Being a caregiver for someone who has dementia brings with it many challenges. One of these challenges is navigating public situations. The increased confusion and personality changes that often accompany dementia can make social situations stressful both for the person who has dementia and for caregivers.
This can increase feelings of social isolation and caregiver burnout. Some outings, like doctor’s appointments, cannot be avoided. Other times, outings can bring a welcome change of routine. Whatever the reason for your outing, these five “P”’s can help set you up for success.
When planning an outing, the time of day, length of visit, and location can all be important factors. Try to choose a time of day when your loved one is at his or her best. It is common for people who have dementia to struggle in the late afternoon. If this is true for your loved one, try to plan outings for the morning. If it will be your first time going to a particular location, or you haven’t been there in a long time, plan a short trip initially. You can take longer trips once you have determined the location is comfortable for all of you.
Be prepared for the unexpected. This means practical things like packing an extra change of clothes, medications, and snacks, as well as books or magazines, favorite music, or a comforting item that may help distract or engage your loved one. It also means thinking ahead about how to respond if there is an incident in the public setting. Some family members find it helpful to carry a small card explaining that their loved one has memory loss, in order to discretely inform others not to overreact to unintended behaviors. If wandering is a concern, it is important that your loved one has their medical ID bracelet, fall button, or GPS locator in case you get separated.
Supporting someone with dementia can be a lot like improvisation. You don’t know what is going to happen next, and it is your role to stay flexible and roll with whatever comes your way. Maybe you have done all of the planning and preparation for a great outing, but when you arrive to pick up your loved one, she is having a particularly challenging day. Or just pulling into the parking lot at your destination triggers anxiety. As a caregiver, be ready to let go of your plan and just respond to where your loved one is cognitively and emotionally at that moment.
Changes in routine can be stressful for all of us. Dementia increases these feelings. When we are feeling stressed, we naturally engage in more negative thinking and self talk. Just being mindful of this can help caregivers project a more positive attitude, which will likely improve the mood of loved ones as well. Appreciating small things, using humor and laughter, and saying “yes” as much as possible can help set the tone for a positive outing.
If you are getting overwhelmed during an outing, return to the present moment. For you, this may mean remembering to breathe deeply. For your loved one, it might mean pointing out something observable in the present moment: “Mom, look at that beautiful painting,” or “Do you hear that bird?” Returning to the present moment can take us out of our spiraling stress and into a focused state.
Home care can be helpful in so many ways when you or a loved one need it.
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