A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another neurocognitive condition is an uncertain and deeply emotional time for the whole family. For many family caregivers, it’s their first experience caring for a relative with dementia. Taking on this role can be frightening, and it’s normal to go through a spectrum of feelings and worries throughout the journey.
As an experienced senior living and memory care community, we understand the difficulties faced by family caregivers of seniors living with dementia. We are committed to offering compassionate advice, education, and support at each stage.
What to Expect at Each Stage of Dementia*
During the early stage of dementia, individuals can often remain independent. They may need help remembering words or names, planning, and organizing, or they might frequently misplace things. This is usually when a person with dementia or their family members begin to notice something is ‘not quite right.’
In the middle stage of dementia, individuals typically require a higher level of care from family or professional caregivers. They may receive memory care at home or in an assisted living setting. Alongside worsening symptoms experienced in the early stage, they may also exhibit behavioral symptoms like angry outbursts, a changed sleeping pattern, or refusal to carry out vital daily activities. It’s important that these symptoms are addressed with compassion by caregivers, as they’re typically caused by underlying emotions like frustration, upset or anxiety. The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest, and often lasts for many years.
In the late stage of a dementia-causing condition like Alzheimer’s disease, a person will experience more severe symptoms. Movement will likely be very limited, and they’ll require 24-hour professional memory care, usually in a residential senior living setting. People in the late stages of dementia find it difficult to communicate and may be unaware of their surroundings. Their support will typically focus on comfort and dignity at this stage, and they may move on to hospice care.
*This overview is based on the typical progression of Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia.
Supporting A Loved One with Dementia At Home
Many family caregivers wish to support their loved ones at home for as long as possible. While symptom severity and circumstances vary from person to person, this can be achievable – especially during the early stage of dementia.
Implement Small Changes
In the early stage of dementia, when your loved one is still somewhat independent, small prompts can make a difference. For example, write down daily to-do lists and display them somewhere prominent (e.g., the refrigerator), or set your relative up with a paper or digital diary. Reminders or alarms help them remember essential tasks they frequently forget, like taking daily medication or having dinner.
Learn How to Communicate Effectively
Communicating with a person who has dementia can be challenging for family caregivers. As their disease progresses, their loved one may become less able to communicate their needs and understand the people around them. This can lead to frustration on both sides of a conversation. It may help to avoid asking lots of confusing questions, instead stick to those with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Maintaining eye contact, learning body language, and trying not to finish their words or sentences can also help. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for communicating with individuals with dementia; what works for one person may be unhelpful for another. Let them take the lead, try different things, notice how they react, and be aware that their communication needs may change over time.
Support Their Independence
Staying as independent as possible is essential to many seniors and individuals with dementia; it can provide a sense of purpose while promoting feelings of achievement and self-worth. Your loved one may no longer be able to live well without support, but there are ways you can encourage independence and autonomy at each stage of their disease. For example, you could ask them for help with simple tasks in the kitchen or around the house, provide clothing options that allow them to dress independently, or offer transportation so they can continue attending social activities they enjoy. If they struggle with vision, coordination, or poor mobility, take steps to improve safety in the home and reduce their fall risk. This could include removing rugs and tripping hazards, adding grab bars to the bathroom, or moving their bedroom downstairs.
Plan the Future Together
As conditions like Alzheimer’s disease progress, individuals typically need professional support in a residential memory care community. While it can be difficult to discuss, approaching it together while your loved one can still have their say will be helpful in the long term. Making plans can assure your relative that their preferences matter while granting you the peace of mind that you’ll be able to honor their wishes when they can no longer self-advocate. Start thinking about assisted living as early as possible; finding a community that offers the right memory care for your loved one can be long and overwhelming, and you might have much to consider. For example, factors like your relative’s wants and needs, distance from friends and family members, services, amenities, and staff-to-resident ratios all influence the shortlisting process.
Alpine View Lodge: Family-Oriented Memory Care in San Diego
Families like yours have entrusted Alpine View Lodge Senior Living with their loved one’s memory care needs for over 40 years. Our east San Diego county assisted living home houses up to 38 seniors, each receiving personalized care to nurture their health, well-being, and independence. This tailored care is complemented by our impressive selection of physical, social, artistic, and spiritual activities that empower residents to remain independent and pursue hobbies and interests. Schedule a visit today to discover the exemplary memory care and enriching lifestyle we can offer your loved one. We look forward to meeting you.