Dementia is a daunting disease, and looking after someone with this debilitating condition can be stressful and emotionally draining.
You have to keep a positive attitude while preparing for the many challenges that are bound to come your way.
On the other hand, it is rewarding to know that your support and help can significantly improve your loved one’s quality of life. Following are a few simple ways to help people suffering from dementia:
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1. Motivate them to stay active
Dementia can trigger depression, anxiety, and a loss of self-confidence in a person. They may find themselves losing interest in their favorite activities and the will to stay involved. Even anger control won’t be easy for them. You can encourage them to maintain an active lifestyle in several ways:
- Involve them in the daily chores such as setting the table, washing dishes, folding laundry, dusting around the house, or gardening
- Help them maintain a social life, visit friends, go for a walk and encourage them to join a conversation
- Visit art museums in your community that offer special tours for people with dementia and their caregivers
- Do light exercises together or look for a local community center that offers special sessions for people with dementia
- Play board games, solve puzzles or do the crossword together to keep them mentally active as well
Incorporating various activities in their daily lives can help them stay positive and provide a structure to their day. It also instills a sense of accomplishment and raises their self-esteem.
2. Communicate and understand
Since dementia is a progressive disease, a person’s ability to rationalize and comprehend a situation decreases with time. They can feel disoriented and agitated as well as upset at times.
As a caregiver, you can help them vent out their frustration by listening to their worries patiently. Offer constant reassurance that they are appreciated, and their feelings matter. Here is how you can effectively communicate with your loved one with dementia:
- Use short, simple sentences and speak clearly
- Try to maintain eye contact as it shows that you care and are listening intently
- Maintain a relaxed body language, calm facial expressions, and an affectionate and friendly tone
- Allow them ample time to respond to your questions, and do not rush them into answering
- Try to not interrupt them while they are speaking as it can cause them to lose their train of thoughts
- Ask them their opinions and involve them in simple decisions whenever possible
- Allow them to take the lead when discussing their health and welfare issues with medical personnel. You can always fill out the blanks later
- If your loved one is angry, cursing, or shouting, try to remain calm. Assure them that you understand their dilemma and then try to redirect their attention elsewhere
The bottom line is to motivate them to communicate their grievances and needs and empathize with their situation.
3. Encourage healthy eating habits
People with dementia often begin to forget that they need to eat and drink. Moreover, the medication’s side effects can make them lose their appetite or leave a weird taste in their mouth that puts them off eating. However, not maintaining healthy eating habits can lead to irritability, sleeplessness, urinary tract infections, and constipation, amongst other things. Here is what you can do ensure a nutritious diet a stress-free mealtime:
- Eat your meals at the same time every day and set aside ample time to finish the food
- Plan five to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Encourage them to eat themselves, and if they find it challenging to use the cutlery, offer finger foods or pre-cut their food
- Offer soft food if they have dentures or sore gums, which can cause pain while chewing
- Assist them with eating only when necessary; otherwise, let them eat independently
- If they have trouble holding and drinking from a glass, give them children’s sippy cup or help them drink from a straw
- Sit down to eat together as this can prompt them to mimic your actions and eat well
- Turn off any loud noises, such as from the TV or radio that can distract them from focusing on eating
- Plan regular checkups with the dentist to treat the causes of any pain or discomfort while eating.
Mealtimes can be stressful and tiring but keep in mind that your loved one is not difficult deliberately. Dementia patients may not even realize that they are hungry or thirsty.
4. Help them combat sleeplessness
Dementia patients can often experience sleeplessness or restless sleep plagued by nightmares and hallucinations.
They can suffer from disorientation and agitation in the middle of the night because dementia affects a person’s “body clock,” causing confusion between the different times of the day. Here is what you can do improve the sleeping pattern:
- Encourage your loved one to remain active during the day and discourage napping
- Expose them to plenty of daylight to help their body register the differentiation between day and night
- Avoid giving them foods and beverages containing sugar, caffeine, or alcohol later in the day
- Plan quieter evenings with structured activities such as a leisurely stroll outside, listening to soothing music or playing simple card games
- Keep a night light on in the bedroom and a dementia-friendly clock that clearly shows whether it is day or night on the bedside table
- Make sure they are comfortable in their bed and use blackout curtains to remind them that it is night-time
Sleep disturbance in dementia patients can settle over time. However, you can always consult a doctor if the problem persists. Having a good night’s sleep is imperative for both you and your loved one, so you can have a productive day ahead.
5. Ask for support
Caring for people with dementia can be challenging, frustrating, and tiring. You can only help your loved one if you focus on your own mental and physical well-being. Therefore, never hesitate to ask for help and support whenever you feel exhausted. Here is what you can do:
- Join support groups for dementia caregivers where you can vent out your feelings amongst a group of people who understand precisely what you are going through. You might also learn some new tips and advice from these groups
- Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a social life. Ask a friend or relative to take over your responsibilities for a few hours where you can relax and recharge
- If your loved ones are sleepless at night, consider hiring a nighttime nurse or asking someone to take over for a few nights so you can catch up on your sleep.
- Use technology to assist in your duties. There are various apps for anger management, improving sleeping habits, and playing simple games that can keep your loved one occupied and give you a little break
Caregiving for dementia patients requires a lot of patience and effort. You need to be realistic in your goals and prepare for the bad days while appreciating the good days. As long as your loved one is comfortable and safe, you have done your job well.