Caring for an individual with dementia can be a difficult task. You never know what the day will bring or what to expect, and you have a perfectly healthy brain. Imagine how the person with dementia must be feeling. There is a gradual increase in their state of confusion and a loss of personal memories.
As a caregiver it is your upmost responsibility to maintain this person’s sense of self-identity. In a time where everything seems out of their control, you should try to give them a positive sense of self. It is important that you focus on the individual’s positive attributes, rather than the negative. You should also support the way they choose to present themselves, and try to reduce embarrassment as much as possible. Sometimes situations occur in public that you cannot control, and others may not understand the circumstances. You can have business cards made that say “The person I am with has dementia. Please be patient. Thank you.” This way people around you do not create an even bigger scene, and your actions are discrete enough that the individual is not embarrassed.
Keep the individual engaged with fun activities that he or she would like to participate in. It is important that individuals with dementia have a sense of belonging. Sometimes a meaningful, failure-free activity is all they need to feel better about themselves. Regular physical activity such as stretching or walking is a great option. It can help improve one’s mood, reduce stress and increase energy. Other projects such as listening to music, drawing, or working in the garden are extremely therapeutic. Music has a calming effect on the brain that can prove valuable in a strenuous time. Activities like drawing or working in the garden allow the individual to work with their hands and see a finished product they can be proud of.
Plan your day ahead of time with the purpose of having a meaningful day in mind.
- Plan simple, goal-oriented tasks rather than diversional ones.
- Do not force the individual to participate in activities. Allow them to join in when they feel ready.
- Draw on their deep memories to increase familiarity. Preferences and hobbies from their past should be used in daily life experiences
- Have the individual help you in the kitchen, without using any of the big appliances. They can help you by washing the vegetables, sweeping the floor, buttering biscuits, putting sugar on the strawberries, etc. There is a sense of accomplishment and familiarity without any real immediate danger.
In summary, when caring for an individual with dementia it is important that you strive to accomplish certain tasks everyday. Show them respect; encourage them to be independent; communicate appropriately and effectively; understand their unmet needs and do your best to accommodate them; plan stress-free care routines; and provide a safe and productive environment.
For more information on changes you can make to be a more effective caregiver, whether in someone’s home or in a long term care facility, please visit the Victorian Government Health Information website at http://www.health.vic.gov.au/dementia/changes/personal-identity.htm
Here is a link to a helpful video resource for caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. http://www.hbo.com/alzheimers/caregivers.html