Dementia is a condition a person has, but it needn’t define the your loved one. Down deep inside the person you knew still exists. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, but remembering who your loved one was will help you when you are providing care. Although there are no “one-size fits all” solutions when caring for someone with dementia, here are some suggestions you can use.
Treat ‘Lies’ as Truth
People with dementia aren’t ‘lying’ when they tell you something that you know is not true. They firmly believe that what they’re saying is the truth, even if you know it’s not. Telling them that their reality isn’t real Is not always the best approach. In fact, it can sometimes cause severe stress and panic. Wherever possible, treat someone with dementia’s reality as the truth.
In Holland, people have gone so far as to create the village of Hogewey – a ‘dementia village’ where residents believe that they’re living a ‘normal life’ when in fact those around them are caregivers in street clothing, acting as village locals and shopkeepers while also keeping a close eye on everyone. Since many with dementia have forgotten their age and the current era – convinced that they’re decades younger and forgetting members of their family – Hogewey features houses furnished in the styles and fashions of past decades. Of course, that means that current news and sci-fi type movies might be alarming for someone with dementia so care must be taken to make sure the new reality is not too startling.
Use Memory Triggers
Within comfortable limits for an individual with dementia, you can help to trigger memories by showing old photographs, talking about topics they’re familiar with such as the beach trips they used to go on, an old friend, or asking them to tell you about a specific object that they own.
Again, keep in mind that the notion of time is confusing for someone with dementia. Talking about the beach may bring back happy memories, but don’t correct someone with dementia if they reminisce about a 1970 beach trip as though it happened last week!
Help with Hobbies
Someone with dementia generally still has many of the same interests they used to have, even if they’re no longer able to indulge their hobbies as they used to. Where possible, simplify their hobbies so that they are still enjoyable. For a former gardener, for example, have them perform simple tasks like watering a houseplant, rather than maintaining a garden plot, or for an avid dessert maker, have her do a simple baking task with you.
Stay Active and Social
Given the potential for endangering themselves and others around them, and out of concern for their safety, it can be tempting to want to prevent someone with dementia from doing too much. However, social interaction and participation in activities are important for their long-term well-being. As a result, don’t be afraid to plan short trips to quiet places, walks around parks, and supervised visits to restaurants. Yes it can be stressful for you and your loved one. And it can cause alarm in people you encounter. But most people you’ll encounter on these trips are very understanding, as long as you explain the situation when your loved one says something inappropriate or becomes confused and anxious.
Whatever you do, don’t do it alone. Whether you ask for professional help or for support from your family and friends, remember that you can’t do everything alone and that there’s no shame or reason to feel guilty when you need to take a break.