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Dementia can be a difficult time for both the person living with the condition and their loved ones. Knowing how best to engage with and help a relative or friend with dementia to maintain their quality of life can be complicated and dementia care will often need to be tailored to suit the individual. Here is some advice on how you can help someone with dementia.
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"People with dementia are individuals and should not be described as being similar to children when their rights are challenged."
Understand what your loved one enjoys and how they like to be interacted with. It’s important to build everything around that knowledge. You can’t treat people with dementia as a homogenous group – everyone is different and will need to be treated as such.
Over time, dementia will affect the way a person communicates, which can include delayed responses and a struggle to remember words. Start by encouraging them to communicate as much as possible, speak slowly and clearly while making your sentences shorter (this can include making questions less open-ended), don't patronise or ridicule as this will only cause upset and rephrase the question if they are struggling to answer it.
It's also important to remember, though, that communication doesn't have to be verbal - body language (including touch) and tone of voice can really make a difference. Be sure to listen more carefully too and give your loved one your full attention when they are communicating with you.
"Music is good - Age UK have a radio station called The Wireless which plays the music of previous eras."
Include your loved one in activities they enjoyed before they were diagnosed – baking, craft making, watching sport, listening to music etc. It’ll help them feel involved and empower them to continue doing the activities they once enjoyed even if they might be a bit more difficult.
"The past is the place dementia sufferers seems to feel happiest and safest."
Keeping a box full of items from your loved one's past that might jog memories and feelings is a great way to help them remember happy occasions. Looking through albums full of old photos and watching family videos can help them to reminisce.
For people living with dementia, older memories can be more accessible than recent memories, so taking a trip down memory lane with them is invaluable and may just promote feelings of safety and calm.
"It's all about being safe. My aunt used to love going to a local garden centre to see the flowers."
Being outside provides the opportunity to exercise and get some fresh air, and it also helps to relieve tension and anxiety. Take a walk or just sit outside (when the weather lets you, of course!) and help them to enjoy small moments in the present.
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iPads and other tablets are proven to have a substantial benefit for people living with dementia*. They can calm, engage and aid reminiscence and ensure people stay connected to family members.
For one-to-one use, try apps like YouTube, Google Street View and Skype. If you’re in a group, try Pictionary. YouTube and Google Street View are great apps to aid memory - try looking up songs and videos from different eras, as well as old addresses.
"If she has difficulty working the iPad, turn on Guided Access."
Set the screen brightness to maximum, use a case where possible to help the iPad stand on its own, increase the screen contrast, enlarge the text or turn on Guided Access. All of these small tweaks can help your relative use technology more easily.
"If he forgets or repeat things, don't get annoyed - he cannot help it."
People living with dementia may repeat themselves and become confused, which may lead to a loss of self-esteem and confidence. As part of your dementia care, acknowledge what they’re saying, and talk to them calmly to avoid increasing their anxiety levels.
Remaining positive during times of confusion can really help to ensure them that they have your support and that they are still the same person.
Colour contrasts are a quick and effective way to help items stand out from their surroundings. Painting walls, doors and furniture in different colours all help to reduce confusion. Clear signs also help when identifying different rooms or furnishings.
Cook a meal that's full of different colours - don't make food that is all beige and split up similar colours where possible, i.e. separate potatoes and chicken with some green vegetables. This will help a loved one living with dementia to recognise that there are different foods on their plate.
One of the major struggles and fears of someone suffering with dementia is that they will lose their independence, so it's important that you make sure their life stays as 'normal' as possible for as long as possible.
That's not to say you can't help with tasks when needed - breaking down tasks into manageable stages can often stop them from becoming overwhelmed or upset, but it's vital that you don't take over. Patience and support is key.
*Anchor and the University of Worcester have published the results of a study looking at how iPads can improve quality of life for people with dementia.