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Home Care for Dementia Patients: What You Need to Know

Written by Claire Samuels
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated August 23, 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, more help often becomes necessary as the disease progresses.

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

Caring for a parent with dementia at home: 3 must-haves

Seniors with dementia can remain in their homes or with family caregivers longer if they have proper education and resources, according to the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center.

In a Johns Hopkins 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 9 1/2 months longer. Self-rated quality of life for elderly adults and family caregivers in this group rose significantly during the study.

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

Safety precautions. Seniors with dementia often experience disorientation and begin to wander. A fall may result in hospitalization 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 such as grab bars and clear, open layouts can keep the house free of Alzheimer’s safety risks. Remove trip hazards such as rugs and electrical cords, and create paths throughout the house for unimpeded wandering.
  • In the later stages, full-time supervision and more extensive home modifications may be necessary for dementia home care. This may include automatic-off kitchen appliances and alarmed doors and windows to prevent wandering.

Health care. Regular medical treatment and appropriately administered medication can help loved ones age at home longer. But some health conditions when coupled with dementia present real challenges. Consider these example health concerns when determining whether you can care for a dementia patient at home:

  • Diabetes, high blood pressure, and other similar underlying conditions are complex in of themselves but can be further exacerbated by dementia symptoms and lead to poor quality of life.
  • Mental health issues that predate the onset of dementia, such as depression and anxiety, may make a loved one’s dementia symptoms more complex.
  • Preexisting issues around diet, such as preferences for inconsistent mealtimes or low-nutrition foods, or a tendency to overeat or diet too stringently, could result in feeding challenges as dementia symptoms become more severe.

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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.
  • All dementia patients need socialization. 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, but caregivers can help by providing memory aids and opportunities for success along the way.

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

  • 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 achievement can reduce agitation over memory loss and slow the process of cognitive decline, the APA says. 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 ensuring a level of autonomy.

  • Simplify tasks and routines: Your loved one 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.
  • Provide 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.
  • Break big tasks into small steps: Although making lunch may be a complex task, straightforward objectives like taking bread out of a bag or peeling a banana may be more manageable.
  • Select easy, productive activities your loved one enjoys: Consider their 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. Respite care and in-home care are two important resources to help with caregiver duties and give family members a break.

Respite care

Respite care can be arranged at home or in a nearby senior living community. Rather than a long-term commitment, it’s temporary relief for people 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.

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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 long-term memory care over home care.

In-home care for dementia patients

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

  • Help with activities of daily living, such as 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
  • Interaction and person-centered care while you work, run errands, or care for family

Make sure the aide has experience with home care for dementia patients, because a specific 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’s currently no cure for dementia. 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 that 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 the three must-haves — safety precautions, health care, and stimulation — can’t 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.

Meet the Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a senior copywriter at A Place for Mom. She’s written or contributed to more than 100 articles about senior living and healthy aging, with a special focus on dementia and memory care. Before writing about seniors, she worked as an account executive for independent and assisted living facilities across the Midwest. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, where she focused on literature and media studies.

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