Here’re our 5 tips for caring for someone with dementia.
1. Be mindful of your body language and positioning
Non-verbal communication is very important for those with dementia. Indeed, as their condition progresses, your body language and facial expressions may become even more significant in communication.
A person with dementia will be closely reading your body language and a sudden or negative approach may cause anxiousness or distress. There are some steps you can take to help ensure a positive interaction, these include:
- Communicate at their eye level. If they’re sitting, then you should sit too. Avoid intimidating stances (e.g. towering above them) and respect their personal space. This will help the person feel more comfortable and in control of the interaction.
- Approach them slowly from where they can see you. Don’t startle them or approach from behind. A soft, slow approach gives their brain time to process your movements.
- A warm smile and some laughter can help them read the situation easier and not feel defensive.
- If the situation is appropriate, an arm around the shoulder or slight touch can be comforting.
2. Use simple language
Aphasia is a significant symptom that makes it hard for a person with dementia to:
- Understand speech
- Remember the right words to use
- Process what others are saying.
Aphasia typically worsens as the disease progresses making it increasingly difficult to communicate.
If your loved one is struggling to connect information with clear ideas there are some steps you can take to simplify the interaction.
- Avoid asking open-ended questions. Instead of asking “What do you want for lunch?” ask “Do you want a sandwich for lunch?”
- Talk in a slow, gentle manner.
- Focus on one topic at a time, while keeping your sentences short and simple.
- Be patient and give them time to understand.
- When talking about other people reiterate who they are. Instead of saying “Lisa is doing well” say “Your daughter Lisa is doing well.”
3. Create a peaceful environment
A calming environment is beneficial for everyone. It can help a person with dementia to feel peaceful and minimises distress and confusion.
In contrast, clutter bombards the mind with stimuli. Excessive clutter creates visual ‘noise’ that makes it harder to process the environment around you.
To create a calming environment look at the lighting, noise and organisation of the room, even the colour scheme and smell can make a difference.
Simple ways to create a peaceful environment include:
- Limit competing noise. Don’t have the TV and the radio on at the same time. Try soothing background music instead.
- Organise and de-clutter space by clearing out old items or packing them away.
- Open the blinds and windows during the day to make the room bright and airy.
- Stick to subtle colours rather than bold, bright patterns or colour contrasts.
- Invest in calming scents like fresh flowers or lavender.
4. Master a routine
The unknown is scary for many people, especially those losing control of their cognitive abilities and independence. Those with dementia thrive on familiarity and establishing a routine is a great way to make the person feel comfortable and limit confusion.
When creating a new routine your number one goal should be to make it simple and tailor it as closely as you can to their past routine.
Because they struggle with short-term memory loss, learning a completely new schedule can be difficult and distressing. Knowing their routine and doing it for themselves for as long as they can is important in instilling a sense of independence and can even help them retain their abilities for longer.
When creating a routine it’s important to:
- Stay flexible and understand that what they can do now may be different from what they can do in 6-months time.
- Include physical exercise like going for a walk or even doing light aerobic exercises at home.
- Create a sense of time with your activities by opening the curtains in the morning or turning the TV off when it’s time for bed, allowing them to recognise non-verbal cues.
- Add therapeutic activities like arts and crafts or listening to music that may help spark memories.
5. Be patient
Caring for a person with dementia is difficult. And it’s normal to have days where you’re exhausted, sad and frustrated. At times remaining patient can be easier said than done but there are tips you can try that may help:
- Communicate slowly and clearly giving them plenty of time to speak.
- Talk to a medical professional to truly understand what your loved one is going through and what to expect in the future.
- Understand that you don’t have to do this alone and can share the load.
- You don’t need to react straight away, take a breather and think about the best way to navigate issues that arise.