Dealing with dementia can be difficult for the caregiver and sufferer alike. For people facing the progressive loss of cognitive function caused by dementia, even easy tasks can quickly become overwhelming.
A few simple adjustments in how caregivers interact with dementia sufferers can help ease difficult behaviors, says Ann Sanchez, program coordinator for the Mills-Peninsula Senior Focus Alzheimer’s Day Care Resource Center.
Approximately 15 million non-professional caregivers in the U.S. care for about 5.5 million people with Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia.
Because people with dementia get overwhelmed easily, simplifying tasks can help soothe some difficult dementia-related behaviors, said Sanchez, who has been working with the dementia population for almost 20 years.
If a person with dementia is not eating or is agitated at mealtimes, it may be a crowded table causing upset, Sanchez said.
“Instead of placing the fork, knife, spoon, coffee and milk at the table all at once, put one thing at a time in front of them and give them more time to eat,” Sanchez said. “This simple step can reduce the agitation level of dementia sufferers.”
Moreover, breaking all communication down into simple steps can diffuse frustration — both for the caregiver and the person with dementia.
For example, it might be too much to ask someone with dementia to get ready to leave the house or come join dinner.
“So, break it down to one step at a time,” Sanchez says. “You say, ‘Can you stand up?’ It is a simple step a person with cognitive difficulties can process. Then, ‘can you come with me?’”
Adopting specific strategies can help caregivers keep their loved ones at home while maintaining their own quality of life.