Ways to Help Support Dementia Patients
June 24 2020
5 Tips to Promote Dignity, Ease Stress and Bring Joy to Your Patients with Dementia
Caring for someone with dementia requires knowledge of the disease as well as plenty of empathy, patience and compassion. First, it is important to note that dementia is much more than memory loss. It can also manifest as personality changes, moodiness as well as problematic or difficult behaviors such as aggressiveness or wandering. Some patients may become distrustful of family members and caregivers and even experience delusions or hallucinations. Patients may eventually become unable to do daily activities independently, such as getting dressed and toileting. They may become non-communicative nor be able to recognize loved ones.
It is important to be realistic, as a caregiver of a person with dementia. There is no known cure for the disease so success means helping to assure that the person you are caring for is happy, safe and comfortable as possible. Know that there will be good days and bad days and your goal is to promote as many good days and moments as possible for your patient without forcing them.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can support dementia patients to foster happiness, comfort and safety and how you can encourage more good days than bad.
Prepare for the Future
Dementia is a progressive disease and with no known cure, your patient or loved one’s symptoms will worsen as time goes on. This means planning ahead for future challenges to reduce frustrations. Continually reassess their care needs and never get used to the status quo. Care needs will increase as the disease progresses. For family members, this will involve financial planning and looking into skilled care. For professional caregivers, talk to the patient’s family about home modifications or medical aids that may allow them to be more independent or promote safety and comfort. These aids could be as simple as labels items or instructions on how to use the TV remote. It can also mean making bigger changes to the home such as changing out flooring. A shiny floor may look wet or a carpet with swirls could look like snakes to a person with dementia, causing unnecessary fear.
Change Your Communication
It can be frustrating dealing with someone who suffers from memory loss and communication issues. But remember that it is frustrating for them too. Instead of becoming frustrated with them, empathize with them. Make them feel safe rather than stressed and communication will become easier. Dementia patients can become easily agitated, confused and startled so give them plenty of time to speak. Remember that you must speak slower and more simply or less complicated. But also be specific when you need to be. Don’t say, “Sit here.” Instead, say “Sit in the brown chair.”
Be sure to call them by their name when speaking with them. Also, use yes or no questions, rather than open-ended ones. Repeat yourself when necessary, but if something is not being understood, try finding a different, more simple way to say it. Smile at the patient, use eye contact and other types of body language to promote feelings of safety and love.
You also want to ensure that the person you are caring for does not become upset as this is very stressful and it can be hard to calm them down. Use distractions or reword things if the whole truth will upset the patient. For example, if they ask, “Where’s my father?” it may be better to say, “He’s not here right now,” rather than, “He died 30 years ago.” Or if they say they see their mother when she has long since passed away, avoid correcting them. Instead ask them about their experience and go along with it, or acknowledge what they said then distract them with a different activity.
Set a Routine
Develop a daily routine to promote familiarity and comfort, giving the patient plenty of time to do each task. Know that these routines won’t be set in stone, but they do offer a sense of consistency that is comforting to a person suffering from dementia. This routine may include using cues, such as opening curtains in the morning to signify the start of a new day. And of course, involve the patient as much as they are able to in these daily activities. This will help them feel a sense of purpose and some independence. They may not be able to remember how to tie their shoes, but they may remember how to clean their dentures. Let them do what they can as long as they are safe. It is about respect and dignity so focus on what the person can do, not what they can’t.
Make a Connection
Connect with the person behind the disease and be personable. If you are a professional caregiver, learn about the person’s history so that you have something to talk about. Not only that, but it will also help you understand them better. Being able to relate with them will help the relationship you are developing.
Make time for reflecting and reminiscing. Short-term memory issues are a classic symptom of dementia, but that doesn’t mean long-term memories are completely forgotten. Ask your patient or loved one to tell you a happy story about their childhood or young adulthood. Pull out photo albums and look through them. Sharing old stories together can bring them joy.
These tips will help you care for and support dementia patients so they feel more confident, safe and happy. Changing up how you communicate, setting a daily routine along with plenty of patience will help lessen their stress and increase comfort, easing problematic behaviors such as aggression which are often triggered by the patient’s inability to deal with stress. And making a connection with the person behind the disease and sharing stories of the past will help you make a more personal connection with your patient and bring them more joy. Above all, it is about preserving dignity while ensuring safety and changing what you do to promote comfort and ease stress.