Dementia is a disease of the brain that interferes with a person’s ability to perceive and think in a normal manner. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but there is more than one kind of dementia.
Although people with dementia often exhibit behaviors that are challenging for family and professional caregivers to manage, 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, caregivers 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 to 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 people with dementia—especially in the early to moderate stages. Caregivers often experience stress, which can be lessened by accessing respite care and adult day care services.
Adult day care centers 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 clients and staff work together has been shown to improve outcomes in those with dementia.
Communication issues affect people with dementia. As the dementia progresses, it becomes more difficult for people with dementia to communicate their needs. Good verbal and nonverbal communication skills are needed for caregivers to provide a high level of care as the dementia progresses.
Caregivers—both family and professional—experience many ethical conflicts when caring for a person with dementia. Education and training in ethical decision making and conflict resolution are invaluable tools to improve the experience of those with dementia.
Working with people who have dementia can be satisfying and rewarding. It takes patience, practice, and training to learn to understand the world from that person’s point of view. People with dementia can still enjoy life. They can enjoy memories, interactions with the people around them, and activities that are matched to their preferences and abilities. Your efforts to make the person comfortable and happy can make a big difference in their final years of life.