Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. The symptoms usually get worse in a progressive fashion, according to Dr. Michael Plopper, chief medical officer of Sharp Behavioral Health Services.
Caring for a loved one at home with dementia is a challenging endeavor that requires much energy, compassion and patience. The task can be emotionally devastating for family members, who must transition from what is often a familiar and close relationship with a spouse or parent to becoming that person’s caregiver amid fading memories and abilities.
“The caregiver has a very demanding role, but it shouldn’t be a solo struggle,” says Dr. Plopper. “A very important component of successful caregiving for a person with dementia is knowing how to access resources, and knowing how to get help.”
Dr. Plopper recommends a good place to start is with organizations like Alzheimer’s San Diego, and the sooner the better.
“Accessing organizations that provide help early in the course of the disorder is crucial,” he says, “so you can better understand the disorder and learn about available services, including support groups and respite care, among many other services. It helps caregivers to feel like they are not alone and that help is available.”
Because the demands of care are so high, from taking care of a loved one’s physical and hygiene needs to administering medicine, caregivers often feel lonely, isolated and exhausted. These feelings can be compounded by interacting with a person who may have extreme behavioral changes and other cognitive issues. Normal social interactions that families once enjoyed become severely disrupted.
“Families can band together to share the duties and provide relief for the primary caregiver,” says Dr. Plopper. “And if possible, getting in-home care is recommended and extremely beneficial to help caregivers understand how to better manage the person with dementia.”
Ideally, an occupational therapist should visit the home to provide a safety assessment and give specific advice on how to set up the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen, and how to manage the formerly simple activities of daily living.
Some changes might include adding safety bars in the bathroom, converting a step-in tub to a walk-in shower, reducing furniture, locking up medications, and removing stove knobs and breakable items. The end goal is to make the job easier for the caregiver and safer for the person with dementia.
Other services that offer relief for the caregiver are adult day care facilities, where persons with dementia are cared for during the day by health care professionals, and return home at the end of the day.
“Getting a break from the rigors of providing constant care, even for one day a week, can provide tremendous relief for the caregiver,” says Dr. Plopper. “The success of providing care in the home depends on a caregiver being able to cope with a tremendous amount of stress, and whether it’s friends and family members banding together, getting counsel from a home occupational therapist, or using day care or in-home care services, it will only help them succeed in caring for their loved one with dementia,” he says.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Plopper about dementia for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.