Caring for someone with dementia can be stressful and challenging. Copper Ridge, a center for people with memory-impairing illnesses, recommends these and other strategies to minimize behavioral difficulties:
* Make mealtime a regular routine in a quiet setting. To encourage self-feeding, cut the person's food into bite sizes. Do this before bringing the plate to the table, to preserve the patient's dignity. To get her started, you may need to put your hand over hers and gently show her how to eat.
* Don't stand over the person when she is seated; sit with her, and make eye contact.
* To avoid accidents, tell the person every two hours that it's time to use the bathroom.
* Don't try to persuade a patient that a statement is irrational. Distract or humor her. Example: If she is waiting for her long-deceased father to come, rather than saying, "Grandpa has been dead for 30 years," say, "What do you like best about Grandpa?"
* Help the person feel useful and energized. Engage him in normal activities, whether it's dusting the coffee table, feeding the pets or doing art projects.
* Exercise together -- dancing, walking, doing gentle calisthenics.
Here are some tools that families might helpful:
* The Copper Ridge Dementia Care Certification Course offers clear and simple strategies for managing difficult behavior associated with dementia, such as wandering, combativeness and refusal to eat. It's designed for nursing assistants, but families might find it valuable. It is available on CD-ROM for computers running Windows for $199 plus postage from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1-800-638-3030, or at www.lww.com (type in "Copper Ridge").
* The National Institute on Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center offers free information for caregivers at www.alzheimers.org.
-- Beth Baker