How to help someone with dementia

Each week, Luca Rado, co-founder of Helpd Ltd – Specialists in Live-In Home Care across the UK, shared his experience of catering to people suffering from the disease to shed some light on how their lives can be improved like that of the caregiver who takes care of them.

This week Luca shared “How to help people with dementia”. The feature details common behaviors of dementia and how you can best address them to make your loved one feel more comfortable, addressing sleep problems, bathing, eating, and providing a balanced diet to avoid further complications.

If a loved one has dementia, it can be difficult to manage emotionally for you and the person affected. There are many ways you can not only help your loved one, but also connect with them. Making them feel as comfortable as possible can go a long way, as dementia can be distressing for everyone involved.

Depending on your situation, you may be spending a lot of time with the person you care for, helping them with daily activities and communicating with them regularly. Whether you’re on hand for a few hours, or perhaps their full-time assistant, the guide below can help you build stronger relationships and prepare you to handle any difficult situations you may encounter.

There are various tasks involved in caring for someone with dementia that require both physical and emotional attention. Physical activities often involve bathing, dressing, washing, and occasionally helping them with meals. Emotional support requires energy and consideration to be that support system they need to cope with their condition. Emotionally, dementia sufferers can experience frequent mood swings and even personality and behavior changes, so this requires you to be adaptable and use certain strategies to cope with their mood at any given time.

Those with dementia may randomly appear distressed, confused, or angry. They can go wild if they feel uncomfortable and insecure, however there are ways to handle it, ensuring a safe environment for you and your loved one.

General behavior

Dementia can affect a person’s confidence, self-esteem, relationships, independence, and daily life. It’s important to remember that they have little control over what they can and can’t remember, so always try to make sure they feel heard with positive gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and non-verbal communication, which can go a long way in maintaining a positive connection. It is important to remember to:

  • Be patient
  • Empathize actively
  • Provide a relaxed environment
  • Offer emotional support
  • Allow plenty of time for activities / tasks
  • Do things with the person rather than for the person
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Offer help in solidarity
  • Break down tasks into manageable steps
  • Adapt to tasks and take into account particular activities
  • Focus on the process rather than completing the tasks

Provide a sense of purpose

Always try to support the person in maintaining abilities, skills and an active social life. It can be as simple as a daily walk, puzzle, board game, or housework. These little things can make all the difference when it comes to creating a comfortable and familiar environment for your loved one. Meaningful tasks and activities can help structure a day and engage your loved one with stimuli they can understand and relate to.

You can let the person assist with household chores such as shopping or setting the table; the most important thing to do is not to dismiss everything as “too much”. This can leave your loved one confused, left out, and even more frustrated.

A healthy and balanced diet

Depending on the severity or stage of dementia your loved one is experiencing, you may find that they struggle to remember to eat or drink properly. They may not realize they are thirsty because they forget to drink and this can get very serious. Dehydration and malnutrition can have serious effects, including;

  • UTI
  • Constipation
  • Headache

Always try to make sure your loved one is hydrated, comfortable and happy.

You can offer them a drink or help them drink if needed. Regular, routine meals are an easy way to make sure they are getting enough calories in their diet. Some dementia sufferers may not recognize food, forget the taste of food and drink, or even refuse and spit food. It is important to be ready for this and not react in a way that could further distress them. If it occurs, respond calmly, looking yourself in the eye and working with your loved one rather than against them, you will find it easier to handle the situation.

People with dementia are never meant to be embarrassing; they don’t understand, so try to be patient and understanding.

Help with incontinence

Another potential problem for dementia sufferers is incontinence, as patients with dementia may forget they need the bathroom which can lead to urinary tract infections, constipation or discomfort. Some simple ways to help your loved one include:

  • Put signs on the door
  • Keep the bathroom door open at night
  • Walks daily, as this can help with bowel movement

Help with washing and bathing

Washing and bathing is a very private thing, and realizing that you may need help with washing and bathing can be hard to accept. It is important to remember that the person needs personal space and as much privacy as possible. Treat bathroom and washing situations with sensitivity, to make sure your loved one can maintain their dignity as much as possible.

Problems with the bathroom

Some of the problems your loved one may have while bathing include distress or anxiety about water; for example, they may worry about falling or that the water is too deep. Therefore, think ahead to make sure there are as few risks as possible. Ask your loved one how they might want to be helped, so you’ll be on the same page and feel in a safe environment with someone they trust.

Sleep problems

If your loved one is having trouble sleeping, you can help them build a routine that ensures they feel as comfortable as possible and can start rebuilding them.

Some simple fixes include:

  • Make sure the bed is comfortable
  • Installation of blackout curtains
  • Make sure there is a night light
  • Have a watch suitable for dementia
  • Limit daytime naps
  • Ensure daily activity

Dementia Care Plan

It is important to know how long you can help take care of your loved one before it becomes too much. It’s never easy to switch to full-time care or a dementia assistant, but it’s important to consider both of your needs or you could be putting your health at risk.

Evaluate how long you can realistically do the things you are currently doing; set up a care plan that is manageable, evaluating what your loved one needs to receive the level of support and care they need. The emotional, social, psychological, and practical impact of full-time care of a loved one with dementia needs to be considered and how long this will be possible.

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