When Caring for a Loved One with Dementia at Home

You want to make sure you’re doing all you can for an aging parent. When dementia care is needed, it becomes a lot more complicated. Certain cognitive and behavioral changes from dementia can happen unexpectedly and parents may resist care

If you are a caregiver for a senior with dementia, the most important thing is to first understand the disease. Although Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia, it is the one with the most pronounced stages. Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, ongoing symptoms gradually get worse.

Alzheimer’s Disease Is the Most Common Type of Dementia

One in three seniors with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. It can progress slowly, but it can also progress rapidly.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. This disease manifests as a series of symptoms, the most common being forgetfulness and difficulty remembering things that have happened recently. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older.

Alzheimer’s disease is often referred to as younger-onset Alzheimer’s if it affects a person under 65. Younger-onset can also be referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s. People with younger-onset Alzheimer’s can be in the early, middle or late stage of the disease.

According to ALZ.org, people with Alzheimer’s typically live four to eight years after the disease is confirmed. Although some may live with the disease for up to two decades.

The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease causes symptoms to worsen over time. However, the rate at which the diseases progresses can vary. Changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s begin years before any signs of the disease. This time period, which can last for years, is referred to as preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

The stages of Alzheimer’s are separated into three categories: mild Alzheimer’s disease, moderate Alzheimer’s disease and severe Alzheimer’s disease. Be aware that it may be difficult to place a person with Alzheimer’s in a specific stage as stages may overlap.

Early-stage Alzheimer’s (mild)

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to live independently and function as if nothing is wrong. Despite this, they may have memory-related conditions such as forgetting words or forgetting where they put their keys.

Family members or close friends might notice changes in you before you are aware that there are any. They may point out that your habits have slowly changed. Doctors can help identify if you have Alzheimer’s with various diagnostic tests.

The actual symptoms of Alzheimer’s will vary from person to person, but problems may include:

  • Coming up with the right word or name.
  • Remembering names when introduced to new people.
  • Having difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings.
  • Forgetting material that was just read.
  • Losing or misplacing a valuable object.
  • Experiencing increased trouble with planning or organizing.

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s (moderate)

Middle-stage Alzheimer’s is the longest stage and usually lasts for many years As time progresses, those with Alzheimer’s Disease will need more care which will lead to a greater demand for specialized healthcare workers. During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the dementia symptoms are more pronounced. Making mistakes without realizing it could lead to someone acting in annoyance or anger, for example by refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can also make it difficult for the person to express thoughts and perform routine tasks without assistance.

In the middle stage, a person living with Alzheimer’s can still take part in every day activities with assistance from family members. It’s important to find out what they can do or find ways to simplify tasks

Symptoms, which vary from person to person, may include:

  • Being forgetful of events or personal history.
  • ​Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations.
  • Being unable to recall information about themselves like their address or telephone number, and the high school or college they attended.
  • Experiencing confusion about where they are or what day it is.
  • Requiring help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion.
  • Having trouble controlling their bladder and bowels.
  • Experiencing changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night.
  • Showing an increased tendency to wander and become lost.
  • Demonstrating personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding.

Late-stage Alzheimer’s (severe)

When dementia affects someone in the final stages, they can’t respond to their environment or carry on conversations. They eventually reach a point where they can no longer control movement. Sufferers often find it particularly difficult to communicate their pain. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place. Individuals in need of care may need to be supervised around the clock.

At this stage, individuals may:

  • Require around-the-clock assistance with daily personal care.
  • ​Lose awareness of recent experiences
  • Physical ability changes, such as trouble with sitting & swallowing, are common with stroke survivors.
  • Have trouble communicating with people
  • Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.

People may want to consider the support services available at this stage, such as hospice care, which can help you focus on comfort & dignity. Hospice is a type of care option for those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other neuro-degenerative diseases and their family and caregivers.

Develop a Care Plan for Your Loved One with Dementia

As the disease progresses, some of the things you may need to do will include making sure your loved one has been looked after medically. Coordinating with the doctor as the disease progresses is key as well as some other needs as they arise. It is just as crucial that you maintain good caregiving skills in the long-term. Having a strong care team by your side can help you stay on top of things better.

Here are some recommendations for you as the caregiver to consider:

  1. Make your home safer for you and your loved one.
  2. Do your research to learn what is ahead for everyone.
  3. Build a ‘support group’ for your own physical and mental health.
  4. Include your spouse and children in the plans so they know what to expect.
  5. Have an plan for the ‘next step’. Will there be a point at which you will need to bring in outside help?

It’s only natural that taking care of an older family member can take time, but it can also bring valuable rewards. A solution for aging in place is to provide help with day-to-day tasks, such as lugging groceries and paying bills. Allowing seniors the freedom to live at home and in their community is a great way to maintain independence and dignity. It can also create a sense of comfort and stability.

A lot of seniors prefer to live on their own. They don’t have to worry about their safety and they also get the sense of independence which is lacking when living in a nursing home. In order to reap the benefits, measures must be put in place to make sure your parents stay safe and supported throughout their journey.