By Michael Raster, MD
A family gathering is the perfect time to welcome loved ones who have mild or moderate dementia into your home. Smiles and warm embraces, home cooking, soothing music and family activities are ideal for spending time together.
Nearly 9,000 county residents have dementia, according to the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Waukesha County. Seventy-five percent live in our neighborhoods and retirement communities and 25 percent in single households. It is estimated that by 2030, 13,000 individuals in our area will be living with dementia.
People with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are integral to family life. However, overstimulation and uncertainty can interfere with their ability to follow what is going on around them. They prefer smaller, quieter and relaxed gatherings that include familiar people, sensations and conversations.
People with advanced dementia may experience fear and discomfort in different surroundings or social situations. It is generally best to visit these family members in their home settings. Plan on visiting alone or with one other family member to keep things simple.
Family members and friends of all ages and abilities can be accommodated in most homes with a little advance planning. As you prepare for a guest with mild or moderate dementia, consider the following:
- Schedule a daytime gathering.
- Plan details such as traditional music, low-intensity activities for all ages, and logistics for seating, food service and gift exchanges.
- Arrange for off-site pet care or assign a family member to monitor and restrict pets.
- Enhance lighting and remove throw rugs, loose objects, obstacles and kitchen hazards such as exposed knives.
- Keep entries and exits clear and dry. Keep the doors locked.
- Show the guest the nearest bathroom and keep the room lit.
- Provide an alcohol-free environment or serve and store alcohol away from social and dining areas.
- Focus on traditional foods. Guide food preparation and service for safety.
- Avoid strong and unusual smells and tastes, bright or blinking lights, television, and loud or sudden noises such as barking or champagne cork popping.
- Reserve a quiet, uncluttered space for a guest to rest if needed.
People with dementia often look to one trusted individual for a sense of safety and security. During a family event, a guest with dementia needs to know that his or her primary caregiver is nearby. They rely on cues and explanations from the caregiver for direction and assurance.
Others can help by introducing people to the guest, explaining a comment or relationship, helping with seating, passing and serving food, asking about comfort, and providing other common courtesies.
Some guests may be able to stay overnight, especially to avoid night travel. Discuss the needs, preferences and habits of the guest in person or with the caregiver in advance of their stay. Be prepared to accommodate the guest’s sleep cycle. Allow for the guest to be awake at night or asleep during the day – whatever is best for them. Keep safety in mind, such as the location of the guest room to the bathroom, stairs and lighting.
No one benefits more from family life than people who have dementia. Everyone enjoys reliving simple memories, viewing photo albums, watching family or beloved movies, and telling shared stories. A little planning can ensure that time with loved ones is treasured by all for years to come.
Michael Raster, MD, is a psychiatrist and the medical director of senior health services at ProHealth Care. ProHealth periodically provides community classes related to dementia and memory loss at ProHealthCare.org/Classes. ProHealth Care is also active in Wisconsin’s Healthy Brain Initiative – an effort supported, in part, by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, AARP Wisconsin and the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Wisconsin to provide the resources local residents and organizations need to make Waukesha County more supportive and responsive to people with memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
# # #
For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.