Your life will never be the same again after a loved one develops dementia. In fact, if you’re providing his or her direct care, your “best friends” might be stress, burnout and exhaustion. And even if your loved one is in a memory care home, you have a lot to deal with.

If Your Loved One Is in Your Care

It is a good idea if you don’t shoulder all of the care. There’s a reason that stress is huge among caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s. To keep yourself in good shape:

  1. Prioritize time for yourself, for exercise and for socializing, even if it’s only five minutes here and 10 minutes there. If the vacations you used to take are problematic now, you could halve their numbers, and video chat via Skype with the friends you would otherwise visit.
  2. See your doctor if you experience irritability, sleeplessness, withdrawal or anger (at your loved one or others) so that you can stop a developing issue from getting out of hand.
  3. Seek out dementia support groups in the community, and ask your fellow attendees what they do to ease the workload.
  4. Seek support from the Alzheimer’s Association helpline (800-272-3900) or try out its forums.
  5. Investigate day programs, meal delivery and nursing services.

You must care for yourself before you can give the best care to your loved one.

If Your Loved One Is in A Memory Care Center

You don’t have to handle day-to-day care if your loved one is in a memory care center, but visits can be excruciating. Your loved one’s decline may be painfully quick or confusing if she or he seems relatively okay one day and completely gone the next. You can choose to focus on practical matters first if that makes dealing with your emotions easier. (And as always, dementia support groups are a valuable resource.)

  1. Ensure that the facility is clean at each visit. Are the staff members respectful?
  2. Make a plan for each visit. Does your loved one enjoy cards? How about listening to music? Let there be a focus each time, but be prepared for silence, sometimes as long as 10 minutes. Outings may be okay, but they should be simple and one-on-one or in very small groups.
  3. Ensure your mood is appropriate for the visit. Go another time if you’re angry, depressed or in a state where the influence of your mood is likely to be negative. Likewise, speak positively about the facility. Call it “home” instead of something like “this facility.”
  4. Wake up your loved one (if necessary) with a touch or gentle hello.
  5. Introduce yourself each time; using nicknames is okay.
  6. Focus on long-term memories, and conform to the current reality. For example, if your loved one does not remember you as a daughter or son, use first names instead of “Mom” or “Dad.”

It’s never easy when a loved one has dementia. Dementia support groups let you know you’re not alone, so start there, no matter your situation.