Living with dementia is incredibly difficult for those who are affected by it and also for their family and friends.
As the person’s mental capabilities begin to decline, they can feel scared and vulnerable and may require increased levels of help and support. There are a number of things that family, friends and other carers can do in order to help the person retain their sense of self-worth and independence.
To mark Dementia Awareness Week (May 18 – 24) here are some tips and advice on caring for someone with dementia from Ripaljeet Kaur, BME Dementia Worker at Touchstone.
It is very important that the person eats a healthy, balanced diet, as this will help not only with their physical health, but also with their mental wellbeing. A poor diet can lead to tiredness, weight loss, muscle wastage and infections. As the illness progresses, difficulties with communication and co-ordination may mean the person doesn’t eat or drink regularly, which can lead to dehydration, constipation or even malnutrition.
Providing regular meals and snacks is essential. You may find that their appetite decreases over time, so offering small meals throughout the day can be effective as it is less overwhelming then three larger meals.
Prepare their favourite meals, as this familiarity will help to encourage them to eat although don’t be afraid to introduce different flavours and colours to the meals as this can also stimulate their senses and increase their appetite.
Try different textures if the person is struggling to chew or has lost the co-ordination to cut up their food. Introduce ‘softer’ food such soups, casseroles, rice dishes and eggs.
Keep mealtimes as calm and relaxed as possible.
Maintaining a person’s physical health is key in managing their mental decline. Keeping active helps to sustain their independence as well as keeping them fit. Encouraging exercise such as walking, gardening and even chair-based exercises can all have a positive effect.
It is important to try and maintain a good sleeping pattern. As the person’s condition worsens they may find sleeping more difficult because they are disorientated or restless and so wake more often in the night. Changes to their medication can also affect their sleep patterns, as can issues with incontinence.
Following a bedtime routine can help to reinforce a good sleep pattern, as can limiting or even removing daytime naps and cutting back on caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
Establishing a set routine is vital in a time when the person may feel disorientated and vulnerable. Encouraging them to continue with their hobbies, clubs and meeting with friends can help them to create a sense of structure in their lives.
As the dementia increases, it may be helpful to use memory aids around the home. This could include sticking pictures on doors to show what’s inside and creating and labelling set places for everyday items such as a the TV remote and door keys.
Involving the person in day to day chores can also help to structure their day, delay their mental and physical decline and increase their sense of worth.
Supporting the individual to keep up regular interaction with medical professionals such as the GP, dentist and dietician is likewise important. Keeping physically healthy will help limit illnesses and infections which can worsen the person’s mental state.
Making Time for You
Caring for a loved one with dementia is often exhausting and time consuming. It can be easy to lose your own sense of routine and become absorbed in the care that you are providing, but it is vital that you make time to look after yourself. All of the advice mentioned above applies equally to the people who are caring for someone with dementia and if you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that there are support groups available who can give you help and advice should you need it.