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If someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you may face a difficult set of challenges. People with these conditions suffer from a progressive brain disorder that makes it difficult for them to think clearly, take care of themselves, or even communicate effectively. Caring for someone with dementia takes a great deal of patience, creativity, and compassion, and it may help to talk things over with supportive friends and family members, or even a health-care provider.
Here are some dementia care tips to help you handle the more common obstacles.
Dementia care: what to do if your loved one wanders
This is a very common part of dementia care; people with dementia may wander out of boredom, to look for someone or something, or even to tend to a physical urge such as using the bathroom or getting something to eat or drink. You may not always understand the trigger, but try these steps to minimize the potential for dangerous situations:
- Use child-safe plastic doorknob covers.
- Hang curtains or sheets over doors to mask them.
- Be sure your loved one wears an ID bracelet, and sew ID tags into his or her clothes.
Dementia care: how to manage or prevent agitation while caring for someone with dementia
Agitation worsens as dementia progresses; caring for someone with dementia is a continual struggle to identify and minimize situations that trigger agitation.
Here are some suggestions for managing aggressive or agitated behavior when caring for a loved one with dementia:
- Stick to routines and maintain a “constant” environment; for example, try to keep furniture and familiar objects in the same place.
- Use gentle touching, soft music, or even a short walk to calm periods of agitation.
- Distract an agitated individual with a favorite snack or activity.
- Encourage independence in your dementia care, but don’t let the person become frustrated with activities they can’t accomplish without help.
Dementia care: how to make sure your loved one is getting proper nutrition
Ensuring adequate nutrition is a challenge when you are caring for someone with dementia—your loved one may literally forget to eat or drink. In addition, some medications may suppress the appetite or make food taste different.
An important part of dementia care is making sure that your loved one is getting the nutrition he or she needs, especially because a poor diet may exacerbate health problems. Here are some tips:
- Aim for five or six snack-sized meals instead of three large ones.
- Though difficult, make time for sitting down and eating with your loved one part of your dementia care routine.
- Serve softer foods or food you have already cut into bite-sized portions.
- If not getting enough calories is an issue, encourage high-calorie snacks and protein shakes between meals.
- Sometimes, caring for someone with dementia means encouraging independence over neatness, especially at mealtime. Provide a “sippy cup” or straw to help him or her drink; in addition, serve finger foods when possible.
Dementia care: how to handle sleeplessness and restlessness at bedtime
If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you know that agitation and restlessness often worsen at bedtime. According to the National Center on Caregiving, this is known as “sundowning” and may be due to simple exhaustion or confusion in the person’s biological clock.
If you’re caring for someone with dementia, certain activities may minimize the effects of sundowning. You can:
- Increase physical activity early in the day, and plan for structured, quiet-time activities in the early evening to help your loved one wind down.
- Eliminate or restrict caffeine and sugar, especially later in the day.
- Remember, you’ll be unable to provide dementia care to your loved one if you are unable to get enough rest, so as a last resort, talk to your doctor about safe medications to help your loved one relax and sleep at night.
Does Medicare provide help with caring for someone with dementia?
Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) provides benefits to cover the medical care your loved one needs. Part A covers inpatient hospital and skilled nursing facility care, while Part B covers doctor visits, outpatient therapy, tests and procedures, and certain medically necessary durable medical equipment. If your loved one requires inpatient care in a skilled nursing facility, such as after surgery for a broken hip, for example, Part A includes benefits for this type of specialized care.
However, many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia require long-term custodial care for their condition, which mainly includes unskilled care, such as help with bathing, eating, dressing, and other daily living activities. Medicare doesn’t cover this type of long-term care.
Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, and you may be wondering if respite care is covered. Unfortunately, in most situations, Medicare doesn’t pay for respite care for caregivers. However, if your loved one’s dementia progresses and becomes terminal, he or she could become eligible for hospice care under Part A. Medicare’s hospice coverage includes benefits for nursing services, home health services, hospice aides, homemaker services, and short-term respite care. To be eligible for Medicare hospice coverage, your doctor must certify that your loved one is terminally ill and has six months or less to live. In addition, your loved one must agree to stop curative treatment (medications for pain relief or symptom control are still covered) and to accept hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatment options. If the beneficiary changes his or her mind, there is the option to begin curative treatments again.
Are you caring for a Medicare beneficiary with dementia? If you’d like more information about Medicare coverage options, I’d be happy to help you get answers. To get started, simply click the Get Quotes button to schedule a phone call or to request a personalized email.
For more information on dementia care:
Alzheimer’s Association. “Living with Alzheimer’s: For Caregivers.”
Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving. “Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors.” https://www.caregiver.org/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors