Caring for someone with dementia brings special challenges. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia progress over time, changing the person’s abilities and the issues you will encounter. The person with dementia may be forgetful, confused and have difficulty completing even fairly simple tasks.
But, cognitive issues play out in many ways. The person may also become fearful, paranoid, or withdrawn. Many people with dementia ask repetitive questions or seem to get obsessed with one topic or task. Some other examples of behaviors you may experience caring for someone with dementia: wandering, disrobing, inappropriate sexual behavior, swearing, physical or verbal aggression, and refusing care. Each situation is different, and it’s likely things will change over the time you are caregiving.
The changes and challenges you’re likely to face are the foundational reason for setting a daily goal. The goal grounds you, creates routine, and puts a focus on realistic accomplishments (and, therefore, successes). Not only does this help with day-to-day caregiving, but it’s a tool for preventing burnout.
Benefits of Setting a Daily Goal When Caring for Someone with Dementia
1. Helps you take action
It’s easy to find the day gets away from you when caring for someone with dementia. By setting a daily goal, you can be sure to accomplish key things. You can focus on one important task, chore or activity, which means it’s more likely to get done. Daily action steps keep you moving forward, versus lofty goals which may feel unattainable. Some caregivers set up a regular routine to tackle certain tasks on specific days (i.e. Tuesdays and Saturdays are laundry days).
2. Creates routine and structure
Without a goal, the day can become a series of putting out fires. Or, as both people with dementia and caregivers tend to, you may become depressed or apathetic. Having a goal for the day gives you purpose. It gives you some structure, with the flexibility to adjust to what’s going on that day.
3. Keeps you from getting overwhelmed
Because you’re facing many daily challenges, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Some days may be worse than others. On those bad days, you might think, “I’ll never get it all done." Or, you may feel like you’re failing those around you. If you create a huge list of tasks and worry about everything that you need and want to do, it’s a guarantee you’ll be overwhelmed. Instead, you can look at your daily goal and know it’s manageable.
4. Helps you stay in the moment and focus on what’s important
The person with dementia lives in the moment. They don’t have the complex thinking skills to envision the future. How they’re feeling right now is their world. This often comes out in behaviors when they can’t express themselves. So, if the person is hungry or in pain, they might start pacing or become aggressive. When caring for someone with dementia, we have to learn to be in the present moment. We need to pay close attention to what’s happening now, rather than being distracted by regrets and to do’s. A daily goal can help you focus on one key thing for the day and therefore focus on the time at hand.
5. Allows you to meet the person where they are
A daily goal allows you to adjust to where the person is that day. Some days you might be able to set a bigger goal. Other days, you might realize you’re both tired and need to keep things simple. Dementia care requires flexibility. Trying to plan too far in advance will only lead to frustration.
6. Gives you the opportunity to celebrate success
Setting a daily goal also means you have the chance to feel the sense of accomplishing it every day. Therefore, this daily goal can be a helpful tool in preventing burnout. Small wins build momentum. You see that things are not hopeless and that can help you feel less overwhelmed.
How to Determine Your Daily Goal When Caring for Someone with Dementia
First, take a moment to assess the situation. How are you feeling? Did you get enough sleep? Are you overwhelmed, sad, irritable, or in physical discomfort? Look at these same things for your care recipient.
Then, think about things you want to accomplish. A daily goal is great for prioritizing. When you’re narrowing it down, you can think of what really needs to get done. And, don’t forget this doesn’t always need to be a chore. Your goal for the day can be something that will help you or your loved one relax and revitalize. It can be a chance to do a favorite activity or have some fun together.
Additionally, your goal could revolve around a behavior...either something to achieve or something to reduce. Think about what’s a struggle right now. It could be getting your loved one to bathe or brush her teeth. Maybe she’s wandering or pacing a lot. Or, perhaps mealtimes are difficult and Mom is eating poorly. Take a look at our dementia care guide for some specific tricks and tips. Then, focus on trying one approach that day. Break things down into smaller parts or more realistic goals.
EasyLiving’s dementia care program is here to help. Our trained dementia caregivers understand the disease and how to communicate with and care for those with Alzheimer’s. We use a personalized care plan to set goals and lay out specific tasks for each day. Our caregivers understand the importance of creating routines for their clients and focusing on realistic, measurable achievements.