Posted on Jul 28, 2016
When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it is as confusing and confronting for the family as it is for the sufferer. The initial concern is about whether or not your loved one should remain at home. In fact, about 70% of Australians who have been diagnosed with dementia continue to live in the community.
Dementia is an overarching term for a range of medical conditions, some of which progress quite slowly. Caregiving arrangements and the possibility of residential care will be determined by a number of factors.
People in the early stages of dementia will be able to continue life as normal with some assistance. Work with your loved one to identify how his/her abilities are changing and put strategies in place. For example, you might use labels, notes, timers and pill dispensers to help with forgetfulness.
In the middle stages of dementia, more intervention will be needed. There can be changes in physical abilities such as spatial perception and vision. Performing basic tasks may take longer. Dementia sufferers may still prefer to age in place, but family members or in-home carers will be needed to help with housework and ensure safety.
In the later stages of dementia, sufferers lose most of their mental and physical abilities. They need to be cared for 24/7. Families often elect to move their loved one to a specialised facility. The option of palliative care by professionals in the home is also available.
When your loved one is first diagnosed with dementia, hold a family meeting and develop a long-term plan with your loved one. Depending on your personal situation, your loved one may be able to live with a family member. Alternatively, family members can be rostered to assist with housework and take your loved one to medical appointments. Consider the option of hiring an in-home carer to undertake some of these duties. Make sure that your loved one is aware of the arrangements and agrees with future plans such as going into residential care if his or her condition deteriorates considerably.
If you and your loved one make the decision that s/he should remain in the community for as long as possible, it will be necessary to make some changes to the living environment. You will need to “declutter” your loved one’s living space in order to help with spatial and visual impairments. Label everything so that your loved one knows what is in every drawer and cupboard. Assistive technologies such as medical alert bracelets, alarms and Smartphones are items which can overcome communication problems and ensure immediate help in an emergency. Your home care service provider can provide advice about making the home environment dementia-friendly. If it isn’t possible to make these changes, you may need to consider alternative care for your loved one.
In metropolitan and larger regional areas there are a range of support services for dementia sufferers. Try to access these as soon as possible. Researchers are constantly seeking new ways to help sufferers such as using assistance dogs. Rural and isolated areas often have few support services and many families decide to help loved ones transition to an aged care facility.