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We aren’t born knowing how to communicate with a person with dementia — but we can learn. Caring for a loved one with dementia poses many challenges for families and caregivers. People with dementia from conditions such as Alzheimer’s and related diseases have a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it more and more difficult for them to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others, and take care of themselves. In addition, dementia can cause mood swings and even change a person’s personality and behavior. Improving your communication skills and learning the early signs of dementia can help make caregiving less stressful, as well as likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one. Here are a few things you can do to help understand dementia and what your loved ones are experiencing.

Recognize the symptoms.

You can often recognize the early symptoms if a loved one is struggling to participate in or complete everyday activities — such as paying bills, using terms of endearment instead of specific names, changes in their vision, isolating themselves or refusing to leave their homes. “Many people that are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s don’t want to be labeled with the disease,” said Carrie Chiusano, Executive Director for the Presbyterian SeniorCare Network Dementia Care Center of Excellence. “They often have a fear of going out because a lot of the time they are embarrassed.”

Understanding what you don’t know.

As cliché as this sounds, trying to understand what your loved ones are going through is an important part of providing them with the best care possible. It’s also beneficial to learn how to communicate to them in ways that are supportive, understanding and empathetic. Presbyterian Senior Care Network has been offering monthly seminars that help educate the local community on how to provide care for those living with dementia. They have discussed how diets can help and how movement and physical therapy can help with symptoms — they have also held workshops where attendees can utilize goggles and different equipment to experience firsthand how people living with dementia live day-to-day. Most importantly, these seminars provide attendees the opportunity to learn how to provide the best care possible. “We received feedback from someone who attended our dementia seminars that read “I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said Chiusano. “It is gratifying that we can help caregivers be self-reflective.”

Attend the next Dementia Education seminar.

The Dementia Care Center of Excellence will be holding their next seminar — “Is it time to retire from driving?” on Sept. 12 at Hillsview campus, located at 835 S. Main St. Washington, PA. The event is free to attend and will feature geriatric and family medicine practitioner Mark A. Mamros, MD. Check-in and dinner (which is provided) begins at 4:30 p.m., with the presentation taking place from 5-6 p.m. Please register at SrCare.org/EducationWash or by calling 724-884-1312.

The seminar will map out how physicians determine if it’s still safe for someone to drive. While there are no standard tests to determine when someone’s days in the driver’s seat are coming to an end, there are methods that physicians can utilize to make an educated judgment. The program will also include sample tests and a Q&A portion.

If you have a loved one experiencing early dementia symptoms, know someone living with dementia or you are interested in learning more about the Dementia Care Center of Excellence, please visit https://www.srcare.org/dementia or call 724-566-5132.

This article is brought to you by Presbyterian SeniorCare Network.