Family caregivers face challenges every day when caring for a person with dementia.
Family caregivers want senior loved ones to be happy and healthy, whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with lewy bodies, Parkinson’s dementia or some other progressive, degenerative neurological condition.
This can take a real toll on caregivers.
We know that and have some suggestions for things caregivers can do at home to help improve the safety and well-being of their seniors.
Making the Most of Being at Home
There are aspects of life at home where our focus as family caregivers can help make better the lives of our seniors with dementia.
Create a safe environment
As the disease progresses, thoughts of consequences of actions fail for people with dementia. Turning on the stovetop, then putting the towel over the burner or walking away without turning off the heat is all too common.
Family caregivers can help by reconfiguring the living environment, both inside and outside the home, to make it as safe as possible.
- Be sure there is adequate lighting so that steps, furniture, change in flooring levels (such as hardwood to carpet) are more easy to navigate without tripping.
- Install stove locks and other safety features so that the appliance has a timed shutoff or is unable to be activated.
- If wandering is an issue, install a door lock on the upper part of the door where they wouldn’t think to look for it and prevent them from leaving unnoticed. You could also install an electronic doorbell that will alert you remotely on your smartphone if someone goes out (or tries to come in).
- Remove throw rugs to prevent tripping.
- Put decals on sliding glass doors large and colorful enough to prevent them from walking through them.
- Remove any objects from their reach that could cause them harm such as chemicals, knives, power tools, etc.
- Repair loose floorboards or steps, install handrails, keep the front porch and walkway free of hazards, install motion sensing lights on the exterior and keep smoke detectors in good working condition.
Are there home modifications that would help keep your senior safe and can these be done by you or a handyman to keep the home as safe as possible?
You might find more suggestions for home modifications that will help you and your senior in our downloadable Home Seniorization Checklist.
Reduce stimulation that is stressful
People with dementia can be frightened by certain objects or people in their environment.
For some, mirrors can be confusing. Who is that person looking back at them? They don’t recognize themselves and find a stranger in their midst. If that is the case, remove large looking glass mirrors from rooms they frequent.
Visual and auditory stimulation can be stressful. Too much noise from TV, radio or other sources can be confusing and upsetting especially if it is prolonged. Too much in the environment such as patterns, objects and even people can lead to increased agitation.
Stimulation can be positive, such as specific smells, pictures and cues, in that it keeps their minds active and orients them to their surroundings but overstimulation can lead to aggressive behavior, inability to sleep, and confusion.
Help them stay active
Staying physically active and socially engaged within their surroundings is important for seniors’ physical and mental health.
Make opportunities for outside exercise, change in activity to reduce boredom and provide outlets to engage in society.
Naturally it is important that they are safe outside with proper precautions, such as safe walkways, freedom to roam a bit, safety from traffic, adequate hydration and sun protection and some purpose in the activity, such as bird watching or flower picking, to remain oriented.
Be sure their day has routine but also purposeful and meaningful activities that stimulate, entertain and create movement.
Provide a consistent schedule
Having a defined routine each day will make providing care for your senior with dementia go more smoothly but also give them a sense of time and space, too.
Learning through structure and repetition that after breakfast it is time to wash and dress will make that process easier for you both.
When your senior routinely sets the table before every meal and knows it is time to eat, for example, they may be more ready to eat a good meal feeling as though they have participated but also they understand that it is time for this activity.
Having rest time daily, either in the form of a nap or quiet time, can help reduce the effect of sundowning so that the person with dementia is not exhausted before dinner time.
Naturally, some flexibility in the routine will be necessary for appointments and visits from friends and family members. When you have a routine, these occurrences provide a chance to experience a new event without upsetting the day and later the night.
Create Opportunities for Social Interactions
As much as possible, continue to interact within your community. Don’t isolate the person with dementia.
They — and you, too — need to talk with others, share common experiences, reminisce and be socially stimulated.
This can be in any number of ways, such as going to the beauty or barber shop, going to church, shopping, attending a support group meeting, attending memory day care, welcoming people into the home, dining out, or strolling a park for a nature walk.
Bringing along what you will need, such as change of clothes, snacks and drinks, and being familiar with the location, so that you know not only where the bathroom is but also where the exit is in case a swift departure is needed, will help make the outings go more smoothly.
Don’t overstay your welcome. Be aware of that point when stimulation becomes overstimulation and a rest or break is needed. Be ready to cut short the visit for the well-being of your senior.
The Ultimate Goal – Their Quality of Life
These and other attention to details for the benefit of your senior loved one with dementia will help them and you as the family caregiver.
However, the true goal for making changes in the daily living of a family dealing with the challenges of dementia is to provide the highest quality of life you can for that senior as long as possible.
Dementia is a progressive disease that will require family caregivers to constantly modify the environment.
Strategies for functional independence and safety as well as social engagement need to happen everyday.
What other suggestions do you have for improving the life of seniors with dementia?