How to Help People With Dementia

If a loved one is suffering from Dementia, it can be difficult to manage emotionally for you and the person affected.

There are plenty of ways that you can not only help your loved one, but connect with them too. Making them feel as comfortable as possible can go a long way, as Dementia can be distressing for all involved.

Depending on your situation, you may spend a lot of time with the person being cared for, helping them with daily activities and communicating with them on a regular basis. Whether you are on hand for a few hours, or perhaps their full-time carer, the guidance below can help you build stronger relationships and equip you to handle difficult situations that you may encounter.

There are various duties involved in looking after somebody with dementia which require both physical and emotional attention. Physical activities often involve bathing, dressing, washing and occasionally helping them at meal times. Emotional support requires energy and consideration to be that support system that they require to cope with their condition. Emotionally, dementia sufferers can experience frequent mood swings and even changes of personality and behaviour, so this requires you to be adaptable and to employ certain strategies to cope with their mood at any given time.

Those with dementia may randomly appear distressed, confused, or angry. They may lash out if they feel uncomfortable and unsafe, however there are ways to manage this, ensuring a safe environment for you and your loved one.

General behaviour

Dementia can affect a person’s confidence, self-esteem, relationships, independence, and day to day life. It’s important to remember they have little control over what they can and can’t remember, so always try to make sure they feel listened to with positive gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and non-verbal communication, all of which can go a long way to maintain a positive connection. It is important to remember to:

  • Be patient
  • Actively empathise
  • Provide a relaxed environment
  • Offer emotional support
  • Allow plenty of time for activities/ tasks
  • Do things with the person rather than for the person
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Offer help in a supportive way
  • Break down tasks into manageable steps
  • Adapt to tasks and take into account particular activities
  • Focus on process rather than the completion of the tasks

Providing a sense of purpose 

Always aim to support the person in maintaining skills, abilities, and an active social life. This may be as simple as a daily walk, a puzzle, a board game or household task. These little things can make all the difference when it comes to creating a comfortable and familiar environment for your loved one. Meaningful tasks and activities can help structure a day and engage your loved one with stimuli that they can understand and relate to.

You may let the person assist in household tasks like shopping or laying the table; the most important thing to do is not dismiss everything as ‘too much’. This can leave your loved one feeling confused, left out and even more frustrated.

A healthy balanced diet

Depending on the seriousness or stage of dementia your loved one is experiencing, you may find that they struggle to remember to eat or drink properly. They may not realise they are thirsty because they forget to drink, and this can become very serious. Dehydration and malnutrition can have serious effects, including;

  • UTIs
  • Constipation
  • Headaches

Always aim to ensure your loved one is hydrated, comfortable and happy.

You may want to offer them a drink or help them to drink if required. Regular and routine meals are an easy way to ensure they are getting enough calories in their diet. Some dementia sufferers may not recognise food, forget what food and drink tastes like, or even refuse and spit out food. It is important to be ready for this and not react in a way that may distress them further. If it occurs, respond calmly, making eye contact and working with your loved one rather than against them, you will find managing the situation easier.

People suffering from dementia are never meaning to be awkward; they don’t understand, so try to be patient and understanding.

Helping with incontinence

Another potential problem for those suffering with dementia is incontinence, as dementia patients can forget they need the toilet which can lead to UTIs, constipation, or discomfort. Some simple ways to help your loved one include:

  • Put signs on the door
  • Keep the toilet door open at night
  • Daily walks, as this can help with bowel movement

Assisting with washing and bathing

Washing and bathing is a very private thing and realising you may need help with washing and bathing can be hard to come to terms with. It is important to remember the person needs personal space and as much privacy as possible. Treat bathing and washing situations with sensitivity, to ensure your loved one can maintain their dignity as much as possible.

Issues with bathing

Some of the issues your loved one may have while bathing includes distress or anxiety about the water; for example, they may worry about falling or the water being too deep. Therefore, think ahead to ensure there are as little hazards as possible. Ask your loved one how they may want to be helped, so you are on the same page and they feel in a safe environment with a person they trust.

Sleep issues

If your loved one is experiencing issues sleeping, you can help them build a routine that ensures they are as comfortable as possible and can start to build up a routine again.

Some simple fixes include:

  • Making sure the bed is comfy
  • Installing blackout blinds
  • Ensuring there is a night light
  • Having a dementia friendly clock
  • Limit daytime naps
  • Ensure daily activity

Dementia Care Plan

It’s important to know how long you can help care for your loved one before it becomes too much. It is never easy taking the step to either full time care or a dementia carer, but it is important to consider both of your needs or you could be putting your health at risk.

Evaluate how long you can realistically do the things you’re currently doing; set about making a care plan which is manageable, assessing what your loved one requires to receive the level of support and care they need. You need to consider the emotional, social, psychological, and practical impact of caring for a loved one with dementia full time, and how long this will be possible for.

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