Dementia is devastating for patients, can overwhelm and harm caregivers too

April 05, 2016

Melissa Wegscheid OTKristina Carlson CNPSPRINGFIELD, Minn. — Dementia affects the lives of millions of Americans, with thousands of new cases each day. Dementia is an overarching term for a group of symptoms that significantly affect memory, thinking and social abilities. Many forms of dementia exist, with the most well-known being Alzheimer’s disease. Because of the stress and emotion involved, dementia can have a negative impact on caregivers as well.

“Most people don’t know, but statistically speaking, 40 percent of primary caregivers of people with dementia will pass away before the person with the disease,” says Kristina Carlson, Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield nurse practitioner, citing a study from Stanford Medicine. “This is why it’s so important to ask for help. Health care professionals can be a great resource when caregivers acknowledge they need help and are ready to accept help.”

Carlson explains dementia symptoms differ depending on the cause. She notes common signs to watch for and expect:

  • Memory loss and trouble communicating or finding words
  • Challenges with complex tasks; difficulty planning and organizing; and issues with orientation, such as getting lost
  • Problems with coordination and motor functions
  • Changes in personality
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations

“Educate yourself about memory loss and dementia-related diseases. In addition, look into support groups and family counseling, stay physically active, maintain your social life, and ask for help from friends and family when you need it. Making a conscious effort to do these things may be the difference between feeling overly stressed and properly managing your caregiving duties,” adds Carlson.

Melissa Wegscheid, Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield occupational therapist, shares advice for keeping dementia patients safe:

General safety

  • Remove stove knobs, and supervise when the person with dementia is preparing meals.
  • Properly dispose of excess medications, set up medications and monitor administration of medications.
  • Post signs around the home. For example, hang an instruction sheet for how to get dressed.
  • Establish a daily routine and stick to it.
  • Balance the person’s checkbook and manage their bill payments.

Fall prevention

  • Install grab bars and railings on staircases and in the bathroom. Furthermore, use no-slip mats in the bathtub.
  • Improve lighting in the house.
  • Eliminate clutter in hallways, rooms and on floors.
  • Remove throw rugs.

Wandering prevention

  • Install simple alarms on outside doors to alert caregivers of a person leaving the home.
  • Put up signs that say stop or pictures of stop signs on outside doors.

“Review these tips when caring for someone with dementia,” says Wegscheid. “And remember, a caregiver needs to take breaks. Ask for assistance from a trusted loved one so you can spend necessary, guilt-free time away and come back to caregiving feeling rejuvenated,” says Wegscheid.

If you have concerns about dementia signs and symptoms, schedule an appointment at Mayo Clinic Health System by calling 1-877-412-7575 (toll-free).


Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in more than 60 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.

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