An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be very exhausting on a family and its resources. There are several different options for care for seniors with dementia. A few of them include:
- In-home care- A wide range of services can be provided in the home, rather than in a care facility, such as companion/homemaker services, personal care services, and skilled care. Utilizing these services can allow a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia to stay in his or her own home.
- Adult day Care Centers- Day centers offer people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias the opportunity to be social and to participate in activities in a safe environment. For the working caregiver, this option can be very valuable as you may be unable to leave your loved one alone at home during the day.
- Residential Care- For those individuals who need more care than can be provided at home, placement in a resident care facility may be the best option. Different types of facilities provide different levels of care, depending on the person’s needs. Some of these communities are memory care specific tailoring their program and activities to those with dementia.
Many people desire to keep their loved ones at home, and in my experience Alzheimer’s and other dementias are one of the most challenging disease states to manage in the home setting. One of the biggest challenges is that it is very taxing on the caregiver. With this disease, many patients exhibit erratic behaviors, get agitated easily, and some may experience a phenomenon known as sun-downing .
Sun downing is when a patient with Alzheimer’s experiences increased confusion late in the day or at night. This is more common in the mid to later stages of the illness. This can be an extremely exhausting behavior for both the patient and the caregiver. Some tips to reduce the effects of sundowning include:
- Sticking to a routine. Performing the same tasks and actions in the same order every day can help your loved one feel secure, and more calm and collected. Schedule changes can be extremely disruptive and agitating so it is best to avoid them as much as possible and when they are necessary to make them as slight or gradual as possible. Keeping wake and bed times consistent is shown to have a positive effect.
- There has been some positive research on the effect of lights on sundowning. Fluorescent lamps with low level blueish-white light, imitating daylight, may help to regulate circadian rhythms and promote more restful sleep.
- Keeping them active during the day and limiting naps to ensure a better night’s sleep can make life easier for everyone, and getting exercise is known to be good for the brain in many ways.
- Serving larger meals in the middle of the day rather than the evening, so that the body is not busy digesting at bedtime can be helpful.
- Limiting television can decrease agitation and create a calm environment. Consider instead playing soft music for entertainment.
Another primary concern of aging in place with Alzheimer’s is Safety hazards. Wandering is a common symptom of the disease and can cause a number of dangerous scenarios. Sometimes dementia patients wander because they are searching for something or attempting to follow a prior routine, sometimes they are overstimulated and trying to seek a more calming environment, sometimes they are just pacing because of boredom. Regardless of the reasons, wandering can cause a number of dangerous scenarios. You may be able to reduce wandering with redirection and reassurance, and lessen safety hazards by making the environment as safe as possible. Removing tripping hazards such as throw rugs, cords, and clutter, and keeping doors closed and putting gates at stairwells can also be helpful. Sometimes a sign or artwork on a door can help deter persons with dementia from opening and exiting, or painting or wallpapering a door the same as the walls surrounding it can also be effective.
Regardless of how and where you decide is the best way to care for your aging loved one with dementia, it is important to remember that they are more than their disease. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is eight to 10 years but in some cases it can be as short as 2-3 years. So make the most of the time you have remaining with your loved one. Your loved one can still feel very real emotions and personal connection. They may not remember your name but they know the feeling that they get when in your presence! Your voice, touch, smile, and interactions mean something to them! Continue to nurture your relationship, because when they are gone it is those memories that you will cherish forever.
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.