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For New Caregivers: Crash Course in Dementia

This blog highlights some of the initial and critical components of caring for a person with dementia (PwD). The highlighted words and phrases are linked to other posts with more information.


Repetition is one of the earliest behaviors associated with dementia. The PwD literally forgets what he or she forgot. Regardless of the type of dementia, one common denominator is brain shrinkage. As the brain shrinks, the person first loses short-term memories. Later in the disease, memories become mixed up and even long-term memories may disappear. The person is literally moving backward in time.

Personality Changes, Anger, Irritability

Caregivers often report personality changes and more anger and irritability. Imagine how frustrated you would feel if, every time you typed something on your computer and hit the “save” button, the page would disappear. Everything else is working. You type, again and again, press the “save” button, and whoosh. Gone. Now, imagine that someone comes up to you and asks where the file is. You don’t know and can’t explain what is happening. The person looks at you like you’ve just lost your mind. They sit at your computer, type a half a page, hit “save,” and the computer works just fine. This is probably what it is like to have short-term memory issues. No wonder people with this type of memory loss are upset and angry. There are other reasons why as well, which you can see here.

Caregivers also have to watch how they come across. Emotions can be contagious. This post will help explain caregiver vibes.

New Challenges as Dementia Worsens

  • Care refusals. Refusals may be based on fear or the belief that the task has already been completed. As a caregiver, you will need to enter “Dementia Land” and see the world from their perspectives. I have strategies here to prevent refusals and strategies that may help get the job done once the refusals have started.
  • Driving. This post will help you to figure out if the PwD should be driving. If driving is no longer possible, this post will provide some ideas for gently taking away the keys.
  • Maximum independence. Sometimes it is easier to just do the task yourself. But if you keep “doing for” the person with dementia, you may be accidentally taking away their abilities. This post provides more detail and information.

This “crash course” provides basic information for caregivers new to the role. Please, ask questions!! If you are experiencing a certain situation, no matter how unique it may feel to you, others are experiencing it, too. You are not alone!



Categories: Caregiving Dementia Help Understanding Behaviors

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Dr. Rita Jablonski

Rita Jablonski, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FGSA is a nurse practitioner, researcher, tenured professor, and former family caregiver. Her research and practice involve all aspects of dementia management; she is best known for non-drug strategies to address dementia-related behaviors.

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