Serving as a care partner for a loved one with cognitive decline can present special challenges. Behaviors such as aggression and paranoia — along with trouble communicating — can make everyday care tasks more difficult.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries and other disorders that affect memory and reason may exhibit a range of emotions and behaviors at different times, and everyone has good and bad days. If you are serving as a care partner for someone in cognitive decline, what do you need to know, and what steps can you take to make each day as peaceful and fulfilling as possible for your loved one?
Providing Care Can Take a Toll
Acting as a care partner for a family member is one of the most important and loving roles you can fill in life, but it can result in physical, emotional and financial stress. According to “The Journey of Caregiving: Honor, Responsibility and Financial Complexity,” a study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, about 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Care for this population takes significantly more time than for individuals without cognitive decline. Approximately 10 percent of people over 65 have dementia, but their care partners’ commitment constitutes 40 percent of all care time from family members.
Individuals providing care for family members with cognitive decline have more responsibilities, provide support for a longer time, and are more likely to administer medical care to their loved ones.
More than half of care partners to individuals with cognitive decline work full time, and a third say that their health has deteriorated as a result of their care responsibilities.
Creating a Positive Environment
If you are providing care for an individual in cognitive decline, you can take steps to create a peaceful, nurturing environment. Make sure your family member’s physical needs — including hunger, thirst and fatigue — are adequately addressed. In addition, try to remove any environmental factors, such as noise or bright lights, which may cause distress.
Effective communication between care partners and individuals in cognitive decline can become problematic. To communicate clearly, try to speak at your loved one’s eye level, and use simple words and phrases when possible.
Behavioral difficulties such as aggression, paranoia, and fixation on an idea or activity can cause frustration for family care partners as they work to attend to their loved ones’ needs. Remember that the disease — rather than the individual you love — causes the problems, and try to be patient and maintain your sense of humor. If you need assistance, consider a memory care community that can provide compassionate support from dedicated professionals.
Adriene Iverson, President and CEO of Elder Care Alliance, is passionate about serving older adults and individuals living with dementia through an evidenced-based philosophy and programming that focuses on the strengths that remain. She enjoys finding ways to transform how we think about aging and older adults and developing new service lines that help bring expertise to serve the 80% of older adults who sit between those served by affordable housing and those who can’t afford senior living.