Caring for someone with dementia can be intimidating. Progressive memory loss and changes in mood or personality can make it difficult to communicate or to perform daily tasks. If you care for someone with dementia, it is important to understand what the condition does, how it affects your patient, and how you can help him or her be successful.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is characterized by declining memory and cognitive function. It is an umbrella term used to describe a group of diseases that cause progressive brain disorder. The most common condition associated with dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but it can also be caused by other illnesses including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, certain kinds of thyroid or vascular disorders and brain injuries. A person with dementia will experience increasing difficulty performing normal daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, managing finances, getting dressed, practicing basic hygiene, and remembering recent events or conversations.
The classic sign of dementia is gradual loss of memory that disrupts daily life. Early symptoms may also include confusion, difficulty performing daily routines or tasks, difficulty recalling something that just happened, loss of problem-solving skills, and mood or personality changes. As the disease progresses, the person may become combative, easily frustrated or confused, or depressed. A person with dementia may:
- Forget the names of things
- Repeat conversations frequently
- Have trouble following a story or conversation
- Lose things and be unable to retrace their steps
- Forget where they are
- Be unable to manage a budget or make good decisions
- Get easily upset
8 Ways to Help Someone With Dementia
Caring for a person with dementia requires patience, communication, and a clear understanding of the disease. It’s important to remember that these patients cannot control their responses and they may be feeling confused or frightened. The best way to help them is to remain positive, calm, and respectful during every interaction.
You can reduce stress and help your patients enjoy the best quality of life by following these standard recommendations:
- Respect the patient – Treat the patient as an adult and allow them to do as much as possible for themselves. This is an essential component of helping the person retain his or her self-esteem and avoiding frustration or depression.
- Create a calm environment – Becoming frustrated with the patient will only make the problem worse. Instead, set a positive tone for interactions and don’t let the person’s behavior or responses upset you. Remember, he or she probably isn’t able to control words or actions effectively.
- Follow a daily routine – Maintain a predictable schedule, doing the same things at the same time each day. This is the best way to limit confusion and frustration.
- Prioritize good communication – Communicating with a person who has dementia is not always straightforward. Limit distractions and make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking. Use simple words to make your intentions clear, and ask straightforward questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Avoid giving too many choices and be willing to repeat words or phrases without becoming frustrated.
- Listen compassionately – People with dementia may not be able to express themselves well, so you will have to listen for meanings and emotions behind the words that they say. Look at the person’s body language, and provide visual prompts if needed.
- Avoid arguing – Even if the person is wrong or becomes combative, respond with compassion. Focus on how they are feeling and offer comfort or reassurance. Let them know that they are loved and avoid pointing out inconsistencies or forgetfulness. It’s okay to suggest words if they are struggling, but remember that your goal is to communicate love and support.
- Redirect behavior – If the person becomes agitated, acknowledge those emotions and then suggest a change of scenery such as a walk or new activity.
- Respond to combativeness with compassion – Physical touch, eye contact, and verbal reassurance can help defuse a difficult situation. Don’t try to convince the person that they are wrong. Instead, redirect them to another activity.
Dementia can be a frightening diagnosis for both patients and their family members. As you care for people with dementia, the best way to help them enjoy a positive quality of life is to show them compassion, maintain a calm, supportive environment and learn to communicate effectively with them.
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