Dementia is a degenerative disease that slowly destroys a person’s ability to live independently. There are many types of dementia, although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. Delirium and depression can be confused with dementia and a thorough evaluation should rule out other causes of cognitive loss prior to making a diagnosis of dementia.
Although people with dementia often exhibit behaviors that are challenging for family and professional caregivers, the behaviors are caused by damage to the brain and are not intentional. Challenging behaviors can be caused by unmet needs and may be a means of communication. By carefully observing what comes directly before and after a behavior, the caregiver may be able to determine the underlying need and learn how to alleviate the challenging behavior.
People with dementia need to be treated with kindness and with the knowledge that they can still enjoy life. Physical and chemical restraints should be used only as a last resort. There are many proven alternatives to physical and chemical restraints that are the mainstays of individualized care.
Activities of daily living are disrupted in those with dementia. As dementia progresses, family members and caregivers must step in and assist with personal care and household management. Caregiver training is an essential component for anyone caring for a person with dementia. Family caregivers play a critical and often-overlooked role in the care of loved ones with dementia—especially in the early-to-moderate stages. Caregivers often experience stress, which does not abate simply by placing their family member in a care facility. In a facility, professional caregivers must be trained to view the person in the context of a family.
Facilities built around a philosophy of person-centered care can have a profound and positive effect on challenging behaviors associated with dementia. Providing a safe, clean, home-like environment in which residents and staff work together has been shown to improve outcomes in those with dementia.
Simply put, good dementia care must be flexible. Dementia is not a one-size-fits-all disease.