Dementia is caused by a number of diseases that affect the brain, the most common being Alzheimer's disease. The way in which dementia progresses is unique to each individual. Dementia often starts with short-term memory loss, but it can also affect mood, speech, emotions and a person's ability to think and make a judgement.
People with dementia can feel sad, confused, disorientated, angry and frustrated about what is happening to them. Because of this, it's important that their friends, family and people in the community understand what dementia is and how it affects people.
Here's what you can do to help someone living with dementia:
1. Make time for them
Make time to have a cup of tea and a chat. Dementia often affects short-term memories more than long-term ones. Spending time chatting and reminiscing about growing up or getting an old photo album out is a great way to trigger favourite memories and help people with dementia feel connected with themselves and the people around them.
2. Show understanding
Dementia may cause your friend or relative to behave in a way that might seem a bit out of character. If this happens, then stay calm, be patient and try to understand why they may be acting in this way.
3. Create dementia-friendly surroundings
Dementia can sometimes affect the way a person perceives objects and their environment. For example, for someone with dementia, swirls on a patterned carpet might look like snakes and dots may look like moving insects.
Mirrors can also sometimes be a problem – whether it's not recognising themselves or seeing something frightening in the reflections. So be aware and make the necessary change to make the surrounding more comfortable for someone with the condition.
4. Be a good listener
This is important for any friendship, but more so if spending time with someone with dementia. Taking the time to listen in a way that reassures a person with dementia is one of the best ways to help them.
Try to keep eye contact, don't interrupt them if they're struggling to speak. It is natural to want to 'help along' if someone keeps forgetting facts and events. Try to embrace what they can remember instead of correcting them.
5. Offer a helping hand
Some people with dementia can experience mobility problems. Their balance and ability to walk may be affected. Offer to accompany them on a short walk or a shopping trip if possible. If not then do some shopping for them and help with housework or gardening.
6. Connect to the person behind dementia
Spend time finding out about the person's history can help you understand them better and give your things to talk about.
An example of this is a true story of an old lady with dementia in a care home, who was always tapping on the table and irritating the other residents. It wasn't until her niece came to visit one day and told them that she worked at Bletchley Park during the second world war and helped crack the famous Enigma code, that it became clear that all her tapping was actually the Morse code.
7. Keep smiling
Body language is very important when you're spending time with someone who has dementia. If they are feeling upset, confused and anxious, then a friendly face and a big smile may help to reassure them.
Dementia help and support
For further help and support with understanding dementia, try one of the following resources:
- Alzheimers: information about dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
- Dementia uk: a charity providing Admiral Nurses for families affected by dementia.
- Dementia friends: learn more about what it is like to live with dementia.
Last updated: 28-11-19
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