This blog post focuses on how caregivers can (and should) enlist help in caring for someone with dementia. It is the second installment of a seven-part series on common sense dementia care. The series features seven principles that can improve quality of life for caregivers and their loved ones.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a helpful mnemonic (memory device) for remembering these tried and true tips for dementia care:
The Seven Common Senses of Dementia Care
- Enlist help
A Good Caregiver is a Good Leader
To orchestrate the primary care of someone with dementia, a primary caregiver must lead the way. This is as true for a family member who takes on the role of primary caregiver as it is for a physician heading up a patient’s medical team. Caregivers of people with dementia can optimize care by employing some of the practices of strong leaders:
Utilize Available Resources
A savvy caregiver harnesses available resources to his or her advantage. These include not only tangibles, like household items and technology, but also things like daily routine and brain therapy (my preferred term for adult daycare/day programs). Support and advocacy groups may offer much-needed information and assistance, both online and in-person.
Consult and Network
Caregivers may be reluctant to reach out to friends and family, especially if a loved one has mild dementia. However, advanced planning and coordination of care are advisable as soon as the diagnosis of dementia is made and should be revisited periodically depending on each person’s situation. Acting proactively sure beats trying to sort things out in a crisis, e.g., if either the patient—or the caregiver!—are hospitalized.
Connecting with other caregivers offers a unique chance for empathy and support. One of the most important parts of attending a caregiving conference are the breaks!—as these provide the opportunity to meet other caregivers.
Play to Team Members’ Strengths
A good coach not only recruits team members and delegates responsibility but plays to everyone’s strengths. Also, you’re more likely to have a request fulfilled if you ask for something specific and give a reason. An excuse is okay (e.g., “I’m not good on computers”) but flattery will get you everywhere. (E.g., You’re so good with that computer stuff, could you please help us with ordering our monthly medications?)
A Good Leader Needs a Good Team
What if you’re not a primary caregiver, but you want to help?
- ASK yourself, but more importantly, ask the primary caregiver, What can I do? Most important of all, be prepared to follow up in word and in deed.
- OFFER SPECIFIC HELP (with regard to day/time, events and places). E.g., driving a loved one to a weekly meeting.
- LIVE A DAY IN A CAREGIVER’S SHOES. Or a week or weekend. Out-of-town grown children might give Dad a few days off while they stay with Mom. They can see what he’s talking about when he says Mom isn’t doing so well and how much he has to help her. Or they may learn that he’s not letting on just how much he must be struggling on his own.
Having time off is important for a caregiver’s health and quality of life, but caregivers may feel guilty about leaving a loved one with dementia in the hands of another. However, it’s beneficial for a person with dementia to get out of the house and see other faces, too. Social isolation is harmful, not only for a loved one with dementia but for their caregivers. It may lead to increased behavioral problems and disease progression in a person with dementia and increased risk of illnesses like depression in both patients with dementia and caregivers. On the other hand, social activity confers positive cognitive and health benefits for everyone. Please don’t face it alone. Enlist help and engage socially.
Not only do caregivers deserve a break, a person with dementia may benefit from a break from their caregiver, too!
By Anne M. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D. Neurologist and Author of The Common Sense Guide to Dementia For more information on the Seven Common Sense of Dementia Care, see Dr. Lipton’s book, The Common Sense Guide to Dementia for Clinicians and Caregivers.