Caring for someone with dementia is challenging, but should not be overwhelming. Whether caring for a loved one or working as a care professional, learning the basics of each stage is crucial to success. Educating yourself can guide your expectations and help you know when to ask for additional help with dementia care.
Early Stage Dementia
In the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a person will likely continue to function normally and independently. Despite this, your loved one may express concern about his or her memory. Close friends and family may also begin to notice difficulties. Common early symptoms vary but can include:
- Difficulty finding the right word in conversation
- Trouble remembering names of new people
- Forgetting the location of everyday objects
- Challenges with tasks in social or work settings
While the search for treatment to stop memory loss continues, early diagnosis allows for better planning and care options. Dementia care begins with compassion and empathy. As your loved one becomes increasingly confused as the disease develops, remember to be patient and kind. Additionally, be realistic as a caregiver. Understand that success is about making the person feel comfortable, safe, and happy. Realize that there will be good and bad days throughout the progression. Lastly, it is never too early to begin planning. If you already feel overwhelmed with your caregiver role, this is the time to explore how to get help with dementia care and research options for the future.
Middle Stage Dementia
Middle stage dementia or moderate Alzheimer’s disease is usually the longest stage, often lasting many years. During this stage, the symptoms are more pronounced and obvious to friends and family. An aging loved one may have more difficulty performing everyday tasks, but still remember details about their personal history. Additionally, adults with mid-stage dementia may become unexpectedly angry or withdrawn in social situations. Other symptoms of this stage include:
- Unable to recall their own address or phone number
- Confusion about current location or day
- Changes in sleep patterns or becoming restless at night
- Wandering and risk of getting lost
As the disease progresses, your loved one will require a greater level of care. It’s important to understand that dementia symptoms extend beyond memory loss. As the person with dementia develops difficult behaviors and moods, continue to actively empathize. Aim to create a welcoming environment. Be flexible and patient with them. Additionally, caregivers should continually reassess the health of their loved ones to best meet their needs.
Because mid-stage dementia tends to last for years, many caretakers forget that the disease is slowly progressing. Unfortunately, change in your loved one’s condition is inevitable. Enjoy this time with them: plan some of their favorite activities or mark a few things off their bucket list.
However, don’t forget to prepare for a time when they may need professional care or to be placed in a residential setting. This involves identifying the most appropriate options and assessing the financial aspects of care.
Symptoms of late or final stage dementia are severe and continuous. Late-stage Alzheimer’s or other advanced cognitive decline manifests in many ways, including:
- Losing awareness of recent experiences and surroundings
- Changes in physical abilities including walking, sitting, and eventually swallowing
- Increasing difficulty communicating with the possibility of becoming nonverbal
- Decreased immune response and increased susceptibility to infection
Individuals in this stage often have difficulty with daily activities and personal care. As a result, they might need around-the-clock supervision. This may be the time you take the leap to move your loved one into full-time memory care. If you choose to continue to care for your loved one yourself, consider respite care as an option. This can offer a break for caregivers while still providing a safe environment for individuals with dementia.
As the person’s skills decrease, a caregiver’s responsibilities increase. Unfortunately, frustration for both parties can often increase as well. It is imperative to reexamine the meaning of success in your care. Aim to create a familiar and safe environment for the individual. Foster the good moments with the individual and work at their pace. Your overall goal should be to preserve their quality of life during this challenging stage.
Knowledge and Attitude: the Keys to Successful Dementia Care at Any Stage
In order to find success as a caregiver, first prepare and educate yourself about dementia and its progression. Then, aim to maintain a positive yet realistic attitude throughout your care. Knowledge and attitude can provide an element of control that will help take the surprise out of challenges you will face.
…But Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
Unfortunately, there may be times when you simply become overwhelmed with caregiving. Whether caring for a family member in your home or providing care professionally in a facility, never be afraid to ask for help. Consider joining a support group. This can be a great place to share ideas and resources or to vent to someone who understands what you’re going through. Remember that caring for someone with dementia is not easy, and there will certainly be times when you need an extra hand or simply someone to talk to.