Caring for a loved one with dementia can be both challenging and rewarding. As a family caregiver, you need to consider every facet of your parent's care, from home safety to finances. It's equally important to take care of yourself along the way and prevent burnout.
Before you commit to caring for a parent with dementia at home, here are a few tips to help you consider what the duties and experience may entail.
1. Seek Out Education About Dementia
Dementia goes beyond memory loss. The condition includes a range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer's and other types of dementia that can impact a person's cognitive abilities.
Caring for a parent with dementia at home requires a thorough understanding of the condition. Your parent's medical team can help educate you about the specifics of their situation. You can also turn to online resources such as caregiver education from UCLA Health's Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program. Training videos guide caregivers through common topics and challenges like wandering and aggressive behavior. Webinars also cover topics that address self-care for caregivers. The Alzheimer's Association is another resource for general education or to find programs specifically for dementia patients and caregivers.
Understanding dementia is also important for any other family members living in the home, including children. Be sure to discuss your parent's condition with the rest of your family; help everyone understand what your parent needs and how they can help. Making caregiving a team effort can alleviate the stress of caring for a parent on your own.
2. Focus on Safety
Ensuring a safe home environment is paramount when caring for a loved one with dementia. You'll need to remove certain household hazards that can be dangerous for people with memory loss.
Alzheimer's and dementia can impact a person's judgment, and they may forget how to use appliances they once operated regularly. At a minimum, be sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are updated and operational. Carefully monitor hazards like space heaters and electric blankets, and remove any guns or weapons from the home. For a detailed list of safety tips, review the National Institute on Aging's checklist with precautions to take inside and outside of the home.
3. Help Manage the Finances
Research shows that the majority of adults with dementia cannot adequately manage their finances alone. If you plan to step up and fulfill this role for a parent, you need to first establish a power of attorney. This legal process gives you the authority to make important financial decisions on behalf of your parent; if you set up a durable power of attorney arrangement, you'll also be able to manage their health affairs. An attorney who specializes in elder law can draw up the paperwork and walk you through the process.
4. Find Ways to Manage Your Own Stress
Caregiving can take an emotional, mental and physical toll on the caregiver. In order to provide quality care for your parent, you also need to take care of yourself. Watch for signs of caregiver fatigue, such as irritability and withdrawal from people or activities you once enjoyed. Consider joining a support group for caregivers or meeting one-on-one with a therapist. Ask for — and accept — help from family and friends, and be sure to schedule breaks so that you don't burn out.
5. Know That Outside Help Is Available
You don't have to go on the caregiving journey alone. If you need a break, look into respite caregiver services in your area. Adult day cares and in-home services offer short-term care for days or weeks at a time. At some point, your needs or your parent's needs may change, and you may want to consider transitioning your loved one into a residential care facility.
Prioritize Your Parent and Yourself
Aside from understanding your parent's condition and managing their physical and financial health, don't forget to keep your own doctor's appointments and social plans. Caregiving can be emotional and exhausting. Evaluate your feelings and your parent's needs over time, and be open to making adjustments or asking for help when you need it.