Ensuring that someone with dementia one is eating enough nutritious foods and drinking enough fluids is a challenge. People with dementia literally begin to forget that they need to eat and drink. Complicating the issue may be dental problems or medications that decrease appetite or make food taste “funny.”
NOTE: The information below is from the Family Caregiver Alliance and is not meant to replace any clinical interventions, programs or certifications. While the following suggestions are geared towards those of us who may have a loved one at home struggling with dementia, some of these interventions can also work in our clinical care settings.
Wandering: People with dementia walk seemingly aimlessly, for a variety of reasons, such as boredom, medication side effects, or to look for “something” or someone. They also may be trying to fulfill a physical need—thirst, hunger, a need to use the toilet, or exercise. Discovering the triggers for wandering are not always easy, but they can provide insights to dealing with the behavior.
- Make time for regular exercise to minimize restlessness.
- Try a barrier like a curtain or colorful streamer to mask the door. A “stop” sign or “do not enter” sign also may help.
- Place a black mat or paint a black space on your front porch; this may appear to be an impassable hole to the person with dementia.
- Add “child-safe plastic cover to doorknobs.
- Put away essential items such as the confused person’s coat, purse, or glasses. Some individuals will not go out without certain articles.
- Have your relative wear an ID bracelet and sew ID labels in their clothes. Always have a current photo available should you need to report your loved one missing. Consider leaving a copy on file at the police department or registering the person with the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program or other emergency tracking service.
- Tell neighbors about your relative’s wandering behavior, and make sure they have your phone number.
- Consider installing a home security system or monitoring system designed to keep watch over someone with dementia. Also available are new digital devices that can be worn like a watch or clipped on a belt that use global positioning systems (GPS) or other technology to track a person’s whereabouts or locate him if he wanders off.
Incontinence: The loss of bladder or bowel control often occurs as dementia progresses. Sometimes accidents result from environmental factors; for example, someone can’t remember where the bathroom is located or can’t get to it in time. If an accident occurs, your understanding and reassurance will help the person maintain dignity and minimize embarrassment.
- Establish a routine for using the toilet. Try reminding the person or assisting her to the bathroom every two hours.
- Schedule fluid intake to ensure the confused person does not become dehydrated. Know that dome drinks (coffee, tea, cola or beer) have more of a diuretic effect than others. Limit fluid intake in the evening before bedtime.
- Use signs (with illustrations) to indicate which door leads to the bathroom.
- A commode, obtained at any medical supply store, can be left in the bedroom at night for easy access.
- Incontinence pads and products can be purchased at the pharmacy or supermarket. A urologist may be able to prescribe a special product or treatment.
Use easy-to-remove clothing with elastic waistband or Velcro closures, and provide clothes that are easily washable.