Looking after a parent with dementia can be emotionally draining to say the least, so it’s critical you get all the support and guidance you can muster. At the top of list is making sure a dementia care plan is in place (preferably while the dementia is still in its early stage) – it can mean a much smoother ride for you and your parent.
A dementia care plan typically documents the care and support needs of a person with dementia, such as diet, hydration, exercise, medications, mobility aids and other interventions. Every plan begins with a thorough assessment by a physician or registered nurse and should be adapted as the senior’s needs and abilities change. Dementia care plans are routinely developed and updated at memory care communities or skilled nursing facilities. If your parent does not live in a residence, an in-home care agency can work with you to create such a plan.
Participating in Care Conferences
Memory care communities and skilled nursing facilities regularly hold care conferences to discuss the health, medications and activities of residents as well as any concerns. They are typically attended by the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, dietitians and other professional caregivers involved in the senior’s care. Family members as well as the resident living with dementia can and should attend as well.
To get the most benefit out of these care conferences, it’s a good idea to request a copy of the current care plan before the conference begins. The Alzheimer’s Association also suggests that caregivers:
- List questions, changes, concerns or goals they’d like discussed
- Ask questions to make sure they understand everything
- Take notes
- Be sure they understand and agree with the care plan
- Find out how often care plans are reviewed and care conferences are held
- Involve the person with dementia as much as possible
This would also be a good time to ask whether any referrals, say, to a geriatrician, neurologist, occupational therapist or counsellor, would be helpful. As well, ask for a list of medications that your parent is taking and their possible side effects. Make it clear that you must be contacted before any of your parent’s medications or treatments are changed. If changes are recommended down the road, find out why and always keep records of any adjustments that are made. Remember, you can always ask for another care conference if you have concerns about the quality of care your parent is receiving.
Communicating With the Health Care Team
When dealing with health care providers, make sure to let them know about any changes or odd behaviors you have observed in your parent. In addition, well before a care conference is called, make it a point to familiarize health care providers with the personal history of your loved one, filling them in with such details as favorite hobbies, occupation, likes and dislikes, so that they can treat the whole person, not just a patient.
Because dementia is such a complex and progressive disorder, becoming as informed as possible will help you participate more confidently when dealing with your parent’s care team. Check out reliable websites, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, and learn the skills you will need as the disease progresses.
When speaking with your parent’s doctor be sure you know what type of dementia your parent has as well as how far the dementia has progressed. Enquire about the kind of changes and conditions you should anticipate, such as changes in physical ability or in mood. As well, find out if health care providers can suggest ways you can best interact with your parent so it is easier for him or her to understand you.
Because structured and consistent daily activities can help reduce agitation and improve the mood of a person living with dementia, enquire about your parent’s typical daily routine. If Mom or Dad lives with you, ask the home-care agency what kind of routine you could put in place to make the days go more smoothly. Finally, keep in mind that if your parent is still living independently, you’ll need to know what kind of additional home support services, such as Meals on Wheels, could be put in place and whether any adaptations need to be made to the home environment.
Dealing with your loved one’s dementia can sometimes be a long ride -- it’s far better to approach caregiving armed with information and a little planning as opposed to waiting until a crisis develops and overwhelms you.