Do you know someone affected by a dementia?
It can be very upsetting to discover that a loved one, a friend, a workmate or a neighbour has dementia and you probably want to know what you can do to support them. Here are some suggestions…
A dementia diagnosis affects many people, it can leave loved ones feeling helpless and those on the periphery unsure what to do for the best. Although awareness and understanding of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is growing rapidly, there is still, undoubtedly, a stigma attached to the condition which might cause feelings of shame or embarrassment, too.
So whether you’re about to become a full time carer or just want to know what to say when you see your neighbour, here’s a few do’s and don’ts.
Panic – the dementia journey is nearly always a slow one, lasting many years. You still probably have plenty time left with the person who’s been diagnosed. One of the best things you can do is to learn to ‘live in the moment’ (see below) and make the most of every day.
Patronise – always include the person with dementia in conversations and in decision making. Whether you’re talking about what they want for lunch or writing a will. Even in the later stages of the illness, respect and dignity are paramount.
Find out more about their condition if you can. For example, have they been diagnosed with a specific form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia (sometimes called Pick’s disease). You might also want to read a book or talk to people in a similar situation.
Listen and learn when you visit them. Some people find the diagnosis a relief and you might be surprised by how ‘well’ they’re taking it, or how ‘matter of fact’ they are about it. Take your lead from them – this is called Person Centred Care. If you need help starting a conversation you’ll find tips here.
Offer practical help – caring for someone with dementia can be very difficult. Many carers suffer ill health themselves or become stressed and depressed. Forewarned is forearmed – make sure you don’t fall into any of the ‘carer’ traps.
If you’re not the main carer, you can still suggest ways you might be able to help. Even if it’s just popping round for a coffee once a week, your visit could become part of their daily care plan and provide a much needed break for the carer. Maybe you could offer to take them to church every week so they can continue practising their faith. Or how about helping them fill in forms for benefits and allowances?
Consider home safety – if you are going to play a significant part in their care, you might need to make your home more dementia friendly. This can be as simple as covering up a mirror when they visit in case seeing their reflection confuses them, or making sure the kitchen door is always shut.
Stay positive – there’s plenty reasons for hope. New drug treatments and clinical trials are happening all the time.
Live in the moment – Enjoy every day with the person with dementia as much as possible. Get out and about with them whenever you can, making the most of the garden or local park. Explore reminiscence therapy and take a trip down memory lane with them, or work on their life story together. You could even help them write a bucket list and plan a holiday.