How to care for a loved one diagnosed with Dementia
A Dementia diagnosis can send a family into a tailspin. Besides the emotional toll on both the person diagnosed and their family, there are far-reaching legal and financial consequences to be dealt with.
The incidence of Dementia is growing globally, and, as we age, the chances of being affected by the condition increase. Dementia initially manifests in memory loss, difficulty in making simple decisions and inhibited communication skills – confusing and frustrating for the person and his family. As this debilitating disease progresses, co-ordination is affected, even swallowing. Family relationships come under strain with mood swings, and unpredictable and aggressive speech and behaviour.
What is the next step for a family in which a member is diagnosed with Dementia?
Call on resources for help
Don’t be afraid to get help. There are many organisations offering advice, support and services: Dementia SA (www.dementiasa.org), SA Federation for Mental Health (www.safmh.org.za) for legal and financial advice, and Alzheimer’s South Africa (www.alzheimers.org.za).
The CareCompany’s services include companion care, nursing care, home care, dementia care, hospital to home care. They offer a free face-to-face or telephonic consultation to guide you as you seek support – they are in Cape Town. This is followed by an assessment visit and a care plan (www.carecompany.co.za).
The Livewell Villages (Bryanston and Somerset West) offer regular information sessions: on 28 August, in Somerset West, Rose Polkey will speak on: “Dementia from a spouse’s perspective”. You can subscribe to the Livewell newsletter for regular relevant articles (www.livewell.care).
As a matter of urgency, take some financial and legal advice from experts. This is a priority before a formal medical diagnosis is made, as financial and legal decisions may be taken out of the family’s hands if a plan has not been put in place. Check wills, trusts and power of attorney, so that the person with the onset of Dementia can still have input. This is why early detection is important.
Some checks before diagnosis
How do you know that forgetfulness is not just a natural symptom of ageing? Dementia SA identifies 10 early symptoms of Dementia:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
- Problems with language
- Disorientation to time and place
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Problems with keeping track of things
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood or behaviour
- Changes in personality
- Loss of initiative
In her article entitled “The difficult reality of living with Dementia”, Sylvia Gruber (The South African, 2016) cites the costs of care: 24/7 in-home care can cost R25k-R30k per month, or R20k-R25k in retirement villages, in addition to base living fees. Add on nursing and medication fees, and you are looking at a substantial change in your financial plan.
Gruber comments: “There is a heated debate in South Africa for medical aids to include dementia as a disease that should be included on the prescribed minimum benefits (PMB) list.”
Caring for the carer
Ensure that you have a support system. If family is far, draw on friends’ help and experts’ services. Be kind to yourself. You may have to relinquish the notion (if you are holding onto it), that home is best. Facilities are set up to provide a safer and more comfortable environment than you can often offer. If you do opt for home care, consider the changes you need to make to the structure of your home to avoid accidents. You need to consider if you can cope with the demands of caring for your spouse or family member.
Dementia in the news …
Retirementor, Alan Hosking, drew our attention to this Wits study on scientists slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s: click here.