5 Essential Skills For a Caregiver of a Loved One With Dementia


mom and daughter looking towards sky smilingIt can be a substantial challenge for both novice and experienced caregivers when it comes to providing specialist dementia care. Whether hiring a professional or cultivating the personal skills to care for a loved one, there remain five essential skills that help ensure a caregiver can provide the greatest level of comfort and care for dementia sufferers.

1. Patience
It may seem to go without saying that dementia care requires patience but the need for this vital factor is worth repeating. Dementia is characterized not only by memory loss but a variety of behavior changes, both of which can become frustrating for caregivers. While understandable, such a reaction can hinder the ability of a caregiver to provide dementia care. As such, habits that engender and maintain a high degree of patience ensures that patient care can remain optimal.

2. Knowledge
While not every caregiver may have prior experience with dementia, learning about the disease is an important tool for understanding patient needs. Realizing that phenomena such as wandering, behavior changes, loss of function and “sundowning” also form the spectrum of dementia symptoms helps ensure these problems are handled appropriately and with compassion.

Caregivers make use of their knowledge in order to facilitate conversations with healthcare professionals. They also become an important resource for loved ones coping with patient-specific manifestations of dementia. Factual information provides fertile ground for empathy and compassion, gifts that every dementia patient should receive.

3. Strategy
Dementia arises from a variety of causes and presents with a multitude of symptoms. There are, however, a number of techniques that caregivers can employ in order to help ensure dementia patients remain active and comfortable for as long as possible. Eating, driving and communication are all impacted by dementia but problems in these areas can be overcome through strategic planning.

As one example, simply reducing environmental distractions may facilitate better communication. Likewise, changing from asking to telling may ensure activities such as mealtimes are more successful. Although questions may appear to be a gesture of respect for autonomy, they may place dementia patients lacking vocabulary in a difficult position. As such, the strategic caregiver may actually be more courteous by employing directive communication.

4. Creativity
The variable course of dementia can create an ever-changing terrain through which caregivers must remain agile in navigating. This may often manifest as a loss of rational or logical belief states for the dementia patient. The flexible and adaptive caregiver will recognize when working with, rather against, a patient’s perception of reality will bring the dementia sufferer the greatest benefit.

Adaptability also ensures those caring for dementia sufferers utilize a wide variety of resources in meeting patient needs. If completing tasks such as dressing, feeding or doctor visits require a bit of out-of-the-box thinking, the creative caregiver is often the most successful.

5. Endurance
The progression of dementia is variable but can often cover a time span of more than a decade. Caregivers must be prepared to continue learning new skills as needed throughout this time. Even when patients progress over shorter time-spans, the emotional toll of dementia may make months feel like years. Therefore, caregivers must be able to both physically and emotionally manage dementia as a long-term care process. A key element to enduring the course of this disease is caretakers providing themselves with sufficient self-care.

Ryan Hughes is a freelance writer associated with Methodist Care Homes in the UK.  His experience includes working with aging individuals and those with health issues.


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