Reassurance and support are two essentials for those suffering from dementia, in order to help them lead as independent a life as they possibly can. If you have a loved one suffering with the condition, it’s only natural to want to help them in any way you can, but, understandably, this can take a toll. As this week marks Dementia Action Week, we’ve compiled a guide on how you can care for your loved ones whilst staying as positive as possible.
What is dementia?
Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK, and that number is set to grow to one million by 2025, so having an understanding of the condition may reassure many. Dementia is a term that encompasses a set of symptoms relating to brain function. These include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulties with cognitive processes such as problem solving and language
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Sight and hearing loss
- Changes in perception and hallucinations
- Walking about
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and depression
There are many types of dementia; the most common of these is Alzheimer’s disease in which abnormal proteins in the brain cause cells to die.
How can you help?
Remaining supportive and trying not to be too critical is the best way you can help someone with dementia to lead a happy life; making them feel useful and able is very important to most sufferers. In the early stages, memory loss is the first noticeable problem. Providing your loved ones with visual cues will help them to find their way around the house; this could include pictures on doors and cupboards telling them what’s inside, to help them retain their independence.
As the condition progresses, helping them to retain their quality of life is extremely important. This can be achieved by including things like:
- Keeping up hobbies – encourage them to keep up the things they enjoy, whatever this may be. This could be as simple as helping them to do the gardening, keeping a pet or getting out and about.
- Maintaining health and nutrition –people with dementia can experience worse symptoms if they’re in bad health, making sure they get a little regular exercise and eat a balanced diet is vital. This can be difficult, especially as the condition progresses, and people with dementia often forget what they like to eat, refuse or spit out food and ask for strange combinations. Keeping them involved in their meals can help.
- Coping with bladder issues – incontinence can be difficult to deal with for you and your loved one, and it can make dementia sufferers feel even more vulnerable. It’s very common for dementia sufferers to experience incontinence as they may forget where the toilet is or lose the ability to tell their carer. It’s important to be understanding and remember the bladder issues are not their fault. To help, you could put a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door to remind them where it is, make sure the door is unlocked so that you can help if they need it and watch for signs that they might need to use the toilet, like fidgeting and standing up and down.
- Helping with personal hygiene – people with dementia often need help washing, and become anxious at certain elements of personal hygiene, like slipping in the shower. They may not want to be left alone but may resist washing with someone else in the room. Again, leaving the door unlocked may help them to feel more at ease about washing but still allows for independence.
- Aiding sleep – sleep disturbances are common in those with dementia, and many people experience restlessness and wake up frequently during the night. Helping them to practise healthy sleeping habits, such as no daytime naps, regular bed and wake up times and avoiding certain foods, caffeine and alcohol before bed can all aid a good night’s sleep.
On top of all this, you also need to make sure that you’re looking after yourself, to make sure that you and your loved one are both in the best possible health. Having the right support from your GP and other health professionals is imperative to ensure everyone stays happy and healthy.