Taking Care of a Husband with Dementia – 9 Best Ways

taking care of a husband with dementia artistic photo of an elderly hand on a colorful background Middle Class Dad

We all dream of growing old with our spouse. But sometimes that becomes challenging as I saw with my dad and step-father. So I wondered what are the best ways of taking care of a husband with dementia.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Find hobbies you both love and can do together
  2. Find healthy outlets to help you manage your stress
  3. Use available resources like AARP to get information
  4. Use pictures and objects to help remind them of people, places, and things
  5. Exercise together
  6. Assist without infringing on their independence
  7. Speak calmly and slowly
  8. Keep background noise to a minimum
  9. Notice what triggers anger or confusion and minimize those things

Picture someone with dementia, and most people think of a friendly old man or woman who keeps repeating themselves.

In reality, people with dementia disorder display a wide spectrum of behavior.

Some might have angry outbursts, while in others, the behavior could have physical manifestations. That’s why it can be difficult for caregivers to follow a set of rules to ensure their loved one is getting the best care possible.

Things become even more complicated when the caregiver is trying to take care of a spouse with dementia.

Luckily if your spouse has been diagnosed with dementia, the future doesn’t have to be bleak. There are things you can do to make the situation better for both of you.

In this post, we’re diving deep into how to care for someone with dementia. Specifically, we’re looking at taking care of a husband with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

What is dementia?

When a loved one gets diagnosed with dementia, it means they have a brain disorder that can cause issues with behavior, decision-making, and memory.

Dementia is a syndrome and can be brought about by a number of different diseases that affect the brain.

It typically gets worse over time. However, medications may decrease the worsening of symptoms. Thus getting diagnosed early is key.

There are a number of different types of dementia, and the possible treatments vary depending on which type they have.

If you are taking care of a husband with dementia, make sure you understand the exact diagnosis and treatment options.

Are Alzheimer’s and dementia the same thing?

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but there are other forms as well. Thus, while related, they are not the same.

Dementia the umbrella under which all forms of memory loss get lumped under. The term dementia ultimately just describes the symptoms that happen with the different types of memory loss, such as:

  • Memory loss (both short and long-term)
  • Ability to perform daily tasks
  • Communication skills loss
  • Confusion and disorientation

Alzheimer’s is, by far, the most common form of dementia. Unlike some forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning the symptoms get worse over time.

Despite its prevalence among the older generations, younger people can develop any form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, although it certainly doesn’t happen to everyone.

Doctors believe that 60% to 80% of people with dementia are suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Thus, while they have a lot of similarities, there are some brain conditions that create the symptoms of dementia that are not tied to Alzheimer’s.

Ove 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of someone with Alzheimer’s can be:

  • Memory loss
  • Trouble planning and doing familiar tasks.
  • Confusion over the day, time or year
  • Issues speaking or writing
  • Poor judgment
  • Irritability and moodiness

What do I do if my husband has dementia?

Right now, my (Jeff) wife is caring for her Dad who has dementia.

In his case, after decades of not caring for himself due to alcohol and drug abuse, and successfully beating throat cancer (he was a heavy smoker as well), it appears that cirrhosis of the liver is what is driving his dementia.

If your husband or close family member has dementia just know that you may start to see some of the following symptoms:

  • Forgetting names, places, and people
  • Being unclear on timeframes or when the last time they did certain things
  • Mentioning deceased loved ones as if they were still alive
  • Being easily confused and disoriented
  • Can become easily agitated

My(Jeff) father also had dementia due to a brain tumor which ultimately took his life in 2014.

As the symptoms progressively got worse, it eventually got to a place where he didn’t seem to know anyone but me, which was hard on my daughters.

Keep them comfortable, know you’ll eventually need outside assistance, and don’t underestimate the importance of things like signs around the bed and house giving direction, clarification, and phone numbers.

While it’s a comedy, the movie 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore does present some interesting approaches on how to live with a person with memory loss.

How long do people live after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?

The short answer is about 3-10 years following the diagnosis.

Of course, if there are other health issues, that can speed up the process considerably. The 3-10 years was determined by a recent study by the National Institutes of Health.

If the diagnosis was made prior to age 70, however, then the life expectancy extends to about 7-10 years.

If the diagnosis is made later in life, the late 80s or 90s, the life expectancy drops to about 3 years.

Overall, women tended to live about 6 months longer than men, although women live longer than men across the board and not just due to dementia.

Whether they were married, lived at home, or had a progressive form of dementia did NOT significantly impact life expectancy.

How do you care for a parent with dementia at home?

Just know that it can be hard and you may eventually need to bring in in-home care or move your husband or loved one to a nursing home.

If you raised children, depending on how progressive the dementia has gotten, you may find many of the same techniques used to help kids will help your loved one.

But to start with, when caring for a husband or other loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia at home, follow these guidelines and tips:

  • Set a routine they can become familiar with
  • Go places and do things that will be familiar
  • Use simple language and clear messages
  • Know they may sometimes struggle to get their words out
  • Be patient
  • Don’t let them see you stressed, frustrated, or angry
  • Ask simple questions
  • Have more complicated tasks broken down into baby steps

Depending on how far gone the dementia has gotten you may also need to consider adult diapers if bladder or bowel control has gotten inconsistent. Plastic sheets under the cloth sheets are a must too to protect the mattress.

What are the 7 stages of dementia?

There are a few different ways doctors measure the progression of symptoms for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The most common measurement tool is referred to as the GDS, which stands for the Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia.

It is also sometimes called the Reisberg Scale.

That tool refers to 7 different stages of dementia, which are as follows:

Stages 1 – 3: No Dementia

1. No signs of dementia

2. Very mild cognitive decline

3. Mild cognitive decline

Symptoms of mild cognitive decline

  • A noticeable increase in memory loss
  • Issues focusing, performing challenging tasks or solving problems
  • Difficulty driving
  • Tend to repeat themselves frequently

Stage 4: Early Stage Dementia

This stage lasts about 2 years, on average. It is referred to as moderate cognitive decline.

Symptoms of early-stage dementia:

  • Forgetting items, people’s names and conversations
  • Losing track of the day, time, or even year
  • Fumbling with their words
  • Being uncomfortable outside their routine
  • An increase in irritability

Stages 5 – 6: Mid-Stage Dementia

5. Moderately severe cognitive decline

6. Severe cognitive decline

Overall, the 5th and 6th stages of dementia can last up to 4 years on average.

Symptoms of mid-stage dementia:

  • Sleeping issues (sleeping during the day and up at night,
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Easily confused and disoriented
  • Seeing things or people who aren’t there
  • Increased irritability
  • Forgetting basic information (phone numbers, addresses, etc)

Stage 7: Late-Stage Dementia

In this final stage of the 7 stages of dementia, patients tend to live about 2.5 years on average.

Symptoms of late-stage dementia:

  • May be unable to eat and swallow
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • A decline in the ability to speak
  • They are frequently irritable, restless, and confused
  • Easily frustrated or angry
  • Prone to getting pneumonia or other viral or bacterial infections

Now that we understand better, let’s review the . . .

9 Best Ways of Taking Care of a Husband with Dementia

taking care of a husband with dementia Middle Class Dad signs and symptoms of dementia infographic

1. Find hobbies and interests that you share

Did you and your husband share an interest or a hobby before their dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis?

Find out if they would still like to do that with you.

If they liked cooking, then ask them to help you make a meal. You can also go for walks or do some gardening if that is what they prefer.

Other hobbies you two could indulge in include playing board games, caring for pets, and even having their favorite friends over.

Experts recommend caregivers can connect with your spouse through art.

Thus taking care of a husband with dementia doesn’t have to mean the end of doing everything you loved to do together.

2. Learn how to deal with angry outbursts – yours!

According to this poll, at least 85 percent of dementia caregivers find taking care of a loved one or friend with dementia a rewarding experience.

This touching article is just one example of a wife helping her husband with his day-to-day cognitive issues after his brain test for dementia came positive.

However, almost 80% of the people from the poll mentioned above also find their role as a caregiver stressful.

Being stressed out can take its toll on even the best spouse or caregiver’s patience. So look for any of the following signs in yourself:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Speaking loudly
  • Muscles tensing up
  • Tingly sensation in your body
  • Feeling like hitting the other person
  • Clenched fists or jaw

When you spot such signs, take a deep breath, and recognize that you are getting angry. Then try some of these tips before you respond to your husband:

  • Recognize that people with dementia can be unpredictable and inconsistent with their behavior
  • Take a deep breath and focus on communicating as clearly as possible
  • Walk away and give yourself time to calm down. If taking a 5-10 min break is possible and useful, then do that. If they can deal with your being away for longer, then consider the second option. It is recommended getting your loved one to accept support from others while you cool down
  • You don’t always have to respond when they are being difficult. Alternatively, you can choose to respond in an assertive manner
  • Remind yourself that they aren’t likely doing this to make you angry

When you return to interacting with them, make sure they see how much you care about them.

Focus on your own facial expressions, physical touch, and tone of voice so that message is clear.

The 36-Hour Day is an award-winning book, now in its 6th edition.

taking care of a husband with dementia Middle Class Dad The 36-Hour Day book banner

It’s a Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss published by Johns Hopkins.

4.5 stars and upwards of 200 reviews on Amazon Prime can’t be wrong! Available in hardcover, paperback or kindle.

3. Use any and all resources at your disposal

A website that offers a brain test for dementia is a great resource that helps caregivers like yourself find support, so you can continue taking care of your spouse.

But there are a lot of resources available online for those caring for someone with dementia.

AARP offers various services for dementia caregivers. Whether you want help online or in-person, you can find it here.

WebMD also offers a wealth of knowledge and guides walking you through the different types of dementia and tips on how to care for those affected by it.

During this time, it can be easy to feel sorry for yourself and your loved one.

When we feel sorry for ourselves, that can easily start a downward slide into anger, negativity, and depression.

Feel your feelings. Have an outlet for your stress. But don’t let yourself stay in a negative space. A positive attitude is one of the Key Differences of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People.

So if you need some tips and tools to help improve your mental state during this challenging time, take a moment and review the tips outlined in that post.

taking care of a husband with dementia Middle Class Dad Illustration of a head and brain with several bubbles with question marks inside them

4. The painful truth of dealing with confusion

Your spouse may become confused about the time/place due to memory loss and insist that they are taken home.

Another reason for this demand could be an attempt to going back to a time when they were more in control of their life. When that happens, it is best to indicate to them that they are confused.

Use pictures and tangible things to remind them where they are.

It is all about making them feel safe. This can happen if you have recently had to move and changed houses.

What you should avoid doing is giving someone a lengthy explanation about their condition. You shouldn’t expect that you’d be able to reason with them either.

In fact, doing these things might trigger the confused response that you want to avoid.

5. The proven power of exercising together

We all know about the multiple benefits of regular exercise.

Turns out, all those benefits, such as improved blood flow to the brain, also apply to people with dementia. If you can exercise with them, you might be helping them manage symptoms of the disease. We suggest going on walks together.

Struggling with your decision to put your loved one in a dementia nursing home? Watch this.

6. Help without taking away their independence

The early stage of dementia is different for every person who goes through it. However, it is often seen that individuals with dementia need cues and reminders to help jog their memory. Taking care of a husband with dementia means getting involved to ensure they:

  • Keep their appointments
  • Manage their finances
  • Remember names, places, or people
  • Take their medications on time

We suggest that you do that by establishing communication, instead of completely taking over.

Your objective should be to maximize their independence. If, for example, they assure you that they can manage their checkbook, let them do that. Just ask to give a final review once they are done.

7. Interacting the right way

Certain actions might improve the way you interact with your spouse. Blogs and dementia websites can be useful in this regard. Look for people in a similar situation sharing their personal experiences.

While you listen to others though, don’t forget to listen to what your husband has to say. The following tips can improve the communication between you two:

  • Keeping background noise to a minimum
  • Expressing love through touch
  • Maintaining eye contact when conversing
  • Speaking calmly and slowly

Above all, don’t let your loved one see the anger, frustration, and sadness that can be normal for you to feel sometimes.

Even though taking care of a husband with dementia can be challenging, there can still be a lot to be grateful for. The Benefits of Being Appreciative can improve not only this aspect of your life but your whole life in general.

8. Remember the good old days

taking care of a husband with dementia Middle Class Dad black and white photo of a couple on the beach

Ease their worries and bring comfort to your husband by bringing up the past.

It can be difficult to remember more recent things since their brain has problems with short-term memory. Asking them questions like what they had for lunch may only frustrate them.

Instead, jog their memory by asking them about their more distant past. Look at family photo albums with them and reminisce together.

You likely both have great memories together and this is a great way of connecting while taking care of a husband with dementia.

9. Anticipate and prevent problem behavior

If you can find out the triggers leading to problematic behavior, you may be able to sidestep or prevent them.

Look for clues, such as what happened right before an angry outburst.

Certain times of day, certain seasons or certain events, such as bath time, could be the answer to your questions too.

Get the #1 book on Amazon Prime for caregivers of those with dementia.

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Did we cover all your questions about taking care of a husband with dementia?

In this post, we looked at the crucial steps of dealing with a spouse with dementia.

Taking care of a husband with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be very challenging even for the most experienced caregiver. We looked at tips for self-care and strategies for making the most of your time together.

Taking care of a husband with dementia doesn’t have to be sad and lonely. While it’s not the same experience you had together earlier in life, you can still do things together and enjoy one another’s company and minimize the confusion or anger that can sometimes accompany this condition.

What’s The Value—To You And Your Family—Of Avoiding Dementia?

Get the Unbreakable Brain and receive a 28-day plan for brain health you can start right away. The plan gives you 7 powerful strategies you can easily adopt in the next 4 weeks.

As we age, we all have “senior moments”. But for some, those moments turn into nightmares.

But it’s scary not only for the person suffering but also their spouse and loved ones too.

The 108-page book titled THE UNBREAKABLE BRAIN has been featured on NBC, and all major search engines.

Luckily, Dr. Will Mitchell, the author of the book, has spent over a decade studying dementia and Alzheimer’s. And he claims his system can “reverse the advance of dementia”.

While he has hundreds of success stories, one of the most profound is Dennis Barnes, who at 53 was diagnosed with “early-onset dementia”. He eventually lost his ability to read, walk, or do any of the things he loved to do with his wife, Dr. Laura Barnes.

After following just some of the tips in this book, massive improvement took place in just 30 days!

His normal personality returned. He walked correctly. Reading was normal. The fog lifted. At a family gathering, Dennis recognized people and maintained normal conversations.

So if you or a loved one are getting older, or having some senior moments, I urge you to check out this quick FREE video to learn more about THE UNBREAKABLE BRAIN.

About the co-author of this post.

taking care of a husband with dementia Alycia Gordan headshot Middle Class Dad

Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness, and lifestyle.

She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia

Want to write for Middle Class Dad too? Check out everything you need to know on my Guest Blog Page.

While Alycia is a contributor to BrainTest which performs cognitive tests for dementia and is run by Board Certified Physicians, neither she nor I are doctors, psychiatrists or mental health professionals. This post, like all my posts, is based on my research, consultation with experts, opinions, and observations. If you need medical or professional advice you should seek out a qualified professional in your area.
Photo credits which require attribution:
Dementia – Recognising the signs and symptoms of dementia by Number 10 is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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