Dementia: strengthening the competencies of family caregivers

Caregivers of people with dementia need professional support (Photo: Pixabay)

For an estimated 75% of people with dementia worldwide, their primary caregivers are family or close relatives. For these “informal caregivers”, the caring and supporting of their loved one represents a huge challenge. In such a situation, strengthening one’s own competencies helps dealing better with the illness and improves the lives of all involved.

The care and support of a loved one who suffers from dementia can prove to be very challenging, both mentally and physically. As time goes on and the illness evolves, often accompanied by some level of physical impairment, family caregivers are often challenged beyond their capacities.

Family members facing big challenges

Indeed, the problems facing the family caregivers of people with dementia add up very rapidly. These do not only concern the sort of psychological stress caused by seeing how a loved one gradually “vanishes”, or by the physical stress caused by caring. In addition to these factors, people with dementia often require modifications of the living space in order to accommodate their needs. This can involve acquiring aids and appliances, securing financial aspects, addressing communication problems as well as eventual conflict situations.   

For these reasons, it is important not only to consider the relative’s new role as a caregiver, but also for him or her also to address their needs and to know that they must not face the new challenge on their own. In this regard, it is not only a question of finding help or relief for the daily chores, but also to strengthen one’s own competencies, to seek advice, to learn about the various aspects of the illness, attend courses and to meet other people in similar situations.

Knowledge about dementia is key

Relatives of people with dementia should improve their competencies, which means on the one hand to inform themselves about the illness, and on the other hand to speak about worries and problems, and to find help and seek advice. It has been proven that a deeper knowledge of the illness, including all that it involves, can improve the quality of the assistance and help to understand the changes that are taking place.

The more a family caregiver knows about the illness, the more secure they feel in providing care and assistance to their loved one. Strengthening the competencies is therefore not only important for the family caregiver, but also for the patient as well as for the caregivers from institutions, such as hospitals and homes.

Strengthening the competencies: more offers are needed

The need for competencies strengthening needs to be addressed on a more global level. Various local organisations in different countries are beginning to address this issue. Readers are invited to inquire in their own communities if such services already exist, at whichever level. Support groups, by allowing people to share their experiences, can also provide a very important help. Hospitals, for example, can be a good starting point to find out about the existence of such support groups.

Text: Patrick Gunti 06/2014
Translation and adaptation: MyH 03/2015
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