Dementia can be devastating for the people who live with it and their family members, and it’s a diagnosis more Americans will face as the U.S. population ages.
In the next 20 years, the total number of those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia in the U.S. is expected to approximately double from 7.2 million to nearly 13 million, according to the Milken Institute.
“As the life a person always knew becomes increasingly unfamiliar, caregivers can play an important role in helping ease anxiety,” says Jennifer Sheets, president and chief executive officer of Interim HealthCare Inc., an in-home healthcare and assistance provider that takes a positive approach to caring for those with dementia. “With the right knowledge, a caregiver can help their loved one cope with the changes they are experiencing.”
Dementia is caused by physical changes in the brain and while there any many kinds of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common.
In recognition of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, commemorated in June, Interim HealthCare recommends three practical tips for compassionate caregiving:
1. Use the hand-under-hand technique: Hand-under-Hand is a technique that caregivers can use to reduce anxiety and calm a person with dementia. The base or heal of the hand is a highly sensitive area. Put slight pressure on that area by clasping your loved one’s dominant hand. This technique works best if you put your hand underneath theirs. That gives them a feeling of control as well as calms them.
2. Acknowledge evolving tastes: A person living with dementia experiences a range of sensory and cognitive changes that can affect their appetite and food preferences. Indeed, your loved one’s favorite foods may now have a negative smell or taste to them. While maintaining good nutrition is essential, don’t force these foods or argue over them. Instead, offer a variety of balanced foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins, in small servings at first until you understand new preferences. Realize these preferences may change again.
3. Carve out time for art and music: Once a person is diagnosed with dementia, their ability to act independently greatly diminishes. However, artwork and music allow for freedom of expression, which over time, can be quite impactful in relieving anxiety. Remember, it’s about the creative process, not your loved one’s abilities. So, set aside 30-45 minutes weekly for art or music and consider participating alongside them.
Committed to helping caregivers find the strength and stamina needed to provide compassionate support, Interim HealthCare has based its care approach on the methodology of Teepa Snow, an international leader in the Positive Approach to Care (PAC) philosophy. To that end, many caregivers and clinicians in the Interim HealthCare network participate in PAC training rooted in learning care techniques that can ease anxiety, as well as in understanding what a person living with dementia can still do -- even as the journey continues to become more difficult for them over time.
Interim HealthCare has created a free downloadable guide with more tips and guidance intended to provide the most supportive environment possible.
To download the free guide visit: Interimhealthcare.com/dementia-caregiver-guide.aspx.
Caring for a person with dementia is a difficult journey. However, a greater understanding of the condition can help caregivers better cope and manage their role with compassion.