If you’re a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, you know how important it is to maintain a dependable routine and keep stress levels low. Because the cognitive deterioration associated with dementia can cause confusion and agitation, creating a calming environment free of excess stimulation is especially important. While we can’t always control how each day goes, some preventive steps are worth taking that can significantly lower stress levels for you and your loved one.
For your loved one, consider implementing the following tips to ensure that their days are as stress-free as possible:
Remove Environmental Stressors
Sudden or loud noises, fast-talking, or background noise can be agitating for someone with cognitive impairment. Keep the television turned off, avoid news radio, and stick to calming music at low levels.
Get a Daily Dose of Vitamin D
Sun exposure and light therapy have been proven to lessen agitation and anxiety in seniors with dementia by regulating their circadian rhythms. Exposure to bright light in the morning can improve sleep at night, increase daytime wakefulness, reduce evening anxiety and agitation, and consolidate resting patterns. If your loved one suffers from dementia anxiety or has trouble sleeping, spending some time outside can make a huge difference.
Create a Relaxation Space
Choose a room or an area with a window and arrange a comfortable chair, some books, and maybe a fountain or a fish tank. Add a small coffee table with activities your loved one enjoys, like jigsaw puzzles, family photo albums, or word search books. Having a dedicated space specific to your loved one’s likes and needs will help reduce stress and provide them with a space to retreat when they feel overwhelmed.
Create Purposeful Engagement Opportunities
Providing your loved one with opportunities to engage in meaningful and stimulating activities ensures that their needs are being met and provides them with a sense of purpose, no matter how far their dementia has progressed. Purposeful engagement, or offering activities to a person living with dementia based on their likes and strengths, has been shown to increase self-esteem, encourage independence, decrease depression, and support memory.
As a caregiver, you’ll likely experience some form of burnout while putting so much of your time and energy toward your loved one’s needs. You must take care of your own physical and mental health to ensure that you’re emotionally available to your loved one. Consider trying some of the following suggestions to protect your well-being:
Join a Support Group
Caregivers need to make connections and feel supported by others who can understand their situation. You may be able to find in-person support groups offered by your local senior center, library, or even senior living community. Consider an online support group if physically attending a meeting is too difficult to manage with your other responsibilities.
Take Advantage of Respite Care
It’s easier to take care of others when you’ve taken care of yourself first. Structured timeouts for caregivers, known as respite care, can range from informal arrangements with friends or family members to longer-term contracts with professional agencies.
We’re all aware of the physical benefits of regular exercise, but did you know that it improves your mental health as well? Exercising releases chemicals that promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and lower your risk of depression.
Nurture Your Relationships
Whether it’s lunch out with a friend or a dinner date with your spouse, be sure to spend time with people that make you happy and care about your well-being. Spending time with friends and loved ones has been shown to increase one’s sense of purpose, reduce stress, and improve one’s ability to cope during tough times.