Over 24 million people know a family member or friend with dementia and it is important to understand the behaviour of someone with dementia and know how to communicate effectively.
For anyone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia, it is normal for them to experience a wide range of emotions. Support and advice on independence and self-care is just as important in the early stages of the condition as it is in the later stages. A diagnosis does not mean that life is over, it means there are challenges ahead. Thinking about these challenges and preparing yourself and those close to you is beneficial for all.
If you are close to someone who has dementia, no matter which stage they are at, it’s important to always treat them with respect, be sincere and let the person with dementia remain independent and do things for themselves for as long as possible.
Dementia care do's and dont's:
A friendly chat and even a short interaction is proven to greatly help reduce isolation and improve socialisation skills, particularly if your conversation partner is living alone or in a residential home, they could possibly feel lonely often. If your loved one has dementia, it’s additionally important to engage in conversation to help them reminisce on positive memories and feelings, a great way to do this is with a talking photo album.
If the person with dementia is going through the later stages, communication may become more difficult but it is a necessary way for them to express their thoughts and feelings and to understand what is being communicated. Some ways you can help them to do this are:
- Enhance communication by speaking clearly and slowly but not too loud, always face the person when talking and use short, familiar words and sentences.
- Allow sufficient time for them to respond, ask only one question or instruction at a time and make sure you say it positively, instead of saying “don’t go into that room” say “let’s go over here”.
- Address their feelings and avoid arguing or disagreeing with them. Avoid reorienting the person to reality if they believe it is a certain year, and it is not harming anyone, don’t try to convince them it's not and instead try to identify their feeling towards that time by asking more about it.
Keep it in a calm environment.
People with dementia can get confused easily in environments with a lot of objects and colours. For example, mirrors can be a problem if the individual struggles to recognise themself or sees something frightening in the reflection, and patterned carpets can look like moving snakes or insects. As this can be very disorientating for someone with dementia, it’s important that your conversation takes place in a calm and quiet environment so that they can stay focused and relaxed when interacting.
Accept that they will struggle with memory
Depending on what stage of dementia your loved one is going through, they may get muddled with names, places and faces, and might not recognise who you are. Whilst this can be upsetting, it’s better to accept this and come to terms with it rather than trying to make them remember.
While it can feel irritating to have to keep repeating things, snapping at or getting frustrated with your loved one can distress them and confuse them even more. Avoid asking them if they remember something, even if it’s something recent, and instead you could try gently changing the subject to a topic in their present, such as the weather.
Expect repetitive questions and statements
Similarly, don’t be surprised if your loved one constantly asks you the same question or frequently says the same thing. In their mind, it is the first time they’ve said that particular sentence so they’re unaware of their repetition. Refrain from getting cross or frustrated with your loved one, and instead simply answer their question as you would if they’ve asked it just the once.
Don’t argue or contradict
If your loved one’s dementia causes them to get muddled and believe things that aren’t real, it’s not a good idea to contradict them, as this can cause confusion and upset. Don’t correct your loved one, get annoyed with them or engage in a discussion; instead gently change the subject and divert their attention to something pleasant, like the weather or their outfit.
Create a daily routine
When it comes to daily tasks such as getting dressed, using the bathroom, eating and looking after themselves, these activities can become difficult or forgotten for someone with dementia. It’s important to create a reliable routine with small rituals, if possible one that mimics former habits, as predictability can be calming. A routine can be activated without too little or too much demand and existing capabilities should be used where possible. Letting them do things for themselves boosts self-esteem.
Demonstrate what you want them to do if they are unsure, for example lay clothes out in the right sequence and focus attention on what comes next. When it comes to personal hygiene, this can often be something they will become less interested in during the later stages but it is important to maintain for their health. Allow them to wash themselves if they can and make the experience as relaxing as possible. Bathroom aids can help to create a comfortable and safe area for someone with dementia to either bathe independently or with assistance. For grooming, if the person is unable to do it themselves, a new wave of dementia-friendly barbers are now available in certain locations who create a nostalgic environment for the person to sit and enjoy having their hair cut. Maintaining eating habits is important for their well-being and simple dining aids can help with holding cutlery or eating difficulties such as swallowing.
It is important to be there for your loved one through all stages of dementia, whether you assist with care yourself or often visit them at a care home, although they may not always remember and may develop unusual habits and behaviours, small acts of kindness like the ones given above will help with well-being and in creating a loving and caring environment.
More information and support:
Alzheimer’s Society - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/
Dementia UK - dementiauk.org/understanding-dementia/about-dementia/
Alzheimer’s Research UK -alzheimersresearchuk.org/about-dementia/