You Need To Be Present, Not Perfect: 3 Tips for Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia

By Jennifer Olson Crane, M.S.

In my work and in my personal life I have had the privilege to speak with people who are confronted by the reality of caregiving for a family member who is dealing with the debilitating symptoms of dementia.  One concern that caregivers consistently communicate to me is that they are “screwing it all up!” They tell me they don’t feel up to the task.  They express worry that they can’t be good enough or perfect when interacting with their loved ones.  Some of these caregivers might even be at the point of exhaustion or breakdown.

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There are several tips that I urge these individuals to bear in mind each day.

  1. You are only human; be sure to take care of yourself.

None of us is super human.  It is ok to be frustrated, overwhelmed, tired or even to lose your composure with your loved one.  Caregiving is a 24/7 job and it is affected by so many outside things that are not controllable that it is inevitable that frustration and fatigue will take over sometimes.

It is ok to need a break, to periodically take time for yourself.  In fact, it is not just ok, it is a necessary part of being able to be a caregiver for the long-haul.  Take advantage of family members, friends, church members, or other people’s offer to do something to help.  Ask them to come sit with your loved one, so you can take a nap, go to lunch with a friend or your spouse, or do a favorite activity.

If friends/family are not around, please consider looking into day programs or the local senior center for programs that provide respite.  One program that I am aware of charges just $10 an hour and includes lunch so that a caregiver can schedule time off.  Taking care of oneself refreshes and enables a caregiver to be much more able to take care of their loved one with dementia for the long haul.

  1. When you lose your cool, apologize and move on.

Don’t beat yourself up when you lose it with your loved one.  Again, you are human.  Apologize and move on.  Sometimes the loved one is hurt by your outburst.  However, a conversation that includes an apology and an “I love you” can go a long way.  Especially before dementia progresses into late stages, people are aware that their behavior and/or speech is confused.  They don’t know what to do about it and it often helps defuse a frustrating situation to have a caregiver admit that they are confused or don’t know what to do or how to handle it either.  The two can learn together.

  1. Understand it’s a new normal.

When dealing with dementia, caregivers and family are always dealing with a “new normal” in the life of a loved one affected by this disease process.  The disease process of dementia causes deterioration in the brain, is usually progressive in nature, and promotes periodic personality and functional changes in the affected loved one.  These changes are hard for caregivers and family members to watch and understand.  It is often the inclination of caregivers and family members to refer to the way the affected person “used to be” and to desire to get their loved one back to that normal.  One of the hardest realities to face is that the former version of the affected person does not exist anymore.  Who they are now and what they can do now is their new normal.  It is important for caregivers and family members to understand this new normal and how it dictates their required care.  As the dementia progresses, the affected loved one may experience additional new normals, causing the caregiver to need adapt the approach and strategy of care.

Caregiving is not easy!  No two cases of dementia are alike. The dementia process often requires a changing approach by the caregiver over time as the disease progresses.  It is challenging enough for someone experienced with dementia to navigate the path to dementia care without any missteps.  I advise caregivers not to be too hard on themselves, to get educated, and to seek regular guidance from their loved one’s healthcare practitioners.

 

About the Author

Jennifer Olson Crane is a Gerontologist and a member of Savantive LLC, a professional consulting business she started with her husband.  She has a passion to help older adults, especially individuals diagnosed with dementia, by addressing their struggles in a way that leads to positive outcomes and improved quality of life.

Jennifer educates families and caregivers about the dementia process, connecting them to appropriate resources for their affected loved ones, and providing ongoing support as the situation changes.  She writes and speaks on the topics of dementia and caregiving.

Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (summa cum laude) from Liberty University and a Master of Science (summa cum laude) in Gerontological Services from Saint Joseph’s University.

 

(Note: The opinions and information expressed herein are that of the author and are not reflective of any current or former employer or client.)

© 2018 Savantive, LLC

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Registered for my Final Two Classes Today……

I remember sitting down at my computer blogging about my decision to go back to school.  I had been out of school for around 20 year., and a lot has happened in my life since I had last been a student.  In December 2015 I graduated summa cum laude with my B. S. in Psychology.  I began grad school right away, and I also blogged about my decision to pursue Gerontology.

Today I am sitting here blogging about registering for my final two graduate classes.  By December of this year, I will hold a master’s degree in Gerontological Services from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

This journey has taken me through five years, two moves, both of my children graduating high school, health concerns and surgeries, the death of a grandparent, and multiple other life changes.  It was very difficult at times, and I even spent some time in tears and ready to give up.  I kept going, though, and here I am!

I am working to find a job and begin to build upon my education and truly make a difference to the people who I work with.  I am looking at research ideas, and beginning the process of developing them.  I am still a wife and a mom, and these roles are the ones I still identify with most closely because these roles mean the world to me.  I am also someone who is passionate about my chosen field and the individuals that I work with.  In some ways. I am the same person I have always been.  In others, I have changed and grown.

My husband and my kids have given me their love and support, their proofreading skills and their shoulder, their understanding and their cheering section to get me through.  I could not have gotten here without them!

So here I am getting ready to tackle my final semester of school.  I am excited to see where I land as I apply for and interview for positions in my field.  I am excited to see what the next chapter of my life holds as I am stepping out as a confident, educated and capable woman.

Why Gerontology

At 42 years of age I have finally finished my bachelor’s degree.  When I returned to school three years ago, twenty years had passed since I finished my freshman year.  In that time, I have come to a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do when I “grow up.”  My major in psychology more fully represents my interests and goals than my previous major, while my 3.9 g.p.a. reflects my dedication and intense focus on the subject of psychology. 

It took me a while to narrow down my interests because there is so much to learn about human development and behavior.  I was fascinated by what I was learning about each successive stage of development.  However, it wasn’t until recently that my interests turned to the senior adult population.  A core requirement of my undergraduate degree program is a 125-hour internship, to be completed within one full semester.  While completing my internship at a local senior center, I gained the experience and knowledge to fully grasp my interest and passion for the senior population. 

My internship has afforded me the opportunity to work with a group of seniors who struggle with the beginning stages of dementia and other conditions that affect cognitive function.  This program, known as the Assisted Senior Program (ASP), exists to offer assistance, socialization, and a level of independence for seniors who need support but who do not need daycare or other full-time aid.  ASP also offers respite for the seniors’ caregivers.  Interestingly, working in this internship has lit a spark in me! Consequently, I now have a strong desire to develop ASP programs in multiple locales to support the senior population.

I am excited about the Master of Science in Gerontology offered by St. Joseph’s University, because I feel that this program will afford me the best education and skill enhancement to make my goal of assisting this specific group of seniors a reality.  Not only do ASP clients have unique needs because of their cognitive struggles, but they require unique support as they are not “serious enough” for typical interventions and services that are in place for seniors.  I want to provide the opportunity for these seniors to live a full life that affords them the respect and dignity that is rightfully theirs.  I want to understand what their needs and concerns are and how I can help to meet those needs.

I believe that my passion and my caring and compassionate heart will allow me to offer the care and support that is so desperately needed by seniors who are experiencing the changes that come with cognitive dysfunction.  I want to be knowledgeable about the unique needs of this population, so that I can make a practical difference in their lives as they age.  I want to be able to offer seniors the opportunity and support to live as normal life as possible and maintain their dignity as they adjust to the changes that are beginning to rock their world.