Receiving a diagnosis of dementia comes with a multitude of emotions; devastation, fear, shock, panic and bemusement. But sometimes it can be a sense of relief and hope!! Yes, relief and hope. Please bear with me. Fear is often caused by the unknown, uncertainty of what lies ahead and having to face up to a future that wasn’t planned for. My column is here to offer hope and comfort by helping you understand what is happening to your loved one living with dementia. I am going to introduce you to some tips and some great enjoyable approaches to help overcome some of the difficulties you may be experiencing and to make sure you remain connected with the one you love. We are going to be looking at understanding how dementia affects the person, particularly in relation to space and time, the importance of your environment wherever you live, inside and out, exploring life histories together, making the most of the senses and some simple activities and tips that may help to keep your relationships alive and give you all a sense of wellbeing.
People with dementia may become disorientated to time and space, they need to be in a relaxing and familiar environment surrounded by people who know them or know their life history in order to feel safe and secure. They also need to be around people who understand the nature of dementia. Involve friends and family, children can be particularly intuitive and offer a great source of love. Get your family and friends to read this too so that they can be more involved.
One of the first things you can start doing now is to get out the old photographs together and sit down with a cuppa and enjoy spending the time together. Often when we are in the midst of caring we are so busy doing, that we stop being. Sometimes we have to stop caring and just spend time together enjoying each other’s company (this is actually caring). Remember when going through your photo albums together, the facts of the names of places, people and times aren’t necessarily important, these memories may not come easily but the memories of feelings and emotions stay around for much much longer for a person living with dementia. Whilst it is lovely for you to mention the names of people and places, and it is good to do this, don’t try to test your loved ones’ memory. If you have any holiday photographs, you may want to find some souvenirs around the house to go with them. Use of all of the sense can help. We have to bear in mind whether your loved one can see the photos easily so make sure there is plenty of light, if they wear glasses, make sure they are clean. Sometimes people can have difficulty with their vision due to age and the dementia, so a trip to the opticians is important. Also you may want to get some family members help you get your photographs blown up to a larger size and laminate them or get them digitalised so that you can view them on a large screen almost as a film show.
Think of their hearing as well, make sure that if they wear a hearing aid that the ear isn’t blocked with wax, hearing aid is in and switched on with the battery working!! You may want to speak to your GP about arranging checking their hearing. Do you have any music that would go with your memories? Music can have a fantastic effect, put it on, you may find yourself dancing again (of course only if you feel it is safe to do so, dancing in the chair can also be great), and certainly singing together gives a great feeling (None of us remember all of the words, so that doesn’t matter).Touch is a very important sense, the feel of the cloth of a bathing suit or the touch of seashells helps with the senses and feelings. And when you can find time or ask a family member, get some ice cream or food and drinks that have a connection with your memories (maybe a picnic hamper). This may be a good approach if your loved one sometimes is reluctant to eat or drink. We all love to reminisce and feel nostalgic so give it a try.
This can also be done with other family members, friends of befrienders whilst you have a break. Keeping someone engaged in activities helps to keep them interested and stimulated and may help them get a better night’s sleep if it stops them dozing throughout the day too much. It also shows to younger family members that history continues to live within their older relative and that they will learn a lot about the past and share in a great moment in the present.
When living and/or caring for someone with dementia we have to learn to change and move into their world, which isn’t always easy, but I assure you, that if you can start to do this, you will continue to connect and communicate together and this will help with both of your feelings of wellbeing. These approaches can be done at home or if your loved one is in residential care, get someone to help you take in your memory props and you can enjoy your reminiscence together when you visit them.