Caring for an aging parent or loved one who suffers from cognitive decline is incredibly challenging. The following tips can help you navigate this difficult experience as an informal dementia home care provider.
Updated May 23, 2022
Do You Provide Dementia Home Care For A Loved One?
Of all the problems that can occur with age, dementia is one of the most difficult to handle. Finding out that someone you love has dementia is heartbreaking. This disease is challenging, but with proper dementia home care, your loved one can maintain their quality of life and even a degree of independence.
Dementia-related diseases cause multiple cognitive, physical, behavioral, and emotional changes. These disruptive shifts are highly distressing not only for the person living with dementia but for you, too.
Understanding your loved one’s condition and how to resolve daily challenges that arise are essential to their wellbeing. The information below can help you better address changes in your loved one and improve their quality of life.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia arises when the cerebral cortex begins to degenerate. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that manages thoughts, memories, actions, and personality. As we age, our cells stop replicating and producing new ones, and the ones we currently have begin to die. When brain cells in the cerebral cortex begin to die, cognitive impairments associated with dementia can develop.
Many things can cause the cerebral cortex to deteriorate, such as:
- Head injuries
- Drug and alcohol use
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Hormone disorders and imbalances
Genes, education level, and age can also increase the risk. Although some genetic factors play a larger role, studies have found that environmental factors such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle play a more substantial part. Furthermore, hearing loss, untreated depression, inactive lifestyles, or isolation can increase the likelihood of developing dementia by 30%.
Types Of Dementia
The type of dementia home care you choose may depend on which type your loved one develops: Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s accounts for nearly 70% of dementia cases. Unusual protein deposits in the brain cause nerve cells to die. As it progresses, it destroys cells that control memory and mental functions.
Vascular dementia accounts for about 20% of diagnoses. This type of dementia occurs as the brain loses functioning over time due to multiple small strokes. In addition, vascular dementia can also occur due to atherosclerosis, where fats, dead cells, and other deposits block blood flow in the arteries.
Mixed dementia is when someone develops both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and other conditions can increase the chances of developing mixed dementia.
Is Dementia Preventable?
There is no one exact way to stop dementia. However, researchers have found that the best way to prevent this disease is a healthy, active lifestyle and balanced diet. Keeping a healthy weight, regularly working out, abstaining from large amounts of alcohol and smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure also helps.
Of course, mental activity is just as important as physical activity. For example, stimulating games like crosswords, sudoku, word searches, and even video games can help keep the mind engaged and active. In addition, learning new hobbies and getting involved in groups or interest communities are excellent ways to give your brain the stimulation it craves. Whether it’s your church, a senior community center, or just support groups, social interaction can do a lot for the brain.
Treatment Options For Dementia
Sadly, there is no cure for dementia. However, there are several treatment options available. Medication can slow progression and boost mental functioning, mood, and behavior, but unfortunately, it can’t stop anything.
As cognitive decline worsens, palliative care can help improve the patient’s quality of life and comfort. Palliative care can help your loved one stay independent and care for themselves as long as possible. They can also receive additional support and even counseling to help ease the emotional burden that often comes with this troubling diagnosis.
Dementia Home Care Options
Dementia treatments can help manage memory loss, confusion, and other symptoms. But unfortunately, medications can’t cure it. Therefore, as your loved one’s condition progresses, so will their care needs. For this reason, you will need additional support.
But, like many family caregivers, you might feel like you have to shoulder your responsibilities alone. Or you might feel guilty about asking for help. However, dementia home care is a valuable resource. No matter how much your loved one’s dementia progresses, you should find help when you need it. Professional support ensures your loved one’s needs continue to be met by professionals specializing in dementia home care.
Dementia Home Care Services For Daily Support
The following dementia home care options can help both you and your loved one. To learn if Medicare covers these services, contact your loved one’s plan provider.
Home Care Services
Home care services provide home health aides (HHAs) or personal care aides who help you care for your loved one in their home. These professionals don’t offer skilled medical care, so but they do offer companionship and assist with personal care needs such as:
- Light housekeeping
Home care aides can help you care for your loved one for a couple of hours per day or around the clock. These services typically charge hourly, though overnight aides may offer a flat rate.
Medicare and private insurance plans may offset some of the cost of dementia home care. However, most do not cover nonmedical care, so contact your loved one’s insurer. Alternatively, some types of long-term care insurance may provide coverage for personal care and companion services.
To find dementia home care services, ask your physician or a member of your loved one’s care team. You can also ask friends and families for referrals or this helpful Home Care/Hospice Agency Locator tool by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
Home Health Care Services
Unlike home care services, home health care providers have the skills and credentials to support your loved one at home following a hospitalization, illness, or injury. Home health professionals deliver skilled medical services, such as:
- Skilled nursing care
- Physical, occupational, or speech therapy
- Other medical assistance prescribed by your loved one’s physician
Your loved one’s doctor must authorize home health care services for them to receive these services. Since these providers deliver medical assistance, your loved one’s insurance may cover part of the cost.
To locate home health care services near you, ask your loved one’s doctor or hospital discharge social worker for a list of local agencies. Or, you can use Medicare.gov’s Home Health Compare tool or the Eldercare Locator.
Dementia Home Care Resources
Dementia home care starts with finding the right resources for your particular situation. Here are a few organizations that provide support and guidance for family caregivers:
NIA Alzheimer's and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
The ADEAR Center, a service offered by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), provides information on various topics related to dementia home care, including:
- Paying for care
- Long-term care
- End-of-life care
- Caregiver needs
- Financial and legal planning
- Research on cognitive diseases
- How to talk to your loved one’s doctor
Furthermore, you can go online or speak directly to staff members to get recommendations such as local and nationwide resources.
Alzheimers.gov provides a portal for family caregivers to find federal resources and advice about cognitive diseases.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a nationwide organization that offers resources for caregivers seeking dementia home care support, including a helpline and support services. In addition, look online to find local groups in your area that provide support groups or help for elders with early-stage dementia.
Alzheimer's Foundation of America
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers resources on caring for individuals with cognitive diseases, a directory of services for people with Alzheimer’s, a list of member organizations, and more.
The Eldercare Locator, a service provided by the US Administration on Aging, offers helpful information such as local resources, including dementia home care options near you. You can visit Eldercare.ACL.gov for more details.
National Institute on Aging Information Center
The NIA Information Center provides free resources on aging, most of which are available for English and Spanish speakers. You can read, print, and order these publications.
Geriatric Care Managers
Geriatric care managers are a helpful resource for family caregivers. These professionals can visit your loved one’s home and recommend services based on their needs, then connect you with these services.
Like home care aides, geriatric care managers typically charge an hourly rate. Unfortunately, many insurances, including Medicare, do not cover these costs. To find a geriatric care manager, visit the Aging Life Care Association website.
Dementia Home Care Management
The following dementia caregiver tips will help you with several key areas such as communication, behavioral issues, and creating a secure living environment for your loved one.
Dementia Home Care Tips For Family Caregivers
Create Consistency By Establishing A Routine
Creating a consistent routine can do much for you and your loved one’s quality of life. However, as a caregiver, establishing a daily routine is your responsibility and requires a lot of experimenting and effort, particularly as your loved one’s condition progresses.
For example, people with dementia should bathe, get dressed, and eat around the same time every day. While you may have no trouble managing this initially, you may have to plan more time for these tasks as your parents’ health declines.
As you build a routine, make sure you:
- Include things your parent enjoys doing and things they can still do independently.
- Leave plenty of time for you two to do something enjoyable together during the day.
- Consider how their mood, mental state, and behavior changes during different parts of the day.
Avoid Overwhelm By Asking Simple Questions
Memory loss caused by dementia can diminish people’s communication ability, leading to anxiety and frustration. This deterioration can make answering once-basic questions such as “what do you want to do today?” difficult and overwhelming.
So rather than asking broad questions that require your loved one to articulate more thoughts, stick to more straightforward yes or no questions. Questions such as “Would you like to go for a walk?” versus “what should we do?” are more direct and less likely to create confusion or anxiety.
Ease Frustration With Nonverbal Communication
Depending on your loved one’s condition, they may have trouble recalling certain words to express what they want. Or, they may struggle to speak at all. A lack of communication is frustrating for both parties, but you must remember that your loved one can’t help their situation.
Here are a few dementia caregiver tips that can help you communicate with your loved one as their ability to speak declines:
- Respect their personal space.
- Promote two-way conversations as much as you can.
- Give your loved one reasonable control over their life.
- Incorporate a blend of activities and “quiet time” into their schedule.
- Be reassuring and express understanding and empathy if they appear upset.
- Offer gentle reminders rather than continuously asking, “Do you remember?”
- Create a sense of safety and security by placing treasured belongings and photos throughout the home.
- If your loved one becomes upset and struggles to use their words, calm them by offering distractions like books or music.
Reduce Irritation By Practicing Patience
Caring for an aging parent with dementia who struggles with memory loss or communication can be immensely difficult. And when they seem to fight every little thing you do, frustration isn’t only unavoidable but understandable.
Dementia is a massive cognitive and emotional burden that can slow you down and make it challenging to accomplish everything on your plate. But as difficult as it may be for you, consider what it’s like for your parent who can no longer express themselves.
To prevent added frustration for both sides, allow your loved one plenty of time to answer questions or complete tasks. Also, be willing to repeat yourself if needed. In the end, impatience or rushing your loved one through each task only does more harm than good.
Provide Stimulation & Comfort With Home Modifications
As your parent gets older, you may make minor changes around their home to ensure their safety. But if they live with dementia, a comfortable and secure home also calls for the right balance of mental stimulation. So while puzzles and games help, there are things you can do around the house to help them better focus on their surroundings, such as:
- Encouraging the use of table lamps with warm light in the hours before their bedtime
- Supporting good sleep hygiene by avoiding white or blue lights and using amber nightlights.
- Allowing as much natural light as possible to enter your loved one’s home during the day (and make it easy for them to access it)
Additionally, research finds that dynamic patterns, dark lines, or even flooring designs can cause confusion and lead to falls. Color contrast can help those with dementia differentiate different objects. You can create this distinction in many ways, such as using tablecloths and place settings that vary in color.
Lighten The Mood By Laughing More
Although your loved one may not communicate with words, they are still aware of their surroundings. Discovering new, meaningful ways to connect (such as laughter) can have a lasting impact if they rely on facial expressions and body language to communicate. For example, studies demonstrate that laughter truly is the best medicine. When it comes to dementia, research has found a positive link between laughter and memory loss. In addition, laughter can help you as a dementia caregiver by relieving some of the stress you experience.
Ease Symptoms By Encouraging Physical Activity
A growing amount of research finds that an active lifestyle can potentially delay the brain’s aging process. Conversely, an inactive lifestyle can raise the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Regular physical activity facilitates blood flow to the brain, so encourage your loved one to get a minimum of 20 minutes of physical activity per day. Doing so can improve their clarity and make it easier to focus on their surroundings.
Physical activity can also avoid sundowning, which refers to heightened “restlessness, agitation, disorientation, and other troubling behavior” that typically occurs “at the end of the day and sometimes continue throughout the night.” Dementia often causes changes in your loved one’s biological clock, leading to sundowning. However, physical activity can offset these fluctuations and help your parent maintain a consistent wake/sleep cycle.
Offer A Sense Of Purpose By Making Your Loved One Feel Needed
Has your loved one ever followed you around the home and imitated your every move? Or do they continuously ask questions, interrupt, or talk? This behavior is known as shadowing and, like sundowning, typically happens in the late afternoon or evening.
As someone who provides informal dementia home care, shadowing and sundowning can quickly become taxing. But rather than getting angry with your loved one, offer them a distraction that occupies their attention and makes them feel needed.
For example, ask your loved one for help or give them a simple task like folding laundry, setting the table, or gardening. Everyone wants to feel needed, and extending these small opportunities will provide your loved one with a sense of purpose.
Dementia Home Care Help From MeetCaregivers
Caring for somebody with dementia is one of the most challenging things you can do. However, this experience can also bring you and your loved one closer together. Suggestions like those above can help you learn how to respond with love and empathy.
If you are an adult child who is new to caregiving or needs extra support, MeetCaregivers can help. Call 1-888-541-1136 or email email@example.com.
You can find additional resources for caregivers on our Blog.
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- Bridges, Ryan. “5 Helpful Caregiving Tips for Those Living With Dementia: Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI).” Crisis Prevention Institue, Crisis Prevention Institute, 12 Jan. 2021, www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/5-Easy-Caregiving-Tips-When-Dealing-With-Dementia.
- “Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors.” Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors – Family Caregiver Alliance, www.caregiver.org/resource/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors/.
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- Stanford Health Care. (n.d.). Treatment Options for Dementia. StandfordHealthCare.com. Retrieved June 24, 2019, from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/brain-and-nerves/dementia/treatments.html
- “Tips for Caregivers and Families of People With Dementia: National Institute on Aging.” Alzheimers.gov, www.alzheimers.gov/life-with-dementia/tips-caregivers.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Getting Help with Alzheimer’s Caregiving. NIA.NIH.gov. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-help-alzheimers-caregiving