In everyday life, caregivers and family members embrace a vital role in supporting seniors with dementia. With unwavering patience and boundless empathy, they transform ordinary moments into connections that bridge the gaps created by memory loss. Through shared smiles, familiar melodies, and the reassurance of touch, they navigate the challenges, weaving understanding and companionship seamlessly into their interactions. In the simplicity of their gestures, they create a sanctuary where cherished memories, though delicate, are held close, reminding us of the profound impact of love and kindness in the face of adversity.
To shed some light on the same, we interviewed a home care industry expert to bring his perspective on dementia care to light.
Who Did We Interview?
Kent Westervelt, a dedicated Owner/Administrator, specializes in supporting seniors, particularly those facing dementia, through Home Senior Care. As a certified Positive Approach to Care (PAC) Independent Trainer, Kent offers unparalleled expertise in dementia care. With 25+ years of healthcare and IT experience in startups and major corporations, including Epocrates, he blends business acumen with compassion. Kent enjoys family time, boating, fishing, and golfing outside work.
Let’s get started with knowing what our expert thinks of the home care industry:
First, caregivers must understand this brain disease is very different from a physical one. With a physical disease, say cancer, the person with the disease and the caregiver likely understand the treatment, the side effects of drugs, etc. Dementia is different. Even if the person living with dementia (PLwD) “knows” they have it (rare), they cannot control the effects of the disease, especially as the disease progresses.
Ever have a person with Sundowner’s stop and say, “Oh, I’m Sundowning. I’ll stop now.” Never happens. Once the caregiver understands dementia impacts the brain, impacting almost everything else (sensory, physical, behavior, emotional, etc.), they have the foundation to understand better how to care for the PLwD. Second, caregivers need to learn how to use care techniques for PLwD. It’s easy. Numerous online resources (Teepa Snow et al.) are available (many free on YouTube) on how to deal with challenging dementia behaviors. These experts work with PLwD daily, and their methods work (we use them).
Earlier-stage patients (“high functioning PLwD”) often have acute ST memory loss. They (or families) should add simple solutions that help “replace” their lost memory. For example, they should have a big calendar for appointments and events. Smartphones can be their “memory” with alarms and calendar reminders.
Rule #1: Never argue, especially with little factual points. Ignore or redirect—”Yep, you’re right, or I’ll look into it” usually ends most disagreements. I see spouses and even kids “correcting” their parents constantly.
Rule #2: Be a detective on more puzzling comments and behaviors. For example, take “I want to go home” (a common refrain). Instead of “You are home” (normal), ask, “What is it about home you like?” or “Why do you want to go home?” They may say, “To see my parents (long passed).” Family’s normal reaction (logical): “They died a long time ago.” Instead, the family should say, “Nana and Papa were so wonderful. Let’s go look at some pictures of them.”
Rule #3: Offer choices to accomplish a task. Never say, “Do you want to (task you need them to do—shower, dress, etc.).” Offer choices. Let’s say they aren’t changing clothes. “Mom, which blouse would you like to wear today, the blue one or the red one?” (this ensures she changes clothes). Offering choices gives the PLwD control WHILE completing a task they may not want to do.
Rule #4: The PLwD mental state is always their care reality. Said again, whatever the PLwD is saying, doing, and feeling is their care reality. Don’t fight it. This fact is very hard for most families. They remember mom and dad completely differently than their current mental state, but the faster the family and caregivers learn to “go with it” and accept reality, the easier the care—for example, hallucinations. Most families will say, “No one is there,” but to the PLwD, the hallucination is quite real. The proper way to handle a hallucination is to engage it and ask questions “What do you see?”, “What are they doing?” “What are they wearing?” The hallucination breaks down at some point, and the family can redirect.
Dementia significantly impacts rational brain functions and can affect safety and livability. I recommend turning off the stove or other items that “heat” (coffee makers, irons, etc.) and can be left on. Microwaves are usually ok but monitored. Dementia shrinks the visual field as the disease progresses. Falls become an issue as the PLwD loses its “lower” peripheral field. Rugs, stairs, and clutter suddenly become major fall risks. PLwD also loses visual depth. Imagine walking toward stairs and not seeing them or needing help properly assessing the stair depths.
They have the biggest part—a huge heart! Education, training, and support will never make the dementia go away, but it will make caring for the PLwD easier. Numerous dementia education sites can help caregivers understand the disease, find support, and provide training and tips. I recommend Teepa Snow and Positive Approach to Care. Teepa is not only an expert, but she is funny and engaging!
In the tender embrace of caregivers and the unwavering support of family, seniors with dementia find a sanctuary of love and understanding. Every shared smile, every gentle touch, and every moment of patience becomes a brushstroke on the canvas of their memories. In this cocoon of compassion, seniors rediscover the joy of simple moments, reminding us all that love’s transformative power knows no bounds in care, illuminating even the dimmest paths with hope and warmth.
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