When Your Helping Hurts

Published In Blog

There are so many emotions that go along with caregiving. We’re trying to help. We’re trying to do what’s best for our loved one. When you add in the dementia element, the caring gets a whole lot harder.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but it can get downright exasperating. You’re trying to get through to them and it’s just not working. You’re trying to do too much at one time. It’s hard not to lose your cool. That’s when we all need to remember that we’re all they’ve got. We are the key to their existence. More than ever before we have to keep an upbeat spirit and leave the negativity at the door, say our prayers, and shake it off.

Time Out

Everyone has a different time out and some of us, me included, need a couple of outs. Take a walk. Wash your face. Put on some calming music. Do some stretches. My mama has a Pepsi. Whatever it takes to let the bad go — do it. If you don’t, everyone is going to hurt.

Talk It Out

Communicating with a loved one who suffers from dementia can be taxing. Stay calm. Slow down and make good eye contact. Keep your sentences short and your wording simple. Ask only one question at a time. Don’t waste your time or theirs by correcting them or arguing. No one will win and it just causes many hurt feelings.

Do your best to be on their level and look into their eyes. Let them know you care about what they’re trying to say, even if you don’t understand a single word. Nothing is more important than making them feel important.

When I was working in a memory care facility, a very lovely gentleman moved in with his wife. He was literally impossible to understand until I really listened. The longer I listened, the more I understood what he was trying to say, even though his speech had not improved a bit. It was always totally garbled with no rhyme or reason. It was in his eyes and gestures. It was feelings more than information. To me, he mattered and so did what he was trying to say. He always sought me out when something went wrong, just to listen and to try to help.

Write It Out

Everyday, mundane information can be written on post-it notes and put in a conspicuous spot. “We eat at 7 in the morning, 12 in the afternoon, and 6 for dinner. Please look at the clock and see what time it is.” Put this on the refrigerator. Have a big calendar that you can show what day of the week it is and what might be going on that day. Leave “I love you” notes on their pillows. Try to always show them respect and consideration. Both will transcend even dementia.

Fill in the Blanks

Always be patient and stay listening . . . until they start getting frustrated. If you know where they’re heading, suggest a word or an answer. At some point you’ll need to tell them often who you are and call them by name, reminding them who they are. Try to give them a choice and if they’re choosing something they shouldn’t, try suggesting something else. Avoid — “Don’t go out that front door!” Try instead — “Dad, why don’t we go out on the back patio? I’ll bring you some ice tea.”

Take Care of Yourself

For your sake and theirs, get your sleep, try to eat well and drink plenty of fluids. Remember you’re their lifeline. God Bless you for loving and caring for your own.

(This article was reviewed in February 2024 since it originally published in August 2016.)

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