Dementia isn't just something that is difficult for the person suffering from it, it is hard for everyone who needs to maintain some sort of relationship with that person. This includes family members, friends, and even hired caretakers who are often on the receiving end for everything from having their name forgotten to aggression when the patient lashes out because they don't have a clear understanding of what is happening to them. It is easy for these caretakers to think that there is something they should have been able to do to ensure that they were remembered, or at least be someone that can make the patient feel safe.
But the struggle with dementia isn't linear, nor is it entirely predictable. One day the person may seem like their old self, and the next they might be confused and agitated. They might be more inclined to misplace items only to accuse others of stealing them. It is situations such as these that make caretaker burnout a big problem when it comes to dealing with those who are experiencing a steady cognitive decline. But there are many things caretakers can do cope with the ups and downs of caring for these patients, and not take the patient's reaction to the disease personally.
Taking a Step Back
One common trait that many caretakers share is that they are more concerned with the well being of others than they are of themselves. It is important for them to remember that the sacrifices they make for others entitles them to treating themselves from time to time, or even letting others in their life know that they need a little pampering. Administration in charge of a facility that takes care of the elderly can help employees cope by offering gift certificates for these little treats. They can also have counseling services available to help them cope.
Internalizing the stress associated with care giving is both common and costly. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers spent more than $9 billion in 2013 on additional healthcare costs of their own. Most rate their stress levels as high or very high, and many experience depression. Support groups are available for caregivers, and they should be reminded that these resources are available if they are needed.
Take Things Slow
With a dementia patient, their knowledge level and understanding can vary from day to day, or even within the same day. By speaking slowly, keeping a reassuring tone, and keeping choices and activities as easy and straightforward as possible will limit episodes of confusion and anxiety. Questions should be asked one at a time, and should potentially have yes or no answers or a small number of tangible choices. Activities can be broken down into steps. Try putting the task into slow motion. Something that is obvious to the average person can be an ordeal to someone who has cognitive and memory problems. "Please, wash your hands," may need to include directions to go to the washroom, turn on the water, apply soap, scrub, rinse, turn off the water, and dry.
Relish the Good
Losing memories is hard for anyone, for many long term memories are easier than short term ones. Take time to look at old pictures to jog those memories, and let the patient take the lead when they are able. If a patient sees her daughter, but seems to think it is her sister from many years past, let them go with it and enjoy the visit she believes she's having. As long as no one is getting hurt there's no reason not to take each of life's episodes as they come.