Helen Drain, dementia trainer & deputy training team leader at Christies Care (christiescare.com), reveals her top tips on caring for a loved one with dementia…
Distract and deflect
If the person with dementia is becoming agitated or angry, or they snap at you, don’t react with anger or aggression or the situation can escalate. Step away if it’s safe to do so and give the person some space. You may find validating the person’s emotions help. Never argue with the person as it won’t resolve anything and they will only become more frustrated. If the person becomes regularly agitated, try to work out if there is a pattern to their moods or a schedule. For instances what changes occurred just before, what were the reactions and how did you both come out the other end for example, if they get agitated in the afternoons on a regular basis, they may be bored, restless or tired, or is this the time of day when the person used to be more active, for example children coming home from school, Tea to prepare or shopping every day at this time. If this is the case an activity to cover this time of day may help.
Don’t ask fact-based questions
If you want to have a good conversation with a loved one with dementia, invite them to give their views or opinions on things in the present, rather than asking them to recall events or specific memories from the past. Opinions can’t be wrong as they are merely a person’s view. Questions that require the person to recall a piece of information can make them stressed and frustrated, especially if it is recent. Sometimes making a statement will trigger your loved one to respond, you then get the answer without asking a question. The key is to know the person.
Don’t put too much emphasis on birthdays and special occasions
A person with dementia won’t necessarily benefit from a card, a box of chocolates or a meal in a fancy restaurant. It doesn’t need a special date to make a day special. When you care for them consistently, you don’t need to do those things to prove that you love them. You get to show that you love them every day when you provide the care, company and support they so desperately need and would be lost without. And that care means so much more especially as you will not always receive a verbal thank you.
Make sure the person has regular health checks
The person may be on medication to help manage the symptoms of the condition but it’s important that they get their medication reviewed every six months, as things can change. If the person has vascular dementia, which is more commonly linked to high blood pressure, it’s also worth having their blood pressure checked every six months as well.
Try to create a safe environment
If the person lives alone try to clear away clutter but remember what looks like clutter to you may not look that way to the person. Try to ensure there are no trip hazards on the floor like worn rugs with curled edges, or coffee tables in the middle of the room. You need to take care not to make drastic changes to familiar surroundings, this can cause agitation and annoyance. Speak to an occupational therapist about having adaptations to the person’s home, such as a handrail for the stairs or a shower stool for the bathroom. A reminder though, these need to be fit for purpose and not because we feel it would be safer.
Visit the person regularly
Whether your loved one remembers you or the fact that you visited them ten minutes ago, your visit will have had a positive impact emotionally. So please keep on visiting, because each visit is doing them good even if it doesn’t always appear so in that moment.