When one first found out that a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it can be an overwhelming/daunting experience, to say the least.
You see, dementia is more than just memory loss – it is a type of illness that cannot be cured, and is complex in the sense that patients will lose their cognitive functions eventually.
That is, they will gradually lose the ability to reason, think and communicate. (To look out for signs of dementia, here are some tips.)
Nonetheless, there is no time for you to dwell in misery, at least not for too long. You, as a family member of a loved one with dementia, have just become their biggest pillar of support and amongst all things, making sure that they stay safe and healthy at home is now your top priority.
On this, we think we can split the topic into two – (A) how to keep them safe; and (B) how to keep them healthy at home.
Keeping Seniors with Dementia Safe At Home
Scan Your Home for Safety
It goes without saying that scanning your home for safety is the first thing to do.
Just this alone will get you busy for a while as there are considerable changes that you will need to make to your home to ensure it is safe for a dementia patient. This includes, but are not limited to:
- Getting rid of unused items and extra furniture
Make your home as minimalist as possible with just the essentials so that there aren’t too many things around to confuse your loved one.
- Removing throw rugs and hazardous items
Move electrical cords and other potentially hazardous items that might cause one to trip over.
- Install an automatic shut-off switch on the stove
If possible, use an electric device with an automatic shut-off system i.e. slow cooker, rice cooker.
- Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in or near the kitchen and all bedrooms.
Having all these done will at the very least prevent any foreseeable accidents from happening, thus the first step in ensuring your loved one stay as safe as possible at home.
Bath, Dressing and Grooming
Now, this is a major aspect when it comes to ensuring a dementia patient’s safety. At some point of time, they will need help in this regard but at all times, you should never ever leave a loved one with dementia alone in the tub or shower.
The bathroom is a dangerous place where they can easily slip and fall. So ensure there is always a rubber bath mat, and install safety bars in the tub. Always check the water temperature before they get into the tub/shower – if possible, set the water heater at 120℉ so that they can always bathe in a constant and comfortable temperature.
In terms of dressing and grooming, know that people with dementia often need more time to do these, so be patient with them. Also, they might wear the wrong clothing for the season so lay out clothes for them, and hand them one thing at a time. All these contribute to keeping your loved one safe, so be sure to keep these in mind.
Stay Connected with Technology
While carrying identification such as medical ID bracelets and necklaces is already a must (it helps tremendously when a loved one gets lost or needs help), you may want to consider other safety devices as well.
This could include fall monitors, emergency call buttons and GPS tracking systems. Getting a smartphone or tablet or smart speakers is a good idea too as they can help with things like getting to know the weather and time.
And with technology nowadays, some gadgets can even help you find your keys and other important items. This could all be very helpful for a dementia patient, especially during the early stages.
Identify People You Can Trust for Help
One advice we have for you is that you won’t be able to do all these alone. There will be times when you need to go to work or attend to other things, so enlisting the help of others is essential.
Besides other family members, neighbors will be a good starting point because often, they are the first people to notice if someone is wandering and look lost. If your neighbor is aware of your loved one’s condition, they will be able to help keep an eye and get help if needed. Also, if possible, ask them to visit regularly. They will make good company in your absence in terms of helping your loved one stay engage and social.
So write down their contact information in obvious places around the home, such as on the refrigerator door or save it in your loved one’s phone so that they have someone else they can contact aside from you.
Keeping Seniors with Dementia Healthy
Once you have taken care of the safety part, it is time to think about how to keep them healthy. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too.
It is already not an easy task for us as family members to accept this illness, imagine just how much harder and scarier it is for our loved ones when they are first diagnosed with dementia.
So keeping them healthy doesn’t mean just ensuring that they are well fed. Of course, making sure that they are well nourished with regular and healthy meals is top priority, but we have to be aware of their mental and emotional state as well and be ready to take prompt action when any anomalies are observed.
Stay Calm, and Listen
Always staying calm and listening to what your loved one has to say is something you can do for them. It may not be as simple as it sounds. You see, people with dementia often feel isolated and depressed, not to mention getting agitated easily when they are not able to express themselves clearly.
So be very patient with them and listen them out. If you show signs of impatience or worse, ignorance, this will greatly impact on their emotional wellbeing. They will feel unworthy and useless on top of the initial insecurities pertaining to their illness, and this is something you’d want to avoid because it could easily lead to depression (which will often lead to being suicidal).
To keep them mentally and emotionally healthy, it is essential that they always have company – someone to talk to and someone to do things with. This could be as simple as having coffee together with a friend, gardening with a neighbor or going for walks at the park with someone.
When they have someone to talk to, they won’t feel lonely and this helps greatly in warding off any negative emotions.
Find Ways to Keep Their Hands Busy
One thing you should know about people with dementia is that they may be fidgeting with their hands always i.e. rubbing their hands together, twisting their fingers, pulling at clothes or wringing their hands – basically, just keeping their hands in motion. This is a sign that they are anxious or agitated.
One way you can help is to get them some sensory therapy or fidget toys (e.g. fidget blanket, spiky massage ball etc. which you can easily find online) to reduce their anxiety and calm their nerves. Simple knitting or crocheting is a good idea too. You can even ask them to smooth out crumpled tissue paper or shuffle and arrange a deck of cards – anything will do.
Just remember, no matter the activity or toy, it has to be safe and that the goal is to engage your loved one in something fun, something that will keep their hands happily occupied and thus stay calm and comforted.
Research for Options for In-Home Care
Now, we might not be able to do many of the above just by ourselves. You still have your own life to live, and there is only so much a good neighbor or friend can help.
It is therefore worthy to look for home nursing services for help. These are professionals who are specifically trained to manage and take care of patients with dementia at their home so enlisting their help will reduce your workload (and stress) tremendously.
From covering the basic necessities i.e. meal prepping, making sure they eat on time and do not miss a meal, helping them bath and dress to talking and keeping them company, an in-home carer will be able to do all that at the comfort of your loved one’s home. In turn, you will be able to go to work and get on with your life with peace of mind, even taking a break and have your own respite care when it all gets too much.
We therefore highly recommend that you seek this route out. Research your options, make comparisons and see which one suits. There is no harm in finding out more about in-home care – trust us, taking this first step will make this whole journey much more easier, both for you and your loved one.
Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s).
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