Saturday, August 22, 2015

Caring For Loved Ones With Dementia

Dementia is extraordinarily difficult for the carer to handle. The carer watches helplessly as the patient loses memories, the ability to retain information, becomes incontinent, becomes depressed and perhaps develops psychosis. The patient can become easily agitated, aggressive, or overly emotional. The deterioration of a loved one with dementia leads to severe stress for the carer.

Behavioural and cognitive symptoms can be treated with medications including anti-depressants, anxiety drugs, and anti-psychotic drugs, but generally the carer should not expect miraculous changes to their loved one's behaviour. Music therapy is thought to help slow the progression of dementia, but there is no clinical evidence that it works. Carers should be aware of the degree of the patient's dementia. The patient can be disorganised and restless, and may take to wandering outside. If the patient is still driving, they are at high risk of serious injury or death for themselves or others. Chronic pain can lead to functional and social problems, seriously affecting quality of life. People with dementia often have trouble communicating what pains they have and the impact on their life may lead to increased depression. It is important for carers to try and observe the patient's expressions, movements, and behaviours to determine if there is any pain disrupting their life. Carers often need to work or need respite from the task.

There are adult day care facilities which can provide specialised care for dementia patients. There are also home healthcare workers who can provide one-on-one care in the home. Care generally begins at home with a spouse or adult child, and often leads to a long-term care facility as dementia progresses. A recent study shows that if a caregiver has realistic expectations regarding the progress of dementia, then the patient tends to need less outside treatment later. Being cared for in familiar surroundings, particularly at home, can delay the onset of symptoms and possibly eliminate the need for a facility.

While home care can be beneficial to the patient, it can be burdensome to the carer. The carer often cuts back on work or quits in order to assist the patient who often cannot function on their own. Carers are themselves at an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other health issues. It is an emotional toll to watch a loved one lose their mental and physical faculties and a carer may begin to experience grief and loss even though the person is still alive. The stress does not alleviate much when the patient is moved into long-term care. The carer may develop guilt over not managing the care of their loved one and having to entrust them to strangers. If a carer is experiencing depression, guilt, or anxiety, it is important to seek clinical help.

It can be difficult to manage one's own life on top of the needs of the patient. Often there are disruptions to household routines, particularly if the carer has young children. It can be nearly impossible to take a holiday or even visit with a friend. It is common for mental and emotional issues to arise from being a carer, and there is no shame in seeking treatment. It is especially important to seek help to prepare the carer for the transition of moving a patient into a facility.

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