Despite your good intentions to do your best for your loved one, it can be a real challenge to be a good carer unless you understand dementia and how it affects the person. Here are some tips on how to be the best possible carer you can be…

Understand the symptoms of dementia

Dementia is about much more than just memory loss. It can affect a person’s moods, personality, confidence and their ability to make judgements and everyday decisions.

The person may become angry quickly or get tearful for no apparent reason for a short period of time, and then be fine again five minutes later. They may also become confused and even suspicious. The person may seek more comfort and reassurance than before. They will come to depend on you to not only take care of them on a practical level but to meet their emotional needs.

Make allowances

There may be times when your loved one seems ungrateful and you may question why you are going to such trouble to take care of them when they seem unappreciative. Dementia is usually to blame for this. The person may not realise you do so much for them, but they will also become more involved in their own world and their wants and needs will go to the forefront of their mind. They may lose empathy over time.

Don’t try to change behaviour or reason with the person

It’s important to remember that you can’t change the behaviour of your loved one. Dementia is a disease of the brain, so if they are being ungrateful or they say or do things that seem irrational, it’s not their fault. My mum was once in hospital having some tests and while she was waiting for the doctor she told me she was going to put some laundry in her washing machine. I explained that she was in the hospital and not at home. She looked at me in confusion and said: ‘Yes, so what’s your point?’ She couldn’t understand that a task that had to be performed in her own home couldn’t be done when she was in the hospital. Logic had gone at this point. I should have known better however than to try and explain this to her. I learned the hard way that you can’t always reason with a person with dementia. I should have just reassured her that we would sort the laundry out shortly and then changed the subject.

Encourage social interaction where you can

It’s been particularly different for those living with dementia and their carers during the pandemic, as social interaction is key, and it’s been limited during lockdown and even beyond. However, if you can see your loved one and interact with them socially then do so. Try to take them out if you can to a café or even to the park for a stroll if they are able to do so. Fresh air and stimulation can be good for a person with dementia. Sitting your loved one in front of the TV may work sometimes, but it’s not a good idea for them to just sit around and not talk to anyone. Stimulation helps – get them to get involved in activities if at all possible. At the same time, don’t push too hard when it comes to encouraging the person to get out for a walk or join you for lunch. If they don’t want to go out on a given day, accept this and try again another time.

Try to establish a set routine

Routine is important to a person with dementia. Try to stick to the same routine where possible, although there will be exceptions such as hospital appointments. A familiar environment will also reassure the person, so if you do take them out for lunch from time to time, try to take them to the same pub or restaurant. I used to take my mum to her local pub for Sunday lunch and she got to know the staff there, who were very friendly to her. She felt safe there and enjoyed the social interaction.

Be upbeat when visiting your loved one

Finally, you need to be in a good place when you visit your loved one. If you feel tired, stressed, burned out or unwell, don’t go and visit them (provided it’s safe for them to be on their own). Sometimes you need time to recharge your batteries and regain your energy levels. Stay at home, regroup and visit them the next day. In reality, a person with dementia may seem distracted and forgetful but they will be able to sense your mood, even if they can’t understand the reason for it. So try to be positive and upbeat when you visit them.

Take time out to regroup

If you live with the person and you feel very stressed, try to give yourself some space from time to time. Find a friend or family member who can come and take care of the person for a few hours while you go out and have some time on your own. You need to take care of your own mental and physical health in order to be the best possible carer you can be.