Caring for dementia

Caring means sharing, Marty Richards says.

Richards, a social worker from Port Townsend, believes caring for a person with dementia should be an experience shared between caregiver and receiver.

In her practice, Richards works with people with dementia and the people who care for them. She spoke last month at a Memory Workshop sponsored by Dungeness Courte Alzheimer's Community in Sequim.

Her book "Caresharing" describes how to work with someone who requires care and how to share the responsibilities with that person.

Helping can lead to an unbalanced relationship if the caregiver does things the person still is capable of doing. This leads to frustration for both people.

Reciprocity, respect

Caresharing includes everyone in deciding what help is needed. It builds a sense of reciprocity, isn't affected by physical or mental changes, and can lead to mutual respect.

It begins with a holistic view of the person - someone with a body, mind and spirit. Someone to talk with, work with and share with. Someone to connect with in a meaningful way and be a partner in decision-making.

The approach affirms the value and worth of each person involved with the needed care.

Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is key to a successful partnership. In her practice, Richards helps people get beyond feeling angry and focus on the important parts of caring and enjoying the moment.

If others in the family don't help, Richards says to focus on enjoying the time you still have with loved ones. Build on what the person still can do. Encourage him or her to do as much as possible so long as it does not lead to frustration.

Creative caregiving

She also advises caregivers to build on their own internal resources and be creative with helping with suggestions that include:

_ Use music and art to help focus a person's abilities.

_ Use humor and joy whenever possible.

_ Listen to and discuss family history.

_ Affirm the person's spiritual needs and get clergy persons to visit.

_ Keep a positive attitude. The illness will not disappear but both people still can enjoy the time they have together.

_ Join this person on the journey through life.

_ Bring in any family members or friends who will help. Don't hesitate to ask. Asking for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Often others do not offer to help because they don't know what is needed. Tell them what you need and ask them to help.

And remember to keep your sense of humor.

Reach Dana Casey at

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