Dementia Care: What’s Available And How It Can Help

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dementia often begins with relatively mild symptoms. In its earliest phases, it may be ideal to stay at home to be cared for or assisted by family. However, dementia may eventually progress to the point that specialized care is needed. These practical strategies for care may include dementia day care, home health services, nursing homes, and dementia nursing care centers. Therapy can also be helpful for those with dementia and their loved ones.

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A dementia diagnosis can be hard to handle emotionally

Alzheimer's disease and care plans

Developing a dementia care plan early can allow the person receiving dementia care to be a part of the decision-making process. They can look at the options available and express their concerns and preferences.

The first step in making a dementia care plan is generally gathering information about available resources. Even before you need additional help, it can be wise to connect with an RN case manager who can help you manage care when the time comes that you need it.

It can also be ideal to find medical professionals who can manage your care. You might visit an adult day care program to meet the supervisor and staff, visit a dementia nursing unit to find out what services they offer or talk with an in-home dementia care center.

A friend, family member, or neighbor can provide additional support during this time, so building this support network can be important now, whether you or a loved one has dementia. Community support can become crucial, not only for the person with dementia but also for the other family members caring for them.

Once you know what's available and have settled on your preferences, it can be best to create a document that outlines what you want if you can no longer make the decisions for yourself. You may want to appoint someone in the family to make these decisions and give complete instructions about what you might want them to do regarding financial and legal matters. A lawyer can help you create a legal record of these decisions.

Dementia day care

Dementia day care is generally a type of care provided in a dementia facility in your community. It can provide a place to feel safe and convenient while your caregiver goes to work, handles personal chores, or takes time to care for themselves.

Dementia caregivers in the adult day care can talk to you, take care of your needs, and make sure you get the medications you've been prescribed. You can also spend time in social situations, which is often a key component of beneficial dementia care.

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Home services

Home health services for dementia may offer reassurance and give you the ability to stay in your home for as long as possible. Dementia home care is typically provided by home care workers who are informed about the types of help you may need. Most home health services are done on an hourly basis. Depending on the skill level of your home care worker, they can provide you with any or all of the following services:

  • Providing transportation for recreational activities and visiting
  • Running errands or providing transportation for shopping, personal business, and doctor appointments
  • Helping with bathing, dressing, eating, exercising, and toileting
  • Helping with meal preparation and housekeeping
  • Ensuring you get an appropriate level of regular exercise
  • Taking care of wounds, giving injections, and helping with physical therapy exercises

If you're on your own all or most of the time, you might prefer a live-in home health worker. This can work well if you want to stay in your home but have trouble with mobility, bathing, and homemaking chores. With a live-in caretaker, you will normally receive companionship, as well as someone to make sure you're always safe and taken care of if you fall or have another type of accident or emergency.

If you hire a live-in helper, you'll generally need to make sure you have a place for them to stay and provide them with meals at your home. However, a single live-in home care worker can't usually manage your needs day and night. If you need constant care, it may be best to go to a setting where that is a part of the standard of care.

Nursing homes

As you create your dementia care plan, you may need to include a nursing care plan for dementia. Nearly any nursing home can provide you with many of the basic services you might need. Some of the things they can provide include those listed below:

  • Round-the-clock care
  • Medication management
  • Doctors and RNs on staff
  • Meal service
  • Social activities
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Help with eating, bathing, toileting, and dressing as needed

Some of these facilities may also provide respite care, which means they can manage your care for a shorter period of time so that the family members caring for you can have a break or take a vacation.

One of the most important aspects of choosing a nursing care home can be ensuring it has capable staff. You might find out what levels of nursing care are available and what qualifications and certifications the staff hold. It can be helpful to look around to see how dementia patients are being cared for. Notice how the nursing home smells and whether it appears clean. If you need to live there at some point, you'll likely want to live in a place that's pleasant and comfortable.

Nursing centers

If you go to a nursing center that isn't specifically designed for dementia care, you may encounter problems when your symptoms worsen. You could transfer to a dementia care facility, but by that time, you may have difficulty coping with changes. For many people, the best solution can be to go to a nursing facility that offers long term care in the first place.

A facility set up for dementia nursing care may provide the safety of a locked unit so that you can't inadvertently wander off, leave the premises, and become lost in the surrounding city if you feel confused. The lock is normally there for your safety, and you will likely wear an identification bracelet so that people can identify you if you do manage to wander out of the facility. It can allow you to move freely within the memory care unit without you or your loved ones worrying about safety concerns.

Many dementia care units provide special activities to enhance brain function. There may be social activities and events, activities to stimulate cognitive skills, expressive therapies, like art and music therapy, and group exercise programs.

Many of the activities in a dementia care unit can focus on precious memories from the past. You may watch movies, listen to music, or talk about memories from your younger years. However, there may also be activities that can ground you in the here and now, such as watching current sports events or talking about the activities you did recently. The people who work in these centers are often trained on how to interact with people who have dementia, like how important it is to maintain eye contact and use simple words when speaking to them to encourage social connection and how to read body language and facial expressions to provide the best care.

Another aspect of dementia care is generally that it is partly palliative care. That means that it can improve the quality of life, both for the dementia patient and their family. Try to look for a dementia care facility that provides excellent palliative care addressing problems related to loss of basic abilities, such as chewing and eating, toileting, mobility, and the ability to recognize hunger and thirst.

Pain management can also be an important part of palliative care for someone with dementia who has arthritis or other painful conditions. When you find a facility that provides services to help you maintain as much function as possible while addressing quality-of-life issues, you've likely found a noteworthy choice for your or your loved one's dementia care, which can help lessen anxiety about the situation.

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A dementia diagnosis can be hard to handle emotionally

Seeking help

Now that you know about some of the types of care that are available, it may be time to start planning for dementia care. For some, this can be a painful process. After all, the fact that you're planning can come down to an admission that you won't always be able to care for yourself. Until you adjust to those facts, it can be challenging to face planning with any degree of optimism.

Whether it's you or a loved one who has dementia, respectful care can be of the utmost importance. It can be hard to face giving up moment-by-moment control of dementia care, especially if you've been handling it well so far. You don't have to rush out and put yourself in full-time dementia nursing care if you're still doing well. However, you may need to decide what will happen when the time arrives that you can no longer do it.

It’s also worth mentioning that while dementia may be most common in older adults, it can occur in younger people. According to the Alzheimer's Association of Canada, young-onset dementia can affect people between the ages of 18 to 64 and can be caused by a variety of factors and diseases, including traumatic brain injury, medication side effects, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease. People caring for those with young-onset dementia may have different things to think about when planning. They are more likely to be in the middle of their career and may have young children, which can make planning more challenging.

Talking to someone can help. Look for local support groups where you can meet people who are going through something similar. Therapy can also be a good option. By talking to a therapist, you can get help and support as you start thinking about your nursing care plan. Dementia can be a lonely thing to face, whether it's you or a loved one with the condition. When you work with a licensed therapist, you can have a personal guide to the world of dementia nursing care.

Your therapist can support you as you do the work of investigating options and facilities and they may be able to provide you with a fact sheet about what you can expect as dementia advances. They can be there for you if you feel alone in coping with the challenges of creating dementia care plans. It only takes a moment to start the process, and soon, you may be putting the final touches on your plan for dementia care.

How online therapy can help you and your family

Online therapy can be an excellent option for those with dementia and their caregivers. Caregivers, for instance, may not have as much free time as others, and they might find it challenging to find the time to drive to an in-person therapy session. Plus, speaking to a therapist from a comfortable, familiar location can make it easier to open up about potentially vulnerable and difficult topics.

Although more research may currently be needed on the efficacy of online therapy for supporting caregivers of those with dementia, a 2023 study reported that online therapy could be effective in treating depression for people living with chronic conditions like dementia. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence generally suggests that online and in-person therapy can be equally effective in treating a variety of mental health challenges and concerns.

Takeaway

If you or a loved one has recently received a diagnosis of dementia, it can be best to plan for dementia care as soon as possible. This type of care can include dementia day care, home health services, nursing homes, or dementia nursing care centers. It can also be beneficial for those with dementia and their loved ones to work with a licensed therapist online or in person.
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