Here at Brain Health Breakthroughs, we report on useful research findings that prove how certain lifestyle habits can help to prevent, slow down or even reverse dementia.

These healthy behaviors range from exercise and diet to restorative sleep, social interaction, selected nutrients, learning a new language or musical instrument — and more.

But at the end of the day, there are still an estimated 5.8 million Americans suffering from dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And I know many readers are faithfully providing care to one of these people.

In this issue we dig into the best advice gleaned from a variety of reliable sources. While a single article can’t be a one-stop resource for caregivers, I think this one does offer a valuable starting point. . .

1. Don’t Hide Your Head in The Sand: It’s human nature to ignore a loved one’s dementia symptoms. When you notice a parent or spouse struggling with memory, thinking or judgment, it’s normal to second-guess yourself, hoping the troubling behavior is temporary or “normal” for old age.

But it’s wise to face your fears sooner instead of later. Step one includes a visit to the doctor for a thorough exam. There are actually several common, treatable health conditions that can mimic dementia symptoms, including depression, vitamin deficiencies, urinary tract infections, medications and more.

And if it turns out your loved one actually has dementia, an early diagnosis is best as treatments will be more effective and could delay progression and ultimately improve quality of life.

2. Caregiving from Afar: Even you don’t live close to your loved one, it is still possible to be an involved caregiver. Whether he or she is still living at home or in a managed care facility, you can be an important part of the caregiving team.

First and foremost, foster a close relationship with the team of caregivers – from the patient’s primary physician to the nursing assistants. Get to know their individual roles. Find out who is the main point person and make a practice of checking in weekly or even daily.

This group of professionals will be your eyes and ears. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as, “What was my mom talking about in the car on the way to her doctor’s appointment?” Empathize with these caregivers’ challenges and show your gratitude regularly.

3. Never Too Late to Boost Brain Health: So, your loved one has received the fateful dementia diagnosis. Many caregivers say they didn’t know that certain brain health strategies can make a difference in the patient’s general quality of life.

From physical exercise to mental activities to solving sleep disturbances (often caused by treatable pain or sleep apnea), you can read about the full range of treatment strategies in Brain Health Breakthroughs – including our treasure trove of nearly 600 back issues available free.

Not only are they great for your loved one, these habits are also beneficial for your own brain health.

4. Avoid Burnout: The struggle is real. Caring for a loved one with dementia is perhaps the most challenging job you’ll ever have. Eating right and getting some exercise are key, but been-there-done-that caregivers say that refilling your energy tank is critically important, too.

Can’t squeeze in a fancy spa weekend? Aim for little daily activities that provide respite from your worries. Dementia caregivers suggest a 30-minute visit with a friend, meditation, or even five minutes alone to stretch and unwind.

If you are the principal caregiver, seek out home health services or adult day care to give yourself a breather. If you are unsure of where to turn, contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24-helpline at 800-272-3900. They offer a listening ear and practical resources to help your specific situation.

5. Have the “hard talk”: The earlier you have the “hard talk” the better, say veteran caregivers. Discuss medical decisions, end-of-life topics and power of attorney documents as soon as possible, while your loved one is still able. You’ll have more peace of mind knowing that you are honoring their personal preferences when they can no longer communicate them to you.

  1. Long-Distance Caregiving: How to Ensure Your Loved Ones are Safe at Home
  2. A Guide to Alzheimer’s Caregiving
  3. Understanding How Alzheimer’s Disease Changes People–Challenges and Coping Strategies
  4. Communicating with Alzheimer’s
  5. 8 Practical Tips to Help someone with Dementia to Eat More
  6. 7 Essential Coping Techniques for Alzheimer’s Caregiver Stress
  7. Helping Kids Cope When A Family Member Has Dementia