Caring for a person with dementia is unlike caring for a person with any other disease. Dementia changes the mind, emotions, and personality of the sufferer, without regard for time, day or circumstance. It makes navigating each hour and each day difficult for the person suffering from the disease and the caregiver. Despite the ever changing ravages of the disease, there are some consistent guidelines that will assist you as you care for your loved one. Here are some “Do’s and Don’ts” that will help caregivers of those with dementia.
Do create a calm environment. Make sure the home environment is visually and audibly quiet and a comfortable temperature. Remove visually confusing clutter and fabric patterns. The calmer the sensory input, the more you can reduce confusion and frustration.
Do support independence. It is a good thing to help your loved one remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. Let them do as many things as they can for themselves. This may mean buying plastic cups instead of glass to avoid breaks, or cutting food into small pieces and storing it that way in the refrigerator so that it is easy to retrieve. The longer your loved one can do things for themselves, the more dignity they will feel.
Do simplify things. Speak in simple sentences and give simple instructions. Remember that the easier speech is to understand, the easier it is to follow. Speak to the person as if he or she understands and always give them the benefit of the doubt.
Do establish a familiar routine. Dementia removes the ability to understand change and the reasons for it. The more you can establish routines throughout the day the easier it will be for your loved one. To the extent possible eat at the same time throughout the day and establish familiar bedtime routines. These will provide stability for your loved one.
Do respond to your loved one’s feelings. Dementia may steal the ability to reason and speak, but it doesn’t steal feelings. Treat your loved one with love, dignity, and joy. Even as the brain loses some abilities, it retains its ability to experience happiness. verbal abilities, Respond to the person’s feelings, not just the words expressed.
Do be patient and flexible. Caring for someone with dementia is like riding a wave, go with it. Be patient, be kind and be flexible. Meet them where they are mentally and emotionally at any given moment. It will change constantly and it is best to expect nothing else.
Don’t speak to the person as if he or she were a child. Even though dementia is present, your loved one still should be treated with dignity. Feelings are easily hurt and misunderstandings may be frequent because of dementia. Speaking to your loved one like he or she is a child will just add insult to injury.
Don’t scold your loved one or argue with them.You may be very frustrated, but he or she is not intentionally making a mistake or trying to be disruptive.
Don’t speak to the person in negatives. Try to be positive and redirect their behavior and attentions. It is better to say “Let’s look at this book” than “Stop picking up that glass.” Redirecting works very well with those suffering from dementia. You can easily refocus their attention on positive activities that pose no danger or risk to them.
Don’t live in the past. Never say “Don’t you remember?” or “I just told you that five times.” Your loved one can’t remember. He or she doesn’t know you just told them something repeatedly. That time doesn’t exist for your loved one. The only time that does exist is the moment you are in, right now.
Don’t remove yourself physically and emotionally. Even though your loved one is suffering from dementia, he or she still needs human touch and nurturing.
Don’t let dementia scare you. At some point, it is most helpful to embrace it and realize it is a time for love, compassion, and comfort.
Don’t talk “around” a person with dementia, as if he or she isn’t there. He or she may understand more than you think.
Don’t fight it. Dementia will not bend to rules or order. As the saying goes, “It is what it is.” You will grow with it and increase your understanding of how to work with it. Always default to the path of least resistance. If your mother says that someone came into the house and stole her favorite china, don’t waste time telling her that isn’t true. Simply tell her that you will check into it and you will make sure that all the windows and doors are locked so that her favorite things are safe.
One thing is true when it comes to caring for someone with dementia; love will see you through. Dementia Care comes in many forms; despite the daily frustrations and the deep agony of watching a disease steal your loved one away, every day that you care for them with love and compassion will be a day that you will always remember. Loving your parent will give them a kindler and gentler journey as well. A simple “I love you,” can go a long away with communicating with your loved one.
Read about our dementia care services here.