You’ve taken the important first step in dementia care: getting a diagnosis for your aging relative. Now, it’s time to sit down and make a plan. It can seem difficult or overwhelming to make choices about your loved one’s care, especially as the condition progresses. Here, we offer some suggestions and starting points for creating a care plan for an elderly person living with dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Rather, it’s a general term to describe a range of brain disorders (like Alzheimer’s disease) that impair a person’s ability to think, use language, solve problems, remember things, and make decisions.
Sadly, dementia is progressive: in other words, it gets worse over time. Most people with dementia will eventually need more and more help with the large and small tasks of everyday living.
For all these reasons, if somebody you love has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to make plans for their immediate and ongoing care. Where will they live, and with whom? How can they best enjoy healthy food and exercise? What do they enjoy doing? What activities would be most beneficial? And what about the future, as the disease progresses?
Create a team
Caring for a senior with multiple needs is challenging. Trying to go it alone is a recipe for stress and burnout. Instead, create a team to share the responsibilities and duties. Your team might consist of family, friends, and neighbours; professional caregivers; community services like adult-daycare or Alzheimer’s programs; other professionals like lawyers, financial planners, or accountants; house cleaners or landscaping companies; and members of your relative’s healthcare team.
You can bring your team together using the CareEasy app’s Circle of Care function — the only thing each member needs is an email address and a smartphone.
Living safely at home with dementia
If your aging loved one lives alone, you may wonder if they can continue to do so safely, even after a diagnosis of dementia. You may be anxious for them to move — perhaps in with you, or into an assisted-living centre. But many people living with dementia, especially when it’s mild, can continue to live safely at home, with the right support. In fact, moving away from a familiar neighbourhood, routines, and support systems could actually make things worse or cause a faster decline.
Here are some things you can consider to keep your loved one living safely at home for longer:
- Assess whether they have a robust support system in place. A person with a large family, who lives in a community with many services, and who can walk to the grocery store and pharmacy, may be better able to live alone than somebody without supportive people and services nearby.
- Arrange for someone to visit daily to check in on your senior, and for regular phone calls. Visitors can check to see whether the senior is taking medication, that they have food, and to make sure things are generally okay. The CareEasy app can help you and other members of your parent’s Circle of Care coordinate these visits and phone calls.
- Make sure that you can easily access the home through spare sets of keys or a programmable door lock.
- Minimize the chance of accidents by safety-proofing the house: for example, invest in a kettle that shuts off automatically. You can have the stove shut off or put burners on timers — a toaster oven or microwave is useful for heating foods. Lower the temperature of the hot water heater. Fall-proof the home. Consider having an occupational therapist come to the home to do a home safety evaluation for your elderly relative with dementia.
- Consider grocery delivery, or meal-delivery services like Meals on Wheels, that maximize nutrition and minimize the need to cook.
- Consider purchasing a wearable call-detection or medical alert device so that your loved one can call for help in the event of a fall or emergency.
- Create a large-print list of phone numbers, ideally with pictures, next to each name and number. Consider adding speed-dial numbers to the home phone, with pictures if possible.
There may also be a time when living alone is no longer possible. It’s a great idea to research in advance the options available in your area for live-in care, moving in with your relative, or assisted-living or long-term care homes.
Make a care plan for your elderly relative with dementia
With your team in place, you can start to plan. If you’re not sure where to begin, or don’t understand how much help your mom or dad needs, it can help to create a day by day, hour by hour’s schedule of your parent’s activities. That schedule will include things like:
- Getting up in the morning and getting dressed
- Bathing and personal hygiene, like brushing teeth and coming here
- Nutrition: who will buy and prepare food? Does your relative need help with eating? How is food stored? Who will clean the kitchen and wash dishes?
- Medical and other appointments, as well as taking medications
- Exercise or physiotherapy
- Social activities, including visits with family or friends or adult daycare and other stimulating programs for people living with dementia. These kinds of activities reduce isolation and loneliness, and in some cases can even help slow the progression of the disease. They can also provide caregivers with much-needed breaks.
- Getting ready for bed and sleeping.
Why routines are useful for people with dementia
Once you understand your relative’s needs and activities, you can create familiar routines for them, and for you. Whether your parent needs a lot of help or just a little, you may notice that the challenges of living with dementia ease when they have a schedule to follow. That’s because
- People experiencing memory loss thrive on familiarity. They can use familiar faces, foods, routines, and environments as touchstones and reminders for how to act and to feel more secure.
- TIP: incorporate as many of your parent’s favourite and familiar routines and prompts into a daily routine as possible. For example, if your mom or dad always enjoyed reading the morning newspaper with coffee, they may still get comfort from paging through the newspaper even if it’s more difficult to read or understand the articles, or if they just look at the pictures.
- People with dementia may be more likely to retain longer-held habits and memories: the more familiar and deeply ingrained her routine, and the more likely they are to remember it.
- When both the person with dementia and the caregiver follow an established routine, the person with dementia may be able to take a more active role and the caregiver can provide less prompting, making the task easier and more rewarding for both.
Your plan will change over time
Your loved one’s needs, and your involvement in their care, will likely vary depending on the extent of their dementia, as well as their overall health and mobility:
- People with mild dementia, and who are in relatively good health, may need only a bit of help with occasional grocery shopping, heavy-duty cleaning or yard work jobs, or transportation. It may be fairly easy to divide up these tasks amongst team members. The Care Easy app lets you create tasks for each team member, as well as track and share expenses associated with a parent’s care.
- As dementia progresses, your mom or dad may need or welcome more help with cooking or preparing meals, housekeeping and running errands, managing money and paying bills, or remembering to take medications. These kinds of activities are known as instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).
- At the other end of the spectrum, a person with full-blown dementia may require around-the-clock care and lots of assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), which include essentials like feeding, getting in and out of bed, dressing, bathing, and toileting. These may be more challenging for the first-time caregiver to handle.
Dementia poses challenges for both patients and their caregivers. Having a robust and flexible plan in place can help make those challenges a bit easier.
Coordinate your first care plan
When dementia makes it harder for you ageing relative to live independently, CareEasy can help you and your network pitch in. We designed CareEasy to bring family caregivers together on one platform and allow families and friends to have full transparency to plan and coordinate care.