Dementia can be a sad, stressful disease for the victim, but also for their family, friends, and carers. A diagnosis of dementia is not the end of the world since many people with dementia go on to live years longer and can still have happy lives.
With the right support and help, the victim can go on to live a meaningful life, and those providing care can do so with a minimal amount of stress. As such, this article outlines what you can do to help support someone who is living with dementia, as well as offering you some advice on how to look after yourself.
Caring for someone with dementia
Dementia is a degenerative illness, meaning it gets worse over time. However, this means in the early stages of a diagnosis someone with dementia can likely have minimal difficulties with performing tasks on their own. But, as time goes on and symptoms begin to worse, it is normal for the sufferer to become anxious about the future.
It is important here to support the person through the maintenance of skills and abilities that give them an active social life; this makes them feel like they are still an active part of society, as well as meaning they don’t spend their whole time stressing.
As they begin to worsen, if they want to help, you should allow and encourage them to help with basic everyday tasks. Gardening, walking the dog, doing the dishes etc. This means they don’t feel like they’re being forced into inactivity and helps maintain a level of fulfilment and normalcy.
When their memory begins to worsen, it is worth making the home more dementia-friendly. Put labels or signs, in word or picture format, around the house to help them discern where things like cutlery go.
Likewise, as the condition worsens, you may find the person’s dementia causes them to have difficulties with food and drink. For example, they might not realise they are hungry or may forget their preferences. This can become more dangerous if they have allergies, in which case it is important for you to be aware of them.
If its possible, involve them in the meal making process, again so that they are active. Try and prepare meals that are balanced, to help with a healthy lifestyle. You can keep them involved with shopping if you both want that, but always check what they pick up or buy; this will prevent complications from the aforementioned forgotten allergies.
As dementia can cause motor difficulties, offer finger foods if they have issues using cutlery properly, and make sure any glasses or cups are easy to hold. Make sure they have regular appointments with their dentist, to ensure good dental hygiene.
Sleeping can become difficult for someone with dementia, due to problems with their ‘internal clock’ being disrupted. They may not be aware of the time of day, so may try to get up during the night and begin the day before it is time to.
It’s important to note that this part of dementia is often not permanent, and will fix itself over time, but you may be able to help by making sure there is a good amount of physical activity during the day. This helps to regulate the body, and the tiredness from the activity will help in sleeping.
Don’t allow caffeine or other stimulants after a certain point at night so that they do not keep the person up. Installing blackout blinds will avoid the late nights and early mornings of summer disturbing sleep, and installing a dementia-friendly clock that displays whether it is day or night can also help.
Hygiene -more specifically bathing and showering- is also a difficulty with living with dementia. People might become anxious about the process of having a bath, such as fearing the water is too deep, or they may forget how to do it for themselves. Therefore it is possible that they will need assistance in these matters.
Try and keep their preferences reasonably considered; ask them how they would prefer to be helped, reassuring them that you won’t allow them to get hurt. Bath seats can be great in alleviating the stress of being fully in the water. Handheld showers are also very helpful in washing from a closer distance (to alleviate the possible stress of the water rushing noisily), and for helping them to wash.
It’s important to remember that it is likely there will be a level of embarrassment from the person for having someone see them undressed or awkwardness on your part for seeing them undressed.
You’ve got to be sensitive and respect their dignity. If the pair of you have a good relationship, a measure of humour will probably defuse it. Likewise, over time, you will get used to helping them, so even if their memory difficulties cause them to forget what its like to be helped by you, you will still learn how to make them calm.
Dementia – How to help yourself as a carer
As said, caring for someone with dementia can be stressful and upsetting, so it is important for you to take care of yourself. You should speak to your GP about getting registered as a carer, which will entitle you to certain benefits. Taking a carer’s assessment is free and can help train you in some things (like lifting safely) to make things easier.
Training is something you should also consider. You could enrol on an online dementia training course to learn how to deal with ongoing issues. These courses are often self paced allowing you to learn at a time this in convenient for yourself. Take a look at our full list of Mental Health care courses for more information.
There are lots of support groups out there who will be able to give you advice and camaraderie, as well as plenty of helplines (such as the Alzheimer’s Society’s National Dementia Helpline) to offer support.
You should take breaks from caring, be it with the help of family or friends looking after your person with dementia so you can have a day of, or with the help of your local carers’ centre.
If you are struggling to cope, it may also be worth trying to arrange counselling through your GP or direct referral. Also you could look at an e-learning stress awareness course to help further look after yourself.
Dementia Further Reading
The NHS website has plenty of information about both dementia and the care involved with it: NHS
The Alzheimer’s Society has factsheets about a various number of the discussed difficulties and is a generally good source of information about dementia and life with it: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living