Tips for Living With or Caring for Patients with Memory Issues
March 23 2021
6 Tips that Can Make Life Easier for Your Loved One and For You
Caring for or living with a loved one who has memory issues can be stressful and intensely emotional. Cognitive and memory impairments can change not only how a person thinks and feels but also how they act, presenting special challenges for family and caregivers. Whether you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimers or another type of dementia or a loved one with a brain injury, there are some simple tips you can follow to help make life easier for your loved one and for you.
Be Clear and Simple when Communicating
1 Improving your communication skills can help make speaking with someone who has memory issues much less stressful and improve the quality of your relationship. Make sure that you:
- Set a positive mood through your body language and attitude. Use facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch to help convey your message and show feelings of affection.
- Limit distractions such as the TV or radio and before speaking make sure you have your loved one’s attention.
- Use simple words and sentences and speak clearly and slowly. You do not need to speak louder or raise the pitch of your voice.
- If asking questions, yes or no questions work best. Avoid open-ended questions or giving too many choices. Use visual prompts when possible, such as showing two options for their shirt.
- Be patient when waiting for a reply and watch for nonverbal cues.
- Break things down into steps that are more manageable and gently remind when your loved one forgets.
- Redirect when your loved one becomes agitated. Try changing the subject or say something such as, “I see you’re feeling sad. I’m sorry you are upset. Let’s go for a walk.”
- Always respond in a calm manner and with affection and reassurance. Your loved one may be feeling confused and anxious, so respond with support. Sometimes holding hands or hugging can get your loved one to respond when all else fails.
- Maintain your sense of humor, though never at your loved one’s expense. People with memory issues like dementia tend to retain their social skills and are often delighted to laugh along with you.
Develop a Daily Routine
2 Creating a daily routine can give a sense of consistency to your loved one and help things to run more smoothly. Try to do daily activities at a consistent time each day, such as waking up, mealtimes, receiving visitors and other activities. This can help to keep your loved one oriented. Give visual cues to help, such as opening the curtains to let in sunlight in the morning. And don’t forget to involve your loved one in as much as they are able to when it comes to daily living activities.
Go with the Flow
3 Even though you want to create a daily routine for structure, things are bound to go awry, so it is key that you are able to go with the flow. Don’t try to correct your loved one or prove to them they are wrong. For example, if your loved one is convinced there is someone there that isn’t or they believe they are a volunteer at the zoo, it’s okay. It is better to allow your loved one to believe those things than to agitate them by arguing with them.
Dealing with Challenging Behaviors
4 There are a lot of challenging behaviors that come with memory issues, ranging from wandering to sundowning to even anger. Remember that you cannot change the person, and often when you try to control or change the behavior, you’ll be met with resistance and be unsuccessful. Instead, accommodate the behavior and try to make your loved one as comfortable as possible. Remember that these challenging behaviors are often triggered by something someone did or said so be sure to note any patterns that you see and then change your approach.
Let’s take a look at how to handle some specific challenging behaviors.
- Wandering: Ensuring your loved one’s safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to wandering. Consider installing new locks that require a key or move locks (people with dementia may not think to look beyond eye level). Sometimes a barrier such as a curtain to mask a door or even a sign that says “stop” or “do not enter” can be enough. Use child-safe locks on door knobs and cabinets. You might even install a security system that can alert you if a door is opened. Put away items that can cause confusion, such as coats or a purse. And if your loved one does get outside, be sure they are wearing an ID bracelet or sew an ID label into their clothes. You can also register your loved one with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return program or other emergency tracking service.
- Agitation: This behavior includes irritability, sleeplessness, and verbal and physical aggression. Often, agitation worsens as they progress through the states of dementia and can be triggered by things including environmental factors, fear and fatigue. Often, it is triggered by a feeling of loss of control. To keep agitation at bay, reduce noise and clutter as well as their caffeine and sugar intake. When they do get agitated, try soothing music, reading, going for a walk or a gentle touch. Speak in a reassuring voice and acknowledge their anger by telling them you understand their frustration. If all else fails, try distracting the person with a different activity, such as a snack.
- Paranoia and Restlessness: Your loved one may suddenly become suspicious, jealous or accusatory. They may also hallucinate or experience sundowning (when behaviors worsen in the evening). Remember that what your loved one is experiencing is very real to them and also try not to take anything personally. Respond with love and reassurance and also avoid arguing. For restlessness, increase daytime activities and then plan for evening hours to be quiet and calm. For sundowning, your loved one’s biological clock may be confused so be sure to turn on lights and close curtains or blinds well before the sun begins to set as darkness and shadows can trigger sundowning.
Also check with your loved one’s doctor on how to handle any underlying behavioral issues. There may be another underlying medical reason for some behaviors. For example, some medications can cause hallucinations, however, it could also be caused by sundowning, a common behavior among those with memory issues.
Make Time for Yourself
5 Be sure to take some time for yourself. It can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting caring for a loved one with memory issues. Take a few minutes each morning to center yourself and prepare for the day ahead. Then be sure to schedule yourself some weekly “me time” where you can do something that you love, such as reading a book or doing yoga. This will allow you to destress and feel more refreshed and ready to care for your loved one again.
6 Understand that you may not be able to do it all on your own. Ask for help from family or a trusted friend when you need it. Or consider hiring a home health care agency that specializes in memory care. These trained professionals can help you care for your loved one by helping guide you through difficult times and providing respite care when you need it.
If you are looking for help with your loved one with memory issues in the Philadelphia area, All American Home Care is an experienced home health care provider that specializes in memory care. We care for your loved one like they are our own family and provide support to family caregivers. Contact us today to learn what we can do to help you!