Caring for someone with dementia can be a challenge. It’s all too easy to become impatient and negative and focus on how much the person has lost. Instead, it’s more productive and positive to focus on how much still remains, even if the person is not quite the same as before. Here are a few things you can try to help minimise the effects of dementia on someone you love and care for.
Focus on meaningful activities
It helps to keep people with dementia busy and engaged, as this will decrease challenging behaviours and improve mood and sleep – plus it gives them something to look forward to and enjoy. However, focus on providing meaningful activities that engage the senses, foster emotional connection and trigger good memories, rather than just doing stuff. Focus on activities, hobbies and music that are meaningful for your loved one. Home in on their strengths and abilities and provide ways for them to use them. For example:
- If your loved one used to love gardening and had a fantastic garden, help them to grow some pot plants, strike some cuttings from plants in the garden to grow, plant some seeds, start a small herb or vegetable garden, or take up flower arranging.
- If they were a great cook, help them with small cooking projects, or assist them to write down all their favourite recipes and create a special cookbook.
- If they used to like music, dancing and singing, put on their favourite music and dance around the house, or have an old-fashioned singalong. Find a radio channel that plays the type of music they love. Dig out some old musical instruments and give it a go.
- If they were artistic, help them with drawing, painting or craft activities, or scrapbook some memories (helping them to reminisce at the same time).
- If your loved one worked with their hands, find a small, useful household project for them to do, such as a simple repair or creating something out of wood. You might be surprised at how much they can still do (although they may need help with aspects of the task).
- People who used to work with or love animals will love being in contact with them again, so arrange ways to bring connections with animals into their lives once again.
Enabling the dementia sufferer to use their abilities, skills and interests allows them to still be the person they used to be, even if in a slightly different way. Plus, they will feel useful, positive and fulfilled.
Create a daily routine
People with dementia find comfort in structure and routine, so try and set consistent sleeping, getting up, hygiene and eating routines throughout the day. This creates a comforting and secure environment and will help make it easier to manage difficult behaviour. Dementia sufferers have difficultly learning new information, so repetition and routine are key components of managing their condition well. Having clear expectations and procedures makes life much easier for people with dementia – and for their carers as well.
Include plenty of physical exercise
Physical exercise is believed to be helpful in preventing and slowing down the onset of dementia, so don’t underestimate its value. Regular exercise can decrease stress and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression in dementia sufferers, as well as improving their day-to-day functioning and behaviour. It can also improve their balance and decrease their risk of falling. Exercise is the most valuable yet underused medication around, and can have wonderful benefits for dementia sufferers. Choose something easy and achievable for them to do, such as a walk – or work with an accredited exercise physiologist who will create a program of exercises specifically suited for them.
People living with dementia may need frequent reminders to perform regular and routine tasks, so make it easier for everyone and put up signs instructing them what to do. For example, signs instructing dementia sufferers to take their medication, wash their hands etc. can be very helpful and save a lot of angst.
Focus on the past
People with dementia may struggle to remember what happened an hour ago, but often can clearly recall events of 50 years ago. When communicating with dementia sufferers, avoid asking questions that rely on short-term memory. Instead, ask about their past, and allow them to recall events and tell stories from their younger years. Reminiscing can be comforting and enlivening for sufferers of dementia.
Focus on what remains, not what has been lost
While dementia certainly causes degeneration in cognitive abilities, such as memory, concentration and decision making, there is plenty that remains. The essence of your loved one is not really lost – it’s just harder to find than before. But instead of dwelling on what they can’t do, focus on what they can, and on the flashes of their old personality that you’ll see now and then. Your friend or family member is still there underneath their condition, although it’s hard to see sometimes. Focus on the positives and what they can still do, and find ways to bring out their personality through meaningful activities.
Life doesn’t end when dementia begins. It’s important to remember that the person you once loved is still there – and with a bit of time and effort, you can discover and bring out the abilities that remain – rather than focussing on the ones that have been lost.