Dementiatimes Top 10 For Carers
1. Load up on nutrition (for both people): Many cases of dementia are completely preventable if nutritional needs are consistently met throughout life. Upon dementia onset, it is even more critical to provide nutrients to the brain. For the carer, the nutrition will be necessary to combat the stress of caring for the patient, and perhaps to prevent the carer from the same future. If nothing else, proper nutrition will stop or significantly delay the advancement of dementia. In some cases, nutrition can even reverse the effects of mental deterioration. A particular nutrition-minded community is called the Autoimmune Protocol, a subset of the increasingly popular Paleo Diet crowd.
2. Compile music playlists: The brain is sometimes a goofy bank of memories because while it stores every memory, it picks and chooses which things to recall. Over a lifetime of storing memories, when dementia sets in, the brain loses the ability to recall the appropriate memories – this is why someone with Alzheimer’s disease may fixate on a particular period of time, unable to switch between the past and the present. Music has a curious effect on the brain at this time because it triggers certain memories associated with particular songs and pieces. In this day and age, a carer can easily use this information to everyone’s advantage by selecting known pieces of music that can trigger certain positive and desirable memories.
3. Research legal issues: As dementia progresses, patients will lose the ability to make certain legal decisions, such as the capacity to sign contracts, make medical decisions, and make financial decisions. Before the dementia becomes very bad, a carer should, with the help of legal professionals, counsel the patient on present decisions that will have big impacts on the future. Should there be other medical considerations, the patient should arrange for a medical advocate who is very aware of health issues and can step in and make decisions if the patient is unable to do so himself. Legal paperwork will be required to prove the medical advocate relationship to doctors.
4. Plan financially: If the dementia becomes very bad, and more so if there are other physical limitations, a patient may need to go into a nursing home or arrange for medical professionals to visit the patient’s home. The money that is required for either case could break the bank. If planning for retirement, it will become a specialized type of planning to include medical treatment. Carers who may be sharing this financial responsibility should be involved in the planning process because many family feuds and fallings out are directly tied to the lack of financial and legal planning surrounding dementia.
5. Seek counseling: The emotional stress and possible resentment related to caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming. Especially if the patient is a parent or spouse, the inevitable miscommunications (and forgetting) will cause a lot of hurt feelings and interpretations of disrespect. Understanding what is happening, and learning how to recognize the intentional and unintentional inflictions of emotional pain, is something every carer should learn, especially because the person with dementia in most likelihood will be unable.
6. Exercise: To relieve stress (which will inevitably build up) and to prevent mental health problems associated with lack of exercise, physical training should be an essential part of a dementia carer’s life. Both people would benefit from exercise, either individually or together, and could stave off the peripheral relationship problems that often occur between the carer and the patient.
7. Take days off: Many carers undergo a type of depression that’s specifically caused by exhaustion. Similar to (or in fact) clinical depression can set in after a prolonged strain in physical, mental, emotional capabilities. Often stemming from guilt (what kind of person am I if I don’t take care of this family member), some carers will totally deplete their own energy stores. This can lead to intense conflict because resentment can build up towards the patient and/or other family members.
8. Take classes: Many carers are family members with no medical knowledge or background. They are simply the default choice when older family members are plunging into mental deterioration. This can lead to a “comedy of errors” which is actually quite tragic. Taking classes on nutrition and how to care for the elderly can be very helpful in developing a care regimen that is both kind and appropriate.
9. Find a support group: Many carers, through a combination of not understanding dementia or not knowing how to care for it, may think they are alone. They are not getting the emotional support from the patient because it may seem as though they are fighting each other. This can become demoralizing, which can lead to the carer becoming very uncaring and unkind towards the patient. The emotional support (and even factual knowledge) must come from somewhere else, which is why joining a support group makes the most sense. People sharing a common struggle will be more likely to help each other overcome the struggle, which will lead to better care for those who are suffering from dementia.
10. Enjoy live music: While listening to recordings is far more convenient and accessible, nothing can replace the true therapeutic effect of listening to live music. The vibrations from instrumental music and interaction between performer and audience can do much for alleviating some of the stress of dementia. Small acoustic settings are the most appropriate, especially for older people who may have hearing aids and cannot tolerate feedback from electrical instruments. Plucked string instruments such as the guitar or harp will work better than harsh or shrill instruments such as the trumpet or poorly played violins. Discuss with the patient on both preferred instrument and music repertoire, and attend the live music performances together. This will help with the positive bonding process that can make the difficult alienating instances more bearable, for both people.