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Guide to Caring for Someone with Dementia at Home

A dementia roadmap for families

When you suspect that your loved one is experiencing dementia, it can be overwhelming. Though you may grieve the loss of how things were before, not all is lost. Caring for someone with dementia at home is very possible. The DAWN Method® will show you how. Bookmark this guide to dementia now and reference it often.

There is hope in dementia. It lies in how we provide care.

The same person, traveling an unexpected path…

A person with dementia is still the same person deep down, and if you learn to capitalize on the skills they will not lose, you can still experience many more happy times together. We have put together this dementia roadmap with tips on how to care for someone with dementia or Alzheimers at home to help you get started down a less stressful path to dementia care.

Trees along dirt road going to left; sunlight coming through trees

“When I have the privilege of giving even glimpses of the DAWN method to a family, it’s as if they get to take a deep breath for the first time in a really long time.”

Jill Couch

Jill Couch

OT, DDCS, DAWN Trainer, caregiver & owner of Better People Care

1—Find out how to prepare for dementia

Sign up for the DAWN newsletter and get the free video series, “Preparing for Dementia.” In the first video, Judy Cornish will explain what dementia is, the signs of dementia, and give suggestions on how and where to look for assistance. In the second video she covers the skills kept and lost to dementia as well as the emotional needs created by dementia. In the third video, Judy describes what to expect as you journey through the six stages of dementia from a functional perspective.

2—Learn why the DAWN Method® of dementia care is so different

The strength-based person-centered approach to dementia care

There are two very different approaches we can take when we are living and working with people who are experiencing dementia. Using the “habilitative” (or person-centered) approach, rather than the medical approach (“appropriate care” or reality orientation), can change the care relationship from one of conflict and misunderstanding, into one of companionship and less distress for both parties.

In this sample video from the Product: DAWN HomeCare Online Dementia Course for Families, Judy Cornish explains in more detail what person-centered care is and why it works so well with Alzheimers and dementia.

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3—Understand the stages of dementia

As your loved one walks the dementia path, they will go through Page about six stages of dementia. These six stages explain your loved one’s experience and emotional reactions so you can anticipate when their needs increase and know when both of you will need more help.

Not sure if your loved one has dementia? You may want to watch this video, “Is it Dementia or Normal Aging?” which explains the signs of dementia and how it differs from normal aging.

4—Read this first, before you move them (or their furniture)

If someone has dementia, they are probably relying on automatic thinking scripts or mindlessness” to do a number of things like finding the bathroom at night or making coffee. Before you move them (or anything in their environment) read the article, Mindlessness—the Benefits of Automatic Thinking for Dementia.”

5—Work with dementia and grief through understanding what is not lost

When there is a diagnosis of dementia, at first we see only losses, but all is not lost. It is very important to acknowledge our grief, yet just as important to learn about the skills and strengths our loved ones will continue to use.

Stories of how others have found hope in dementia

In our blog article, Blog article: We Can Work With Dementia,” Judy introduces a 2017 piece from the New York Times about a woman named Geri and her husband, Jim. After receiving a diagnosis of dementia, Geri, along with Jim, chose to honestly and courageously accept Geri’s condition, defy the Blog article about stigma surrounding dementia, and continue living fully with determination.

If you are struggling with grief, you may find Judys conversation with Hanh Brown of the Boomer Podcast helpful. Hanh and Judy have a candid discussion about acknowledging grief when caring for a parent with dementia (available on our dementia podcast guide).

We can live with dementia because not everything is lost (forest meadow with wildflowers)

What does it feel like to have dementia?

If you want to get an idea of what dementia is like from your loved one’s perspective, read Judy Cornish’s article, Blog article: Blog article: What it is like experiencing dementia?

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6—Understand the skills kept and the skills lost to dementia

This is the key to the DAWN Method: understanding the skills kept and the skills lost. Once we understand what they can and cannot do, we can begin to change our way of interacting so that we dont set them up for failure and embarrassment. Read more about the skills kept and lost to dementia.

7—Understand the emotional needs caused by dementia

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when providing dementia care: Behaviors come from emotions. And how people feel becomes critically important when they are losing rational thought, because it’s rational thought that helps us control our behavior. Read more about how emotions affect our behaviors when we are experiencing dementia. You may also want to search our blog for our series on anger and dementia.

“I do not see the problems caused by dementia as ‘dementia-related behaviors,’ but instead as the emotional distress that people experience when they undergo progressive cognitive impairment.”

Judy Cornish

Judy Cornish

creator of the DAWN Method

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8—Know how to use your superpower (you can control their moods)

Dementia creates paradox. You will find that for the first time in your life, you actually are shaping the mood of your loved one, and can learn how to do so in a positive way. Due to the skills lost to dementia, your loved one is becoming unable to set aside a bad mood. The DAWN Method teaches family members how to create positive moods and recapture companionship. Read more about shaping moods in dementia.

9—Communicate with someone experiencing dementia or Alzheimers

Conversation is so essential to our wellbeing and something we take for granted. When people are experiencing dementia, it becomes more and more of a challenge. As someone starts to have difficulty following conversations, they will begin to withdraw out of fear of embarrassment. We can help them, though.

In this article youll find some tips on how to make a phone conversation less stressful for both of you: Blog article: Dementia and phone conversations.”

10—Maintain their dignity, despite dementia

We are afraid of dementia. When I forget the name of an object, it is natural for me to wonder if my memory is failing me and ponder the possibility of dementia. I worry about how I would take care of myself and that I might lose my freedom to do the things that I enjoy.

Understand how scary the prospect of dementia and Alzheimers is for people experiencing it as they realize that their memories and memory skills really are failing them. Remember, you are working with an adult, not a child—an adult who has lived a full life, possibly raised children, has taught and directed other people—an adult who has become used to being the expert in the room. They are still the same person with the same need to feel accepted, important, admired and needed, though some of their cognitive skills are failing them.

If we as caregivers learn to use the tools of the DAWN Method, we can support our loved ones in the skills they are losing and we can help them to maintain a sense of security and accomplishment. We can remind them of who they are and create opportunities for them to contribute and so, support their sense of self.

Our article, “Three Tips for Preventing Hurt Feelings,” will give you a feel for the later tools that we teach in our private, live dementia classes, in the DAWN HomeCare online video course and in Judy’s book, Dementia With Dignity.

11—Take the next step to less stress and more happy times

Here you are at the end this introduction to strength-based dementia care. Thank you for taking the time to think about how to care for someone with Alzheimers or dementia in a way that supports their dignity and autonomy.

We know that caring for someone with dementia at home is daunting. And we know we can help you make the journey less stressful.