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Home Care for Dementia Patients: What You Need to Know

Claire Samuels
By Claire SamuelsFebruary 3, 2021

Caring for a parent with dementia at home can be both difficult and rewarding. In the early stages of dementia, many people are able to live at home with relative independence like they did before their diagnosis. However, as the disease progresses, more help becomes necessary.

Learn what tools you need to successfully provide home care for dementia patients, including safety information, resources to support both seniors and family caregivers, and warning signs a new caregiving arrangement, like memory care, could be needed. 

3 must-haves to care for a parent with dementia at home

With proper education and resources, seniors with dementia can remain in their homes or with family caregivers longer, according to research by the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. In the study, about 300 elderly adults with dementia and their family caregivers received monthly consultations on home care for dementia patients from professionally qualified teams, as well as referrals and counseling on health, nutrition, activities, and more. A similar number of participants did not receive these resources. 

The families who had help stayed in their homes an average of nine and a half months longer. Self-rated quality of life for both elderly adults and family caregivers in this group rose significantly during the study, too.

Before choosing to provide Alzheimer’s home care for a loved one, consider your ability to offer the three things Johns Hopkins researchers noted were vital for success:

1. Safety precautions. Seniors with dementia often experience disorientation and begin to wander. A fall may result in hospitalization and/or immediate need for a long-term care facility. Safety needs change as dementia progresses:

  • In the early stages of home care for dementia patients, basic accommodations like grab bars and clear, open layouts can keep the house free of Alzheimer’s safety risks. Remove trip hazards like rugs and electrical cords, and create paths throughout the house for unimpeded wandering.
  • In the later stages, more extensive home modifications may be necessary for Alzheimer’s home care. This may include alarmed doors and windows to prevent wandering, automatic-off kitchen appliances, and full-time supervision.

2. Health care. Regular medical treatment and appropriately administered medication can help loved ones age at home longer. Consider these health concerns when determining how to care for an Alzheimer’s patient at home.

  • High blood pressure, diabetes, and other underlying conditions can lead to poor quality of life and escalate dementia symptoms.
  • Visits with a psychologist or mental health provider can develop memory tools and help older adults cope with cognitive decline.
  • A balanced diet and regular exercise contribute to overall health and well-being.

3. Stimulation.
 Appropriate stimulation, through activities and physical or occupational therapy, can reduce agitation and make dementia symptoms more manageable.

  • Seniors with early and middle-stage cognitive decline benefit from memory exercises and productive activities.
  • Those with late-stage dementia need sensory stimulation from basic activities, textures, sights, and sounds.
  • Socialization is important for all seniors with dementia. Whether through activity groups at local senior centers or family visits, interaction improves quality of life.

Tips to extend home care for dementia patients

With the right tools, family caregivers can help care for a parent with dementia at home longer. Seniors diagnosed with dementia often face a long path of cognitive decline, and can benefit from:

Memory tools. Memory aids can help people become more organized and manage the symptoms of memory loss. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends:

  • Using a calendar, journal, or to-do list as a memory substitute for daily tasks
  • Setting alarms or automatic reminders for medication and meals
  • Establishing routines of pleasant, meaningful daily activities

Success and accomplishments. Continued learning and achieving can reduce agitation over memory loss and slow the process of cognitive decline, says the APA. By emphasizing remaining strengths, caregivers can help seniors with mild to moderate dementia succeed. Try to facilitate success when caring for a parent with dementia at home by:

  • Simplifying tasks and routines — someone may no longer be able to select their own clothes or get dressed, but picking and putting on a hat each morning could be their responsibility
  • Providing visual and verbal cues for everyday activities — labeling a bathroom or closet could help seniors find the door they’re looking for and avoid accidents
  • Breaking big tasks into small steps — while making lunch may be a complex task, straight-forward objectives like taking bread out of a bag, or peeling a banana, may be more manageable
  • Selecting easy, productive activities the senior enjoys — consider your loved one’s interests and check out this list of at-home activities for adults with dementia

Respite care and in-home care for dementia patients

Providing the required care and support for people with dementia can quickly become a full-time job. Two main resources to help with caregiver duties and give family members a break are respite care and in-home care.

Respite care

Respite care can be arranged at home or in a nearby senior living community. It’s not a long-term commitment, but a temporary relief for those caring for dementia patients in their homes. While someone else cares for your elderly family member, you can travel, go to medical appointments, or simply relax.

In senior communities, respite care may also be called short-term care or short-term assisted living. Gauge your own emotional well-being during this time: periodic respite care may be the perfect way for you to recharge, or it could reveal the benefits of permanent long-term memory care over Alzheimer’s home care.

In-home care for dementia patients

While there are differences between home care and memory care amenities and features, care aides trained to assist seniors with dementia can provide:

  • Help with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, and eating — especially during late stage dementia, when someone may violently refuse these necessary activities
  • Assistance managing symptoms of sundown syndrome
  • Sensory or reminiscence therapy to reduce agitation and inspire positive memories
  • Person-centered care and interaction while you work, run errands, or care for family

Make sure the aide has experience with home care for dementia patients, since a unique set of skills is required. Know your loved one’s dementia symptoms, care needs, and expectations before calling to screen and hire home care providers. Once you’ve chosen a caregiver, share information about your relative’s life, memories, and experiences to help the two connect.

Warning signs home care for dementia patients isn’t working

There is no cure for dementia at this time. Some older adults age at home successfully for years or even decades with moderate dementia, relying on family caregivers for support. But it’s important to keep in mind that dementia is unpredictable, and care needs could change suddenly.

Also, don’t forget caregiver needs and abilities may change as well. Poor caregiver health is one of the most common reasons older adults with dementia move to memory care.

If dementia progresses to the point where any of these three must-haves — safety, health care, and stimulation — cannot be met, or the caregiver’s emotional or physical health is at risk, memory care may be needed. Exploring options early can help prevent stress and worry when the time comes for a change. 

Contact our Senior Living Advisors if caring for a parent with dementia at home has become overwhelming, or if you believe your loved one isn’t receiving the necessary resources to slow cognitive decline. Our senior living experts can provide more information about respite options, professional Alzheimer’s home care, or memory care in your area.

Claire Samuels
Claire Samuels
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