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Our Favourite Tips for Caring for Someone Living With Dementia

It's National Carers Week next week, so rather than focus on the children we're looking to those of you with ageing parents

 

When you care for someone who's living with dementia there's never a "one size fits all" set of experiences, emotions and needs. There are no simple answers or magic tricks to help you deal with the difficulties of dementia, but by learning what works for the person you're caring for and trying out strategies that are appropriate for their stage of dementia, you can help them to lead a positive life.

Carers need care too

Carers need to care for themselves too If you're reading this because you're caring for a family member with dementia, you'll recognise a lot of familiar information, but one key piece of advice that often gets overlooked is that you need to care for yourself too and protect yourself emotionally. Research has noted increases in prevalence of rates of depression among carers of people with dementia.

If you don't currently care for, or know someone with dementia chances are you will do in the future. Currently over 250,000 people are living with dementia in the UK and this number is expected to reach two million by 2050.

Caring Hints

Environment

  • Creating a calm and relaxed environment for yourself and the person living with dementia is of fundamental importance. In the long run it can help with a range of dementia related issues such as anxiety, depression, aggression and sleeplessness. A relaxed carer helps the person you're caring for to feel more relaxed too. So what simple things can you do to make an environment more relaxing and help you to care for your companion or family member more easily?
  • Relaxing music from a particularly memorable era can be pleasant for people to hear in the background while they go about their day.
  • Create a calm environment for the person you are caring for Create a 'nest'. Having a comfy, safe place to go to when they're feeling stressed, frustrated, anxious or angry can help to calm down people living with dementia. Making a warm space with blankets and putting it in a place with less noise can create a soothing escape.
  • Removing clutter from a home means there are less potential hazards and when a home is clean and tidy, it feels light and airy. Try using nice smelling scents to give rooms a fresh smell too.
  • Be flexible with your lighting. During the day, it's a good idea to have a light room so that people can see where they're walking and can feel uplifted from natural light. During the night, if they are struggling to sleep, making their room dark and comfortable is a solution - but having night-lights in place is practical too, so falling is minimised.
  • Provide an environment that isn't boring. If you have fun dementia activities and distractions available, then the person you are caring for is less likely to become anxious or wander.

Therapy

  • Animal therapy has been proven to reduce stress. Stroking a dog or cat can be a very relaxing experience and can provide a way to communicate and express feelings.
  • Multisensory therapy is really useful to incorporate into daily life. This means that you should encourage people to taste, touch, smell, see and hear so that their senses are stimulated. It helps with cognitive function and general health and wellbeing.
  • Validating their feelings, instead of challenging them or correcting them can prevent the person from becoming more anxious or fearful. They could be hallucinating or getting confused, but if you argue with them or try to prove them wrong it can make them more frustrated. Validating feelings, comforting the person, accepting their reality and then trying to distract them is a good method.
  • Being tactile can help to calm people down. Gentle massage and calming words can be an enjoyable experience and make them feel comforted and reassured.

Other strategies

  • Making sure the person with dementia eats, drinks and sleeps properly is important. There can be issues with these functions at every stage of dementia; so for example, it's not realistic to expect uninterrupted sleep. But trying to facilitate good eating and good sleeping is a positive step and can maintain health and wellbeing. Just a few tips for sleeping are comfortable bedding, having a bed close to the toilet, correct temperature and sticking to a routine.
  • If someone with dementia becomes violent then it's crucial that you seek help, but it's advisable that you try and identify triggers of aggression. Aggression could be caused by underlying pain, so reviewing their medication with a doctor or having a check-up is recommended.
  • Exercise is one of the best ways of dealing with the many challenges that dementia brings. Gentle exercise like taking a walk or throwing a ball can distract, use up energy and relax.
  • Life-story work is a great way to connect with someone living with dementia. Talking about their life or making a scrapbook they can look back on when they're anxious can help to give them familiarity. It's important that you let the person guide the conversation so you don't guide them towards uncomfortable or frustrating memories.

Adapt advice to your situation

Exercise is good for people living with dementia

Some of the symptoms of dementia we've mentioned are commonplace and affect many people - and they can vary depending on what stage they're at. They are obstacles that can cause distress, confusion and fear, but there are ways of managing these symptoms and you'll find ways to alleviate them as you learn more about dementia.

It's important to note that everyone lives with dementia differently, and it's up to you to decide what works best for you and your companion.

This post is brought to you by Active Minds, an award-winning product design company. They create meaningful activity products for people with dementia.

 
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