850,000 people in the UK currently live with dementia. By 2040 the Government predicts that will be 1.6 million - that’s the equivalent population of Birmingham struggling with cognitive abilities.
Early diagnosis helps but so does learning the skills required to assist those living with dementia. With the evidence indicating that 2 in 10 of our ageing population will at some point be diagnosed with dementia, perhaps it’s time we learnt better ways to support, care and communicate?
Here’s our 10 point guide to caring for dementia clients.
What is dementia and Alzheimer’s?
It can be hard to know the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. In simple terms, when the brain in injured, either through stroke or disease, it’s called dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
Dementia is a progressive condition which affects people in different ways. Those with Alzheimer’s may struggle with memory and daily tasks, and others with more advanced dementia conditions will be unable to express themselves clearly or rationally.
10 ways you can care for someone with dementia
When caring for someone with dementia it is important to try to communicate effectively and empathetically, maintain a positive outlook and look for the support and information you need.
1. Slow down
Take it slow. Be patient. The tortoise, and not the hare, will win the race if you want constructive conversation with anyone living with dementia conditions. Those with cognitive impairments need time to process their thoughts. People with dementia can easily pick up on negative feelings. By slowing down, you’ll create an environment where you both feel less stress and more relaxed.
Maintain a sense of empathy. Really try to understand the frustrations which can be symptomatic of dementia. In turn, adjust the way you speak to foster better relationships. By removing any distractions in the room, you’ll simplify the environment and make it easier for your companion to express themselves.
Introduce yourself clearly, keep your tone of voice calm and happy. Be mindful of your physical presence. Standing over someone can feel intimidating so drop down to their level. If it’s appropriate, offer a gesture of comfort and reassurance - like holding a hand - while you speak.
Active listening is a skill for any situation, not just when we are in the company of those with dementia. It is a process of listening attentively, letting your partner speak freely while you paraphrase and reflect back what is said, without any judgment or advice. Show you’re following what is being said by maintaining eye contact, smile and nod encouragingly.
5. Simple language
“Bonjour! Sally here. Look, yesterday, when I spoke with you, do you remember, it was raining outside and the bin man had just been - my what a racket they make - well, I forgot to ask if you wanted any bits and bobs from the local corner shop?”
Bouncy, nice little conversation there isn’t it? Takes a while to get to the point though. For someone with dementia it’s full of idioms and phrases which will cause confusion.
“Hello, it’s Sally. Do you need to buy any food or snacks today?”
Can you note the difference? A lot of ‘warmth’ in a conversation needs to come from body language not from complex words and lengthy questions. Stop frequently throughout the conversation to allow them time to think. This will help limit feelings of frustration and reduce any associated poor behaviours.
Being a caregiver is hard. On some days, nothing will try your patience like caring for someone with dementia. One way to keep your calm is to ‘re-frame’ negative situations.
Remember that all behaviour is communication - even it’s aggressive. Acknowledge your own feelings first and take a moment to let them pass. Then consider what message is behind the negative behaviour. Are they tired? Have you been asking too many questions? Are there too many distractions?
Once you reframe your thinking to be more objective and critical, you can better assess a situation and take the emotion out of it. This is especially important, if you are caring for a loved one.
You’re doing a great job. Accept that some days will be better than others. Be realistic and manage your own expectations so you’re not hard on yourself. Celebrate good days and don’t dwell on negativity. Guilt, anger or sadness are natural reactions on some days. Accept them, let them pass, then get on with life.
People living with dementia often exhibit challenging behaviour when they are unhappy or frustrated. In these moments, reassure them, acknowledge their feelings, empathise and remind them they are in the company of someone who cares for them.
8. Avoiding arguments
Did she just say that?!
We have all experienced that moment, when a comment hits a nerve. We feel hurt, overwhelmed. Unfortunately, dementia causes the brain to function in a non-logical way. The consequence is a person may say something nonsensical or that they don’t mean. While you may feel hurt, there is little benefit in arguing.
Try and let negative comments pass without judgment or acknowledgment and remain calm. Remove yourself from the conversation and give yourself time to let the heat of emotion pass.
9. Learn about dementia
Knowledge is a powerful tool. It can help manage your expectations of those living with dementia. If we understand how the disease affects an individual, we can care in a more effective way. We can view behaviours objectively. We can change our communication style to encourage conversation. We can empathise when times are a struggle. Talk with doctors, research and learn about dementia and you will feel more empowered in those situations.
10. Join a support group
You’ve had one of those days. You feel worn out, emotionally charged and exhausted all at once. You could ring an old friend, chat it out. You could go for a walk and get it out of your system. Both good options. But on some days, we all need the company of others who can truly empathise. Someone who can nod along, offer insights and laugh with us at the moments we can’t control.
Sharing experiences of dementia with a support group can improve your outlook on the condition, help reduce stress levels and ultimately, keep you feeling happy. Find out more about support groups near you.
How Curam can help
Becoming a caregiver can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be frustrating at times. Curam carers can offer respite care, or specialist dementia care. You can choose if you want care support for a few hours, a few days or full-time.
Having a break from care is important. Join today to find a Curam carer that can help - help you stay positive and find time for hobbies or self care so you can remain the best caregiver for your loved one.