Seniors as carers: supporting a loved one living with dementia
Living with a partner, friend or family member that is suffering from one of the many variations of dementia is tough. Everyone affected by a loved one experiencing dementia is hit with the full range of emotions – stress, grief, love, fear, sadness, hopelessness, loss, anger and frustration.
In this article we’d like to help a little by sharing some tips on how to support your loved one with dementia and optimise your home environment for safety.
You’re not alone
We understand that sharing numbers doesn’t alleviate the challenges you’re experiencing. The numbers are important because they give an indication of the community support and resources that will be available to help you all through this.
The numbers right now, are sobering. According to Alzheimer’s Australia, more than 350,000 people live with dementia. Of these around 25,000 are under the age of 65. Sadly without a medical breakthrough, predictions are that almost one million Australians will be living with dementia by the year 2050.
Alzheimer’s Australia’s website - https://vic.fightdementia.org.au/ - is an incredibly helpful resource and is an example of how the increasing incidences of Alzheimer’s in our communities is driving a wealth of useful, practical information to help. Save the link now, you’ll find it invaluable.
Look after yourself
You know that your loved one has a brain disease and can’t help what they’re doing. At the same time, the resulting behaviours and emotional and physical needs are demanding. You need to look after your own health and wellbeing too.
If you’re early in to your loved one’s diagnosis, prioritise finding respite care above anything else.
As the brain disease progresses, there will be times when you will simply need time out. You will be far more effective as a carer if you know you can look forward to moments of respite where you can catch your breath and reenergise.
We understand that sometimes it is very hard to accept respite care. It can be an anxious time for both of you to separate, even for short periods of time. Your partner or loved one will also benefit from the new experiences offered through respite care.
Respite care may be a formal arrangement with a Government supported service, or it may be a shared care arrangement with a friend or family member. Whichever way you go, put plans in place as early as you can.
To find out what is available in terms of formal respite care contact the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 222.
Tip #1: Schedule regular respite care as early as possible
Never leave arranging respite care until you’ve reached screaming point or feel overcome by exhaustion. You’ll be far more effective if you prioritise planning respite care from the moment you have confirmed a diagnosis of dementia. When we’re in a heightened state of emotion, our own ability to perform tasks like making a phone call and completing paperwork are diminished.
Tip #2: respite care is good for your loved one too
Your partner or loved one will benefit from respite care. New experiences are good for their brain and also helps with exercising their resilience. Reaching out to service providers gives you both an opportunity to meet new people in similar circumstances. It also gives you a chance to experience the support provided by service providers in preparation for future needs.
Surround yourselves with community
If you’re supporting a partner with Alzheimer’s it can feel very isolating as you observe friends and peers getting on with their lives.
If you’ve reached an age where the neighbourhood you’ve lived in for decades has changed, and you no longer feel as connected to the local community, consider moving to where you can find support within walking distance. Being actively involved in a supportive community like a retirement village can help immensely.
For example Retirement Communities Australia villages promote Active Health programs that are beneficial for you both in terms of health, wellbeing and social opportunities.
Consider access to services such as an on-site nurse or medical professional who can provide advice and help coordinate specialist appointments. Your home environment needs to be designed for ageing in place – this includes features such as no steps, wide doorways, accessible showers and emergency call systems.
It can be comforting to know that in a community like a retirement village you can choose to be out and about with other people, or enjoy the quiet and privacy of independent living.
Make your home a safe environment for the person with dementia
Setting up your home in a way that it is easy and safe to navigate will promote a feeling of security and independence for your loved one. This is best achieved by preparing your home environment early on in the diagnosis. As dementia progresses, familiar environments can help minimise confusion and disorientation.
Here are some considerations in making your home environment safe:
Unclutter your home: aim for a minimalist approach. You need to provide plenty of space between furniture and aim for creating clear spaces that are easy to navigate.
Remove any tripping hazards: if you have a home full of rugs with corners and edges, consider securing carpeting instead. Soft flooring options like carpet are a safer option to cushion falls.
Secure medications and toxins in a safe location: store all medications and toxins in a safe place.
If you have a lot of stairs, consider moving.
Regularly check that your smoke alarms are working: replace the batteries in your smoke alarms regularly.
Safety switches on all appliances: make sure all heating appliances such as kettles and irons have automatic cut off switches. If you have a house full of power boards and long extension cords – call in an electrician to install additional powerpoints instead.
Use thermostat controls to keep hot water temperature safe: set to 45 degrees celsius as a maximum and safe temperature.
Frameless showers: a frameless shower that you can simply walk into without risking tripping over a bath or frame is a safe shower. If you need to upgrade your bathroom to accommodate this, add a hand rail to the design.
A fantastic app to help create a dementia friendly home
This fantastic app from Alzheimer’s Australia has been designed to help carers accommodate changes to their home to make it dementia friendly and safe. Take a look at this video and then download the app!
Alzheimer’s Australia website > About dementia and memory loss > resources > dementia friendly home app
Other helpful online resources