Senior loved ones who have been diagnosed with dementia, especially in the later stages, may send family caregiver looking for ways to make the day to day routine easier.
How can you help improve the quality of both your lives?
There are complementary strategies that might improve how your senior loved one feels and participates in the events of the day.
The goal of complementary interventions is to promote well-being and are used in conjunction with conventional medicine — not in place of it.
Caution with Some Alternative Strategies
Have you considered trying something different to help make the day go easier with your senior who has dementia?
Alternative health therapies such as herbal supplements and medical foods are often purchased by caregivers hoping to see some improvement in memory or daily function in their senior loved one.
Unfortunately, these therapies are unproven and rely largely on personal testimony rather than actual scientific evidence.
Some of these items can be harmful and caution should be the watchword. Some may interfere with prescription medication, not contain what they say or just cost you money you don’t have.
Your senior shouldn’t stop taking prescription medications without the doctor’s approval because you think these alternatives will help.
Therapies For Comfort and Symptom Management
Other types of complementary therapies may not change the trajectory of your senior with dementia’s disease course, but they may give them some comfort and relief when provided.
Complementary techniques are not invasive, meaning they don’t puncture the skin or enter the body, and most are considered generally safe.
They may not all have scientifically proven effects as the research hasn’t kept up with the marketing, but they have shown relief for many and are therefore being studied more now.
These therapies may help with related symptoms such as sleeplessness if not the actual dementia.
Always talk to your senior loved one’s physician to discuss the safety of these options as each person is different and their needs vary.
These complementary approaches include:
- Aromatherapy – using essential oils derived from plants applied on the skin, diffused into the air or used in a bath. There is some who believe they help with relaxation and may even help with memory improvement especially lemon balm and lavender oil.
- Massage – hands on manipulation of soft tissue often done in combination with aromatherapy. Some evidence has been found that it can help with anxiety or depression but further research is needed.
- Meditation – this technique may be more important for stress relief in the caregiver but can help to settle down a person with dementia who is anxious. Trying to focus thoughts and releasing them can give calmness.
- Acupuncture – thought to help relieve muscle pain and fatigue by stimulating nerves, it has been studied in relation to dementia but more research is needed to show a benefit.
- Exercise – physical activity, especially when it becomes routine, not just an activity to distract, can prove to be both mentally and physically empowering. It can relieve stress in as little as 10 minutes of activity. Find an activity that gives joy in addition to movement such as yoga.
- Creative arts – drawing, painting, pottery, music, creative writing, storytelling, poetry, dance and movement, drama with the help of an art therapist or OT/PT. It has been found that for some people with dementia, their creative side is not negatively impacted but may also be enhanced. Researchers believe that creative expression is both healing and whole-making when the person can use this media to express themselves when words or thoughts are lost.
- Socialization – engaging with others can help memory, it can help stimulate the brain and keep the brain focused.
- Using technology – a recent study found that people who used a computer when they were 85 and older were 53% less likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment than those who did not use a computer. Technology can aid socialization, link to family, provide music and even a means of communication.
- Music therapy – not just listening but also making music with music that is recognizable; allows the person with dementia to reminisce; they often remember lyrics even when communication is greatly diminished.
- Doll therapy – dolls can often provide a safe and comfortable feeling for seniors with dementia. It can give them a sense of purpose in their day, something to love and nurture. Dolls can help manage behavioral symptoms of dementia such as anxiety, aggression and wandering.
Parkinson’s Caregiving Tips
If your senior loved one is one of the one-quarter to one-third of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) who also have dementia, you might be struggling with ways to meet their unique needs.
The best thing for caregivers with these special needs is to seek out others who can give you support through in person or online support groups. Learning from people who have firsthand experience can be extremely helpful.
People with PD and dementia may have difficulty with their attention and concentration which can appear when they try to shift from one activity to another. They may have difficulty problem solving or organizing an activity and especially find it hard to do more than one thing at a time or multi-tasking.
This can be problematic for caregivers when day to day care is affected like dressing choices or completing one task fully before starting another without regard to time sensitivity.
Your senior loved one with PD and dementia probably also has an impaired sense of direction, word finding trouble and short-term memory difficult which negatively impacts their daily life (and yours).
Having impaired motor control and sleeping during the day are often associated with this diagnosis too.
Recommendations to Improve Quality of Life
- Get a medication review to see if any medications are worsening some of their symptoms
- Participate in research studies that could provide support
- Get your senior’s attention before talking, asking a question or giving a command
- Always maintain eye contact with them
- Give them choices instead of questions that are open ended for example:
Don’t: What do you want to wear today?
Do: Would you like the blue outfit or the brown outfit today?
- Be sure to talk slowly so that they can understand what is said, don’t rush them
- Be prepared for healthcare visits with a list of questions, medication list, and any symptoms to discuss
- Declutter the environment to reduce confusion
- Remember to keep them engaged and socialize with others
- Keep a routine, schedule activities
- See an occupational therapist (OT) to get suggestions on improving the home environment and eating assistance, such as weighted utensils
- Keep head of bed elevated for sleep and wear them out during the day with activities so that they sleep well at night
- Caregivers are encouraged to attend support groups to get personal tips and practical caregiving help from others in the same situation
Caregivers can schedule some of these complementary activities into the day to help manage and give back some quality of life to both you and your loved one with dementia.