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Home Care Expert Insights

In Conversation with Lizette Cloete to Bring Her Insights on Caring for Individuals with Dementia

A core aspect of dementia care lies in understanding the world of individuals with dementia. Disorientation and memory loss can be frightening. Caregivers who prioritize validation over correction find greater success.

So, instead of arguing about the date, acknowledge their emotions and reminisce about a shared positive memory from that “time period” they believe they are in. Similarly, create a predictable routine with clear visual cues to provide comfort and a sense of control.

Colorful placemats can designate specific areas for eating, for instance. Finally, do not underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Focus on what the person with dementia can still do, offering praise and encouragement for even small tasks completed independently.

It promotes self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, facilitating a higher quality of life for the caregiver and the individual with dementia.

To shed some light on the same, we interviewed a home care industry expert to bring her perspective on caring for individuals with dementia.

Expert QA session with Lizette Cloete

Who Did We Interview?

Lizette Cloete is a dedicated dementia coach and the visionary behind Think Different Dementia. With over 30 years of expertise as an occupational therapist, Lizette provides family caregivers with innovative, science-backed solutions to navigate dementia care.

She is a sought-after speaker on dementia-related topics, both nationally and internationally. Her podcast, Dementia Caregiving for Families, is a key resource for families navigating the journey of living with an individual with dementia.

Let’s now delve into what she has to say about caring for individuals with dementia:

Question 1: What, in your opinion, can caregivers do to support seniors with dementia?

There is so much that caregivers can do to support a person living with dementia. The more you, as a caregiver, know about the life story and history of the senior with dementia, the better you can provide help and care.

When a person is showing difficult behaviors, take the time to understand the “why” behind them. For example, when a client refuses to take a shower, the answer may lie in the fact that they grew up as a native American and only started taking a shower later in life and that too, only once per week.

Or perhaps they have always taken a bath and never a shower. Or maybe they have had a near-drowning accident and were afraid of water their whole lives.

A better understanding of their life will make you a better caregiver.

Question 2: Do individuals with dementia need to make lifestyle changes to minimize the impact?

Research indicates that the first signs of dementia may start as early as 20 years before the person shows outside signs of cognitive loss or dementia. The reality is that we can make lifestyle changes to minimize the impact of dementia.

However, starting to make them once the symptoms start showing makes the journey to reverse the impact much harder. Nevertheless, it is never too late to work on your health and wellness.

Research shows four primary aspects can minimize the impact of dementia, and they are diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. When these factors are worked upon, we can help decrease or slow down the progression of dementia.

Question 3: How should family members and caregivers communicate with persons with dementia?

The first thing families and caregivers need to understand and sit with for a minute is that it is easy to understand a person’s behavioral changes when you can see the problem.

For example, it is easier to know and understand a person who has lost a leg – we know that without their prosthesis, they cannot stand in the shower or walk up a flight of steps. Something is missing, and something has changed.

But with dementia, because we cannot see the damage on the inside, it is easy to believe and think that they are the same person. But their brains are not the same. There are changes in the wiring of their brains.

The messages are not going through the same way they did before. As such, trying to rationalize or use logic or reason with a person whose brain is changing is not a reasonable solution.

The only person who can still “change” in the relationship is the caregiver — whether that be a family member or a paid caregiver.

Also, learn to ask better questions. Say things like, “Tell me more about …”, or “It sounds like you might be feeling…” Try to understand the emotions behind their questions or actions.

Even if the rational aspect is going away, the emotional remains.

Question 4: Do caregivers and family members need to take steps to make the elderly’s house dementia friendly?

The first thing we need to say out loud is that if a person living with dementia lives long enough with dementia, they will require round-the-clock care. Most people know this intuitively but do not say this to themselves out loud when finding out someone has dementia.

We need to recognize that sometimes, we can only do what we can do. Also, at some point, we as caregivers or family need to acknowledge the fact that “adults are entitled to make stupid decisions”, and sometimes we will need to pick up the pieces.

Easy, inexpensive fixes include removing throw rugs, increasing lighting in every room, and providing the adaptive devices they need. AARP has a great free guide to help with this.

Question 5: What advice do you give to caregivers dealing with seniors with dementia?

Do not take life so seriously. There really are only five factors that contribute to caregivers making (or not making) their job as a caregiver easier for themselves.

I call it the Dementia PEACE framework. The “P” stands for the person with dementia. What is going on with them? Are they tired, cold, hungry, overwhelmed, constipated, or in pain? What is happening with them that they are not telling you about because they are unable to?

Know your client. Pay attention to their routine and think “outside the box”. Next is the “E” or the environment. How is the environment contributing to the lack of communication? Are you talking to them from across the room, and they cannot hear you because the television is too loud? Is the bathroom too cold or too white?

The “A” stands for activity engagement. Is the person you are helping overstimulated and, therefore, is “acting out” because too much has happened on this particular day? Going to the doctor, eating out, and getting their hair done in one day may be too much for them.

Or, on the other extreme, they are bored and need to get engaged. Next, the “C” stands for caregiver contribution. And yes, as caregivers, we contribute to “what we see”, even though we do not believe we do.

Lastly, communication is a two-way street. A person living with dementia has lost the ability to control their own emotions due to the changes occurring in the brain. And, as such, will take on your Emotional Energy (E stands for this).

If you are fighting with your kids and spouse and kicking the dog on the way to work, and you go in to see your client with that energy, I guarantee that you are going to have a bad day working with a person with dementia.

If you learn to “fake it till you feel it” with the person, hang your difficulties up outside the house before you come in, and be happy, cheerful, and upbeat, I guarantee you will have a better day working with a person with dementia.

We, as caregivers, contribute much to the equation in the quality of the interactions we have with people living with dementia. But we like to believe that the responsibility for the lack of communication lies with the person living with dementia.

I hate to break it to people, but the responsibility for the lack of communication lies squarely in the hands of the caregiver. We control the tone of the communication. The person with dementia is responding to our communication.

In Conclusion

Caring for a person with dementia requires understanding their background and communicating effectively. By focusing on the “why” behind behaviors and using open-ended questions, caregivers can validate emotions and create a calmer environment.

Making lifestyle changes that prioritize diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction can minimize dementia’s impact. Modifying the home with safety features like increased lighting and removing tripping hazards can prevent accidents.

Finally, caregivers should prioritize self-care and manage their emotional state to have a more positive experience for both themselves and the person with dementia.

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