Getting the news that your loved one has dementia is often an overwhelming and scary experience. It can be difficult to know how best to move forward or what to do next. Over the years we have supported many clients living with dementia and their families. While all families are unique, there are common themes and feelings that come along with loving someone who is living with dementia. In this post we will share some tips on how best to care for someone with dementia, while also taking care of yourself.
One valuable tip that we try to share with our client’s families is the notion of “grace and space”. Give both yourself and the person you love the grace to be less than perfect. Your patience will be tested, you may get frustrated and you might say or do something you think is wrong. We are human and mistakes are to be expected. Giving your loved one grace may mean reminding yourself that they aren’t purposely being challenging or forgetful. Being able to forgive yourself and move forward is essential to your emotional wellbeing.
It is also important to hold space for both yourself and your loved ones. Holding space means allowing room to for you and your loved ones to recognize and acknowledge all of the emotions that come along with a dementia diagnosis. Feelings of grief, loss, frustration, anger and hopelessness are all common and completely valid emotions. Coping with the emotional impact of dementia is every bit as important as managing the day to day challenges.
A few practical tips for caring for your loved one include:
1) Diversion – rather than argue or attempt to coerce your loved one into completing a task, we find it best to divert their attention to something else and try again later. Using humour or reminiscing about stories about the past are both great ways to change tracks and diffuse difficult situations.
2) Reduce distractions – things like tv noise or background conversations can make it more difficult for a person with dementia to focus on the task at hand.
3) Stay calm and kind – while people with dementia sometimes forget facts and details, they do not forget how to read body language and recognize tone of voice. Keeping your voice and facial expressions light, calm and happy will in turn help keep your loved one calm and content.
4) Keep it Simple – When giving instructions or asking questions, keep your requests short and sweet. If your loved one is having trouble following along, move on to something else or come at it another way.
5) Reassure and relate – we use this one quite a bit. If you can see that your loved one is struggling, reassure them that its ok, and relate to them in any way you can. For example, if your loved one is struggling to recall a word, reassure them that it’s perfectly ok, and that it also happens to you from time to time!
6) Play along – if your loved one is getting repetitious, we find it best to just pretend that what they are saying is brand new information. Calmly repeat yourself and even though it’s tough, try to avoid saying things like “you already said that, don’t you remember?”.
7) Ask and encourage – ask politely rather than demand. Encourage your loved ones to do their best by staying upbeat and positive. If you are finding it tough to be positive in the moment, take a few seconds to pause and reset.
8) Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too – as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup! A dementia diagnosis can be particularly hard on the patient’s families. Take deep breaths, try when possible to participate in activities you enjoy and make time to check in with friends. Research local resources and support groups and try to reach out for help before you feel you need it.
For more information about living with dementia visit Alzheimer Society of Canada at alzheimer.ca .
If you feel your family might benefit from in-home support, please reach out to us anytime to set up a complimentary consultation.
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