Caring for a Spouse with Dementia: Coping and Support
Dementia is a scary word. That word gets even scarier when you hear the news that your spouse is diagnosed with dementia.
However, there are ways to cope with the diagnosis and help yourself and your spouse through this difficult time. It takes some adjustments to both of your lives but providing the proper care and dealing with the news is crucial. Luckily, neither of you are alone.
What Is Dementia?
The first thing you need to do is learn exactly what dementia is. It’s best to read up on it and ask your doctor plenty of questions to make sure you understand completely.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s important to clarify that dementia describes a range of symptoms rather than a specific diagnosis. Particularly, these symptoms affect your spouse’s memory and thinking. Dementia is a diagnosis usually pulled in when these symptoms make it hard for a person to complete their daily routine and activities on their own.
If you see that your spouse is showing signs of dementia, it’s imperative that you schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can. This is a condition that usually is progressive, so if it is left alone, it will only get worse.
What Are the Treatment Plans?
When your spouse is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, their doctor should give you an idea of what to do and what to expect.
The unfortunate news is that for many types of progressive dementia (such as Alzheimer’s Disease), there is no cure right now. There are some medications that are used to treat the condition by helping to improve some symptoms on a temporary basis.
How to Come to Terms with a Spouse with Dementia
There are many steps you can take to understand a spouse with dementia. Many aren’t simple changes but they are all possible.
The first thing that you need to do when you hear the diagnosis is to reflect on what it means. When a spouse has trouble thinking and remembering like they used to, you are likely to see changes in their personality. This has led many people reacting that they feel like their married to someone they don’t know as well as they once did.
The best way to go about this is to accept that the relationship you and your spouse have will be different than the one you’ve both grown used to. Most suggest that you take the time to grieve what you and your spouse have lost but be ready to change the playbook and redefine your marriage.
This can be challenging but with for many marriages that have lasted almost a lifetime, this challenge is one that can be faced together.
They Might Say Things They Don’t Mean
When you are caring for your spouse and as the disease progresses, you might find yourself on the receiving end of hurtful rhetoric. It’s important to remember that this comes from the disease they are battling and not from any real spite.
You can help yourself and your spouse by trying to bring laughter into your lives. Joking around and keeping each other in light spirits is a good way to battle the angry mood swings they might demonstrate. In addition, it will help you to remember that your spouse still has a bright, loving core through the disease.
Don’t Try to Go It Alone
Just as it’s important that you are there for your spouse, you need people there for you. This is a hard time for both of you and it can go a long way to be able to talk things through with someone else.
It’s also a good idea to use technology to your advantage. For instance, medical alert systems and location devices can go a long way. It’s a harsh truth that no matter how well-cared for your spouse is, you probably won’t have them in your sight every minute of their life. In the case that something happens when you are separated, your spouse can simply press a button for help. Most of these devices immediately reach out to emergency responders when activated and location trackers can help your spouse get help even if they don’t know where they are.
What Can You Do for Your Spouse?
As the diagnosis sinks in, you probably are trying to figure out how you can help your spouse deal with the disease they are now battling. Aside from what we’ve looked at so far, there are some things you can incorporate into your life.
Be Sure to Communicate Clearly
Talking to a spouse with dementia can be hard. They might frequently forget who you are, what your conversation is about, and get distracted by other stimuli.
The first thing to do when you sit down to talk with your spouse is to make sure there isn’t anything that would make a conversation difficult such as a television. Then, when you speak to them, call them by name, and tell them who you are. For instance, “[their name], I’m [your name], your [husband/wife].”
It’s also a good idea to keep things simple. Especially for more severe cases of dementia, it might be hard for your spouse to remember and follow long-winded questions or choose from too many choices. Simple choices such as “Would you like this or this for dinner?” work better than “What do you want to eat?”
Not being able to remember facts such as where you are or who you’re with can be frightening. As such, it isn’t unlikely that your spouse is feeling scared or anxious as well as confused. When you are working with them, remain calm and comforting to help them stay as at ease as possible.
Don’t Be Afraid to Consult the Professionals
Many spouses try to handle their partner’s symptoms on their own. After all, you love them and want to do what’s best for them. 24/7 care, though, can be difficult and often impossible.
It’s also not a bad idea to recognize when you need to recruit help from a professional caregiver. It isn’t uncommon or bad to call in a caregiver even part-time to help your spouse if you have regular responsibilities that would pull you away from your spouse. It’s also not cruel of you to recognize when you need a few hours to take care of your own needs.