Recently I received a phone call from a friend. Her Dad had just been diagnosed with dementia and she wanted to help her mom and dad cope. I wrote her six tips that I thought would really help all of them make daily living a shared positive experience. And now I’m sharing them with you.
Communicate with Love
Dementia can create havoc with the way we communicate with those we love. It is important to think first about slowing down before you even open your mouth. We are used to a pace of communication that is bewildering to an individual with dementia. So focus on communicating with the person in a friendly, slow and respectful way.
An individual with dementia needs time to process the information they receive, formulate their response, and then express it. You need to give them time to do that. Jumping in to finish their sentences, though done with a desire to help, diminishes them.
Create A Daily Schedule
A daily schedule is important for so many reasons. A structured day allows the individual to feel more at peace and lowers anxiety levels. Individuals with dementia have a great deal of difficulty self-motivating and so having a structured schedule helps them get things done. They also feel like they are part of something and not abandoned or left behind in the general bustle of life.
Some activities that can form part of your daily schedule are: household chores, mealtimes, bathing times, art, music or hobbies, mentally stimulating activities, physical activity, social activities, spiritual and work-related skills such as notetaking. The list can be quite long — but the important thing is to plan your day and fill it. Having activities to participate in creates a positive environment and helps your loved one thrive.
Also think about the time you plan the activities to occur. Plan more challenging activities, such as appointments, in the morning when people are fresh.
As well, make sure that you plan activities that are meaningful and that you enjoy sharing with each other. But most of all, live in the present and enjoy the good days.
Meals Are Important
Eating properly is important. Sufficient nutrition and hydration are key to good brain health. As individuals age they lose their thirst trigger, so it is important for you to ensure they are drinking enough fluids. As well, make sure you offer a balanced diet so that they have choice but are getting the nutrients they need.
Focus on making meals a calming experience without unnecessary utensils. You may want to offer either a spoon or a fork. As well, the research suggests that the color of the dinnerware does seem to matter for food consumption. You may want to try blue or green plates to encourage them to eat.
Support Self-Care and Independence
I recently met with a man who was really struggling with memory issues. One of his overriding concerns was embarrassing himself in front of others and losing his reputation. This natural desire to avoid embarrassment and protect our self-esteem remains in all of us. We want to keep our dignity and, so we need to think about supporting our mom, dad, or spouse in maintaining their self-esteem.
Think about creating an environment where self-care is easy for them.
- Make sure their clothes are easy for them to get into themselves. Elastic waist pants and tops that are easy to put on are important.
- Help them take care of their personal appearance so that they feel good about themselves. They may need help with styling their hair or shaving. A trip to the barber or to the salon may be a good way of helping them maintain good grooming.
- Make sure the bathroom is easy to get to and easy to locate. This may mean putting signs on the bathroom door so that the individual can find it easily. A night light in the bathroom will also make it easy to find, particularly at night. Keep an eye out for pacing or other expressions of frustration. That may indicate a need to use the bathroom
Your key focus is to allow them to be as independent as possible and support them to foster their self-esteem.
Read Their Emotional Temperature
A key idea is to respond to their emotions more than to what they say or do. Often actions are not a direct correlation to their emotions, so you need to be patient and supportive when dealing with behaviour you find frustrating or don’t understand. There is a lot of anxiety underlying many of their actions, so think about giving lots of reassurance in every interaction. A comforting hand placed on their arm can go a long way to reducing their anxiety.
You may also want to remove objects that trigger questions. For example, a coat may trigger them to ask questions about going out now over and over.
Care for Yourself — this is a Marathon not a Sprint
When you are planning your daily and weekly schedule make sure you plan breaks for yourself. One of the easiest traps to fall into is to neglect your own care as you are consumed with worry and concern for your mom, dad, or spouse. Think about caring for yourself as making sure you can continue to care for the one you love. Keep in mind the statistic — 70 percent of individuals over the age of 70 die before the individual they are caring for. Don’t add to that number. Take care of yourself.
Nicole has trained hundreds of professional and family caregivers who have touched the lives of thousands of individuals living with a cognitive impairment. Nicole also holds a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master’s in Law from Queen’s University specializing in Negotiations and is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging.