Dementia Help founder and former carer Christina Neal has these top tips for carers on how to cope with caring for a loved one…
Get to know dementia
Get to know dementia. Understand how the disease affects your loved one. The more you know the better placed you will be to provide the care and support they need and come to terms with the illness. At first I thought dementia was mainly about memory loss, but after reading about it I realised it also affected a person’s mood, language, ability to make decisions and their ability to edit behaviour, which meant that hurtful sounding comments were no longer so upsetting, as I realised it was the disease talking.
Distract and deflect
If the person you are caring for is beginning to get frustrated or lose their temper, change the subject. Simple things like offering them a cup of tea, commenting on the weather or changing the channel on the TV may distract them from something that is irritating them.
There’s no point in correcting a person with dementia when it comes to remembering events or occasions. Telling them an event happened last week and not yesterday or pointing out you’d said you’d arrive at midday instead of 1pm will only frustrate them. Peter Berry, who has early Alzheimer’s says: ‘I put things in the wrong place. I don’t want to be corrected. I find that degrading. If I make a choice and if that choice is wrong then I don’t want to be made to feel bad.’
Stick to a routine
A change in environment or a change in routine can be confusing for a person with dementia. My late mother was generally happier and more upbeat when we could stick with her normal routine that involved her getting up, eating and going out to the shops at the same time. When I occasionally had to change her routine to take her to an appointment, or take her on holiday, she would become increasingly confused and overwhelmed. A regular, consistent routine tends to be much more settling.
Avoid crowded environments
Loud, noisy restaurants or going out with a large group of people as challenging. Try to keep social occasions relatively peaceful and don’t surround the person with too many people at once. Multiple conversations going on at the same time will cause confusion and possibly frustration.
Engage the person with dementia
On social occasions, make sure your loved one is included in conversations. Peter Berry, who has early Alzheimer’s, says: ‘If my wife and I are in a group, I try to get people to talk to me and not just to my wife. Once people know you’ve got Alzheimer’s they don’t know how to talk to you so they decide not to and they visually focus everything at a partner or somebody else. Try and simplify the conversation a bit but talk normally.’
Make the most of the good days
Encourage the person to be active and social on days when they feel good. The more they can do the happier and more fulfilled they will be. ‘Some days I can’t even think straight, but on a good day, I go out and about with a group of friends,’ says carer Joy Watson. ‘It’s something I look forward to.’
Encourage the person to exercise
Exercise can improve mood and mental wellbeing and can help to prevent sun downing, where mood swings can occur late in the afternoon. It can also improve heart health and reduce blood pressure (especially important with vascular dementia) and may help to prevent falls by strengthening bones and muscles and improving balance. Seated upper body exercises are a good idea if the person is unable to walk.