Caring For Someone With Dementia
Around 850,000 people in the UK are currently diagnosed with dementia, with that number continuing to grow. A disease like this does not just affect the person suffering with the condition. Their entire support unit is always affected. And with 700,000 families across the UK caring for someone with dementia, many people are affected by this cruel disease. Watching someone you love deteriorate in front of you can be extremely distressing. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia currently. However, there are things you can do to make your loved one’s journey easier and more manageable.
If you’re caring for someone with dementia; hopefully these tips will help you figure out what works best for you. I am not a trained medical expert on dementia; but I have helped care for my grandfather, who is in the late stages of dementia and I have discovered what works and what does not work for him.
Communication is key in caring for someone with dementia. They rely almost entirely on what you say and how you say it. Speaking clearly and slowly helps them understand what it is you are telling them. Having spent the past year in a global pandemic, I’ve realised communication has become harder for older patients with hearing problems. This is true whatever condition they suffer from. Specifically, if they are in hospital or having carers attend them at home, face masks can cause issues with the volume of voice. It’s particularly hard for those who lip read.
Although it’s tempting, make sure you avoid testing the persons memory. For instance, asking them what they have done today or what they had for dinner. While to me and you these might be quite simple questions, for a patient with dementia this can cause them to become highly stressed when they struggle to remember. Keep questions limited to “yes” or “no” answers rather than questions with open-ended options. It will help them feel like they are communicating better.
Keeping them calm by avoiding arguments when they get confused and aren’t making much sense or are getting things wrong. Instead, always try to be positive, reassure them and find a distraction. You’re under stress yourself. It is easy to forget that it is not their fault that they are not remembering things.
People with dementia can be admitted to hospital multiple times, often with little notice. If the patient goes into hospital having a hospital passport is a major benefit. This gives the hospital staff helpful information that isn’t only about their condition. From their hobbies and interests to the things that may cause them upset or irritation. It includes the help they may need for personal care and mobility and any other relevant information. A photo of them normally accompanies the information.
This is especially valuable now with the current COVID-19 limitations meaning families aren’t able to be with their loved ones when they are in hospital. The passport gives families peace of mind that the healthcare professional knows everything there is to know about their relative in their absence.
Experts agree that reminiscing is a powerful way to combat dementia. Thinking back to when they were young can really help stimulate the brains of sufferers. Photo albums are an excellent tool for this purpose. If you can, get together a lot of photos old and young and sit with them going through who each person is and discussing memories of them. Include photos of any pets they currently have or once had – this can bring great comfort to them. My family found getting out old photos really helps my grandad be a part of a conversation again with minimal loss of memory. It is also nice to use this time together to make memories.
You may come to photos where they perhaps don’t remember what is happening or who is in the photo. If this occurs, simply say who it is and then move quickly to one they are likely to remember more. If you are making a memory book for them it is extremely helpful to add very simple captions to stating who is in the photo and what is happening. For example, “Family Holiday In 2006” or “Your Cat Fudge Sunbathing”.
Some patients can struggle with sleeping during the night and if you have kept their brains positively engaged for even an hour it will relax them and may help them sleep better.
Unfortunately, this is one thing that’s been a major factor in my experience, and it is commonplace with people caring for someone with dementia. Sometimes the slightest thing, such as asking a dementia patient to get dressed can cause them to become severely agitated, sending stress levels for everyone through the roof. The reason for this behaviour isn’t clearly understood, other than it being caused by the condition.
Noticing what triggers the difficult behaviour is key, because then you can work out how to ask your loved one to do something without them become agitated. What has worked for my family and I is making a joke out of the task and being very enthusiastic. Gentle persuasion is your best friend. The more you try and persuade them to do something rather than telling them what they must do, the more they will be willing to co-operate.
You’ll find you will need a few different strategies as while you will find successful methods to help them with their needs, they won’t always work every time.
Make no mistake, caring for someone with dementia is tough. It can place immense pressure on the whole family. It is important that you all stay connected and talk about how you are feeling at all times. Try to remember this is a time for love and compassion both for your family and your loved one.