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The Ratchet Effect and Seniors with Dementia

Blog December 8th, 2014

In the past, if you’ve experienced caring for a senior with dementia, then you know this first hand; if however, you’re in the process (or going to be) caring for an elder with dementia, you’ll learn this soon enough.

Caring for a senior with dementia is a lot like the Ratchet Effect. It’s not something we like to think about (much like senior care), but it’s true. Eventually, during your tenure as the primary caregiver, you’ll discover the needs of your senior increase beyond your control – that’s usually when people find us.

What is the Ratchet Effect

The Ratchet Effect gets its name from the tool. For those who don’t have experience with woodworking (or assembling IKEA furniture), a ratchet is like a wrench, but it only moves in one direction. This way, you can crank, pull back, and crank, and it you will continue to progress.

The Ratchet Effect has been used to describe economic, political, and even famine debates… but in senior care (and especially with those suffering from dementia) it rings true.

Starting out as a Caregiver

When you start off caregiving for a senior with dementia, you may be surprised by your own wherewithal. Many people draw the analogy of taking care of a newborn or suddenly taking up a new job or promotion. A lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders, but you manage – some even scoff at those who claimed it’d be too challenging.

However, unlike newborns (that grow more self-sufficient with age) and unlike a job (where the responsibilities become routine), a senior with dementia grows worse.

Many are eager to fix their elder meals, get them to doctors’ appointments, and help them into their car… but then the sleep deprivation kicks in after they begin wandering in the night. When seniors exhibit the mood swings that come with sundowning, your schedule can be thrown in disarray as time is spent in defensive arguments.

The problem you (and we) face is that your loved one needs more care than you can provide. It can dawn on you suddenly or over time, but regardless, when that happens, that’s when you turn to the senior care professionals – and we’ll offer you nothing short of relief.

Dementia: The Progressive Condition

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Once we were working with a family whose father had severe dementia. They had been living with his dementia for some time, but as his condition progressed, his family was finding it difficult to provide adequate care in his home. He was alert and coherent during the day, but he had starting showing signs of sundowning, mood swings, and becoming agitated in the late afternoon.

His family wanted to find their father a senior care center in the north end of Seattle near Shoreline because that would be close to them. It was also important that the center had male caregivers to assist their father – as he needed two-person transfers – and it was equally as important that they have 24-hour awake care as he had a tendency to wander during the night.

Cost was not a deciding factor, but the children expressed an interest in a center that would offer a variety of activities and social interaction with others.

Our agency advisors conducted an initial assessment to determine current and future health care concerns for the senior with dementia. We found out his preferred lifestyle and the financial constraints. We then arranged tours and accompanied the family to make sure all questions and concerns were addressed before the senior made a decision.

In the end, the senior decided on a home that exceeded his expectations – and he was incredibly thankful it was so close to his kids.

Finding the Right Senior Care

We help seniors stay at home if they can or we help find accredited in-home care specialists if it can be afforded. The important thing is to not beat yourself up over seeking outside help. The fact is, whether you’ve taken care of your senior with dementia for a week or several years, you need to know your limitations.

Whatever your situation, we are here for you.

The Tragic Truth of Generational Caregiving

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