Caring For Dementia Sufferers

Dementia affects over 820,000 people in the UK and some experts believe it may affect anything between 30 and 50 per cent of people over the age of 85.  Caring for a dementia sufferer requires patience on both sides and many carers are relatives or family members.  The difficulties faced by those caring for a loved one are compounded by the sense of loss as the illness progresses, and learning how to effectively deal with the condition and support those suffering from the effects of the illness can be a long slow process.  Most dementia sufferers are aware of the condition and as one leading campaigner and sufferer points out in ‘life doesn’t end with the diagnosis”.  Anxiety, stress and fear on the part of the sufferer can lead to many of the common symptoms that they and carers need to understand and deal with.  A common feature of the illness is repetitive behaviour, understanding the cause of this and how to manage it is crucial for everybody affected by the illness.
Repetitive Behaviour
Although it can be a sign of memory loss, repetitive questioning can simply be an expression of anxiety.  Repeatedly asking what time it is, may simply be an indication that some coming event is on the individual’s mind and causing concern.  This may be a visitor, a trip to the hospital or doctors, or any new event.  For those working with a range of support workers who visit the home, frequent visits can be a cause of anxiety.  It can be useful in helping with this type of anxiety to avoid mentioning events until before they’re about to happen.  Some impending events may be more stressful than others, and learning to judge if particular events may cause concern, and limiting advance warning of these can help.
That phone call
Repeated phone calls, often at night, is another common feature that anybody with a relative suffering from dementia will be familiar with.  This can be distressing for those helping to care for relatives and it can also be disruptive, leaving you tired and stressed.  In the long run you’ll need to get your rest, and your own health is important if you have care responsibilities.  Assuming care arrangements are in place for the night, it can help to have an answer phone, caller display or to switch mobiles off.  This can be a hard and difficult step to take, but it’s crucial for carers to take time away from the pressure and responsibility.  If you are struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to admit and seek help and support from your doctor or organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society.
Signs of discomfort
Pacing or other repetitive physical movements can be a symptoms resulting from a number of causes.  Again, distress and anxiety, or lack of confidence, are common triggers.  Repetitive actions that mimic past jobs can be a sign of frustration and the need to feel useful. Reassurance and finding activities to do together can help to alleviate these feelings.  Simply going for a walk, or shopping, can add a sense of usefulness and activity to the lives of sufferers.  At times physical discomfort can be expressed by repetitive movements, and may indicate that the individual is too hot, too cold, hungry or some other physical discomfort, which they are not able to express.  Paying close attention to physical comfort can help and if you are unable to identify the cause, consider contacting the doctor, to check that illness is not causing the distress.

Home from home
As the memory deteriorates, in many dementia sufferers their sense of time or place can be affected.  The request to go home is common, especially in those who are living in unfamiliar surroundings.  This may be the case if you have a relative with dementia living with you, or they have moved to a new home to receive more structured care.  If they may no longer recognise their surroundings or some of the people around them they may suffer from increased anxiety.  “Home” may be a place, and time, that is long gone and they may associate home with family members who have passed away.  This can be distressing for relatives caring for them and can be hard to deal with; in these circumstances it’s important to offer love, support and reassurance to establish a sense of security in their environment.
With an increasingly ageing population, many of us will be affected by dementia and find ourselves caring for those suffering from the condition.  Understanding the illness, its effects and how to manage the condition is crucial.  A number of organisations also offer advice and support for those living with dementia and can be invaluable in maintaining the quality of life for those who suffer from it and those who care for them.
Making suitable arrangements for those with dementia can be a hard task from care homes to caring in the home, finding the right balance will depend on the stage of the illness.  Understanding how dementia affects an individual and how to react to common symptoms can also help for those caring with sufferers from this increasingly widespread illness.