By Helen White, freelance writer
The decision to try at-home care for a parent or other close relative with dementia isn’t one that’s made lightly. It’s exhausting work, both mentally and physically, and it can be heart-rending for children of parents with dementia to see the changes that the disease brings. If you’ve made the decision, there’s a lot of preparation to be done, both in the home, to create a safe environment, and in the heart, to help you stay strong and able to cope with your new role as care-giver.
Simplifying the Home and Improving Safety
For someone with dementia, even the simplest everyday tasks and items can become fraught with difficulty. Simplifying the home, reducing clutter, and making spaces more accessible is hugely important to prevent over-stimulation and agitation, as well as accidents that may lead to physical harm.
- Create “walking paths” so that there’s a direct and easy-to-follow path between each room. Remove or tack down any rugs on the floor.
- Reduce household clutter, both to prevent accidents and to reduce the likelihood of over-stimulation caused by information overload.
- Improve lighting to reduce dark spots and shadows, which can cause confusion and distress.
- It may be helpful to label certain areas and items; for example a “bathroom” sign, and labels for kitchen drawers.
- Add grab bars where applicable in bathrooms (e.g. for the bath, shower, or toilet) and add non-slip flooring or mats.
- Consider child-proof locks for electrical devices and wall outlets.
- Secure any rooms or items that are potentially dangerous or breakable—for example, the garage, basement, attic, or swimming pool, computer equipment, and machinery.
- Add safety locks to any doors that lead outdoors, and install window devices to limit how far they can open.
Preparing the home is sometimes a matter of trial and error: you don’t know how your loved one will react to certain things until they’re with you on a daily basis. Initially at least, focus your efforts on safety, and over time you may find there are additional changes you can make to the home to make things more comfortable and calming.
Setting Up a Routine
For someone with dementia, routine is incredibly important. Having a routine helps them make better sense of a world that is increasingly confusing, and it’s important that your loved one knows there are certain things they can rely on, like a mid-morning snack at the same time every day, or a favorite television program each evening. In situations where their loved one has become agitated, having an established routine can also help a care-giver get things back on track and help their loved one calm down.
- A routine doesn’t need to be strictly regimented and fill up an entire day; it should just provide the day with structure. For example, it might include:
- Opening bedroom curtains at the same time every morning to signal the start of a new day
- Meals and snacks, and medications, at scheduled times.
- Daily activity time, visitors, outings.
- Shower or bath time before bed.
- Playing a relaxing piece of music at bedtime.
Don’t Neglect Your Own Self-Care
Caring for a person with dementia is both physically and mentally demanding, particularly for non-professional care-givers taking care of family members. It’s a situation that can lead to exhaustion, burn-out, and even depression on the part of the carer, so it’s vital that you’re able to take breaks on a regular basis, including days and evenings off. So, as part of preparing to bring your loved one home, try and set up a schedule of some kind, to make sure each person who is acting as carer has sufficient time off.
Having a good support system in place from the start is also very helpful. For example, joining a support group for care-giving families can provide a means of expressing emotions in a safe and non-judgmental environment. This is hugely important, because it’s natural for care-givers to feel negatively-perceived emotions like frustration, fear, and sadness, and they need a safe outlet in which to express them.
A Place for Mom (March 2013). “Maintaining Dignity for Dementia Patients.” Accessed January 12, 2015. Caring with kindness.
Carol B. Larkin (May 2012). “A Guide to Safe-Guarding Your Home for Alzheimer’s Patients.” Accessed January 12, 2015. Simplifying home and routine.
Aging Care. “Senior Care Products.” Accessed January 12, 2015. Products for at-home senior care.
Help Guide. “Dementia and Alzheimer’s Care: Planning and Preparing for the Road Ahead.” Accessed January 12, 2015. Preparing the home.
Phillips Lifeline (May 2014). “Proper Dementia Care Can Help Patients Remain at Home Longer.” Accessed January 12, 2015. Benefits of at-home care.
Psych Guides. “Living With: A Family Member With Dementia.” Accessed January 12, 2105. At-home care.
Visiting Angels. “Preparing the Home for Senior Care with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Accessed January 12, 2015. Home preparation.