Dementia Awareness Week 20 – 26 May
We have 10 tips for readers caring for someone with dementia
To support Dementia Awareness Week, 14-20 May, we caught up with Christina Macdonald, author of Dementia Care: A Guide and the founder of Dementia Help, to offer 10 top tips for readers caring for a family member or loved one with dementia.
Ask friends and family members to do their bit, even if it’s just calling in to see the person regularly or popping round now and then for a cup of tea. It will take the pressure off. Make sure you’re getting all the financial help and support you’re entitled to as well. Ask the local authority (council) for an assessment of the person’s needs to find out if they are entitled to financial support. You might also be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.
Establish a routine
A person with dementia will tend to cope better with structure and a set routine. Where possible, arrange for them to get up and eat at the same time. Help them have a routine to their day that involves certain tasks and chores being performed at roughly the same time. If you need to change their schedule to take them to an appointment for example, allow extra time for them to get ready and don’t pressure them to hurry up. Be aware that a change in routine may cause confusion or mood swings and be prepared to be more patient when that happens.
Don’t take things personally
Many people are under the impression that dementia is mainly about memory loss, but the disease also affects moods, behaviour, language and a person’s ability to judge and make decisions that most of us take for granted. This can cause frustration. Mood swings can be sudden and often without warning. Don’t take it personally if the person says things out of the blue that seem inappropriate or hurtful. It’s usually the disease causing this behaviour.
Look for signs of discomfort
By the same token, a sudden change in mood could mean that the person is in pain or not feeling well. If they seem more confused or disorientated, they may have an infection and should see their GP immediately as they may need antibiotics. Look for other signs of pain such as problems swallowing, them grimacing or clutching their stomach. Always seek medical help and arrange for the person to see their GP if you are in any doubt about their wellbeing as minor changes detected early on could prevent an illness escalating and may even help them avoid a hospital visit.
Encourage social interaction
A person with dementia will function better if they have company and social contact with others. ‘My mother became even more withdrawn if she spent too much time on her own, and would seem very distant and removed if she’d been on her own for a few days,” says Christina. ‘I noticed a difference in her mood, concentration and mental alertness if she had company and interaction with others. She would seem more alert and focused than if she’d been on her own for too long.’
It’s easy to try and take over and do everything for the person, but encouraging them to be independent where possible is going to benefit their emotional wellbeing and self-esteem. Rather than trying to do all their chores, let them perform simpler tasks and focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
Be prepared to listen
Imagine the frustration of waking up on a given day and not knowing what you should do or even what stage of your life you’re at. Dementia can be a very frustrating disease for those affected, so if a loved one wants to talk about their frustrations and voice how they are feeling, encourage them to do so.
There will come a time when the person with dementia won’t be able to live alone and will require 24-hour care. Start having conversations sooner rather than later about the type of care the person would like.
Offload your stress
Caring for a person with dementia can be rewarding sometimes but is also very stressful and tiring. It’s important that you have support from others and can turn to friends and family not only for help with practical tasks but also for moral support. Don’t be afraid to vent your frustrations and talk things through with supportive family members or close friends. You need support too.
Have a hobby
It may sound impossible to find time for you when caring for a loved one, but take time out, even if it’s just once a week, to do something you love, so that you can recharge your batteries. A game of table tennis, visiting a book club or going to an exercise class will all help you manage your own stress levels. A healthy carer makes a good carer.
Christina spent 10 years caring for her mother, Hazel, who had Alzheimer’s Disease and is a speaker at the Alzheimer’s Show sharing her experience and what she learned. The Alzheimer’s Show is in London on June 7 and 8 2019. It’s an amazing source of support, practical help and guidance with a wide range of exhibitors and speakers on hand. All under one roof on one day.
Find out more at https://alzheimersshow.co.uk