In addition to the high training standards for providing dementia care in Florida, some specialized communities, including Serenades by Sonata, are staffed by teams of Certified Dementia Practitioners.

These doctors, nurses and caregivers undergo a rigorous training that gives them a deeper understanding of how dementia affects the mind and body.

Their expertise doesn’t just help people in their care. Certified Dementia Practitioners can also empower caregivers to have a more meaningful relationship with their loved ones.

To learn more, we sat down with Julie Fernandez, CALA, CDP, CADDCT, CPT, a Certified Dementia Practitioner and the director of team development and training at Sonata Senior Living. Here are her top tips for those caring for a loved one with dementia.

1. Modify Your Surroundings — But Only a Little

Certified Dementia Practitioners understand that dementia can make the people in their care restless. At home, you can honor your loved one’s desire to move by eliminating tripping hazards and creating a safe spot outside for your loved one to explore.

People with dementia are four to five times more likely to experience a fall than other older adults. To help keep your loved one safe, Fernandez recommends putting away potential tripping hazards like area rugs and extension cords. It’s also wise to make sure valuables are secure.

While you want your home to be safe, you don’t want it to be sterile.

“It’s important that people with dementia are able to interact with their environment,” Fernandez said. “Being able to touch and move the items around them reduces agitation and stimulates engagement.”

She recommends stocking up on items like coffee table books (which can usually be found for cheap at yard sales, she said) and creating an arts-and-crafts nook with watercolor paints, colored pencils and coloring books.

“As humans, we’re always looking for something to do,” said Fernandez. “Even if we can’t do what we used to do, it’s important to keep the brain stimulated.”

2. Give Your Loved One Choices

Today, the best memory care communities have adopted what’s called person-centered dementia care.

Person-centered care, the underlying philosophy of the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Practice Recommendations, honors the resident’s individual preferences and helps them maintain a sense of self.

“It also helps offset the loss of control one may feel after being diagnosed with dementia,” said Fernandez.

In a memory care community, person-centered care may include adjusting menus, mealtimes and activity schedules around a resident’s preferences.

At home, you might ask your loved one which jacket they want to wear, instead of telling them they have to bundle up because it’s cold outside. You can also invite them to participate in activities like cooking or cleaning, with the understanding that your chores may take a little longer than usual.

“Allowing a person with dementia to participate in activities they enjoy and have a say in their daily routine alleviates anxiety and agitation,” Fernandez said.

3. Music For Dementia

Research has shown that musical memory can survive even when other areas of the brain have been damaged by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Every year scientists are discovering new ways music helps with Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms. Based on this research, Certified Dementia Practitioners integrate music into their memory care programs. You can do the same at home, said Fernandez.

Here are a few of her expert tips for using music for memory loss:

  • Sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s have trouble tuning out noises in the environment. Create a quiet retreat for your loved one by giving them headphones to help relieve anxiety.
  • People with Alzheimer’s often respond to familiar music. Create a personalized playlist with your loved one’s favorite songs. If the music causes agitation, try adjusting the volume or experimenting with different genres.
  • Let the time of day determine your playlist. In the morning, our brains are more active and may be receptive to upbeat music. In the evenings, experiment with more soothing songs.

Music can also serve as cues. A classical song played at dinner might stimulate your loved one’s appetite by replicating the ambiance of a nice restaurant.

4. Finger Foods For Dementia

Maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Certified Dementia Practitioners offer several strategies for coping with the struggles of meal time.

Giving your loved one snacks throughout the day improves their nutrition, decreases boredom and encourages independence. For those who have trouble handling utensils, finger foods provide a more dignified experience than being fed.

“Most meals can be made into a finger food by serving them in a sandwich or wrap,” said Fernandez. “Tortillas are the most versatile bread.”

5. Have a Support System in Place

Some caregivers feel embarrassed by the changes their loved one is experiencing, said Fernandez. They may avoid social interactions or activities like game nights and church outings.

This can be detrimental to their well-being, said Fernandez.

“It’s important to stay connected to your friends and family,” she said. “Seclusion is not healthy.”

Instead of avoiding social interactions, adjust them. Let friends and acquaintances know what you and your loved one are going through. At your favorite restaurant, slip the waitstaff a note that explains your situation.

Most important, don’t be afraid to ask for help, said Fernandez. “Asking someone to stay with your loved one so you can go to the doctor, salon or even just get some sleep is as important to their well-being as it is to yours,” she said.

Serenades Memory Care Communities offer short-term respite care if and when a caregiver needs a break.

To learn more about Sonata Senior Living’s Certified Dementia Practitioner teams, call a community near you today or schedule a visit →

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