Drilling Down on Dementia: Care Partnering and Early Stage Support

By Donna Lazartic MBA, LNHA
President/Executive Director Green Hill Inc.

A Caregiver and Care Partner provide different support with divergent goals for the progressive stages of dementia. A Caregiver is one who takes over the responsibility of a person’s everyday needs, and medical communications for middle and late stage dementia symptoms.  A Care Partner supports the person in their efforts to retain control over their daily needs and medical requirements in early stage dementia.

“”Early stage” refers to people, irrespective of age, who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, and are in the beginning stage of the disease,” as stated on alz.org. One may find themselves providing Care Partnering support to a senior citizen for any number of everyday functional needs, like grocery shopping, ride sharing and socialization. Care Partnering may be in place long before any symptoms of dementia has begun.

Frontotemporal dementia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 65, a contrast to Alzheimer’s disease that becomes more likely with age. The onset of dementia often has no clear or definitive beginning.  With early onset symptoms of dementia the person often remains able to take care of themselves, dress, bath, prepare meals, pay bills, even drive. They can become adept at hiding some early symptoms of the disease. Early stage dementia can last for years and symptoms progress at a variety of speeds and with differing loss of abilities. Early onset symptoms may include impairment in thinking, difficulty communicating and short-term memory loss. A Care Partner is one who makes sure that the person is functioning well and monitors when they may no longer be able accomplish daily tasks safely or effectively. The Care Partner provides assistance, in partnership with their loved one, helping them continue to care for themselves.

As a Care Partner you may not know exactly how much support to give your loved one. It is important to maintain open communication and set out goals and responsibilities. While your loved one is most cognizant ensure that their desires and directives are outlined for their health care, and living environment including legal, financial and long-term care planning.

Be sure to have your name included on all healthcare forms as a person who may receive medical information, and noted as one who may report on or, be referred to on health care issues. Join local dementia care and caregivers support groups to stay abreast of services that may be available to assist you on this journey.

In early stage dementia your loved one may experience mood swings or periods of emotion due to lack of control or frustration. You may consider creating a code word or phrase that can be used to address these times or, that can be used if they feel you are encroaching on their independence. Approach each activity as if they can accomplish the task prior to providing assistance.

Work together to develop coping strategies for emerging symptoms. If your loved one is experiencing short term memory loss you might work together to create a series of cards or post it notes that you can place around the house with prompts on what to do, where to go, or names of household items and people.

Your companionship is valuable for functional needs like shopping. Try to schedule these activities between the late morning and early afternoon when energy levels and concentration may be at its best. Avoid stress where you can. You might consider creating a shopping list with your loved and help them order on line instead of going to the market.

Your most important responsibility is to make sure that your loved one is safe. Keep a journal noting and dating any time you see changes, or a progression of symptoms to share with healthcare providers. Remember to take care of yourself. Care Partnering leads to Caregiving. It can be a long yet valuable experience for you and your loved one. Stay healthy, exercise, eat well and rest.

For more information visit, Carepartnersresource.com, Alz.org, Alzheimers.org, Healthline.com.