caregiving Tip #3: Use Physical Touch

There’s a reason touch is one of the five love languages; it is a powerful form of communication and connection. It can also be a valuable expression of reassurance particularly to someone living with dementia. Judging by his approving grunts, I found that Dad enjoyed a good hug from me. Physical touch can also be a good trick to help get a person’s attention. Try standing directly in front of your loved one when speaking. When combined with a physical component, talking slowly and limiting sentences to one thought can also be effective.

Dementia Caregiving Tip #4: Find Respite

It’s common advice that we’re sometimes quick to dismiss – caregivers must look after themselves. I heard this advice often enough but did my best to ignore it – mistakenly thinking that caregiving for my father was totally my responsibility and obligation and not understanding my own personal limits of what I could achieve. It wasn't until I started writing about my experiences, walking more regularly, and visiting coffee shops (and turning my cell phone off when doing so) that I began to feel less stressed. If you’re focusing most – if not all – of your time, energy, and resources on caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, you may find you cannot sustain doing so over the long-term. With proper self-care, you can relax and recharge, manage caregiver stress, and become a better and more effective caregiver. When the weather is warm, consider planting a garden in your backyard, sitting in a patio chair and reading a book outside, or riding a bike.

Dementia Caregiving Tip #5: Reduce Working Hours

Family caregivers often lament that there are not enough hours in a day to complete everything that needs to be done. A primary conflict can be your full-time job – which can easily eat up 40 hours in a week. Caregiving responsibilities can pile up and become the equivalent of a secondary full-time job while overlapping with a career. 

More employers are recognizing their employers who are caregivers and are open to working with them. It costs an employer time and money to advertise, hire, and train a new staff member if a proven current employee leaves to tend to caregiving obligations. If Alzheimer’s caregiving is interfering with your work, I recommend scheduling a meeting with your human resources manager to propose temporarily working from home, flex-time opportunities, job sharing, and/or even paid leave due to your caregiving demands. You may be pleasantly surprised by the accommodations your employer is willing to make.

A former caregiver describes the gestures that make a difference in Love Languages for Those with Dementia (And for the Rest of Us, Too)

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