Guardian Carers Feature on BBC News London

10 Tips for getting dementia patients to cooperate

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Dementia affects millions of people in the UK. Dementia manifests itself in different ways for everyone. People who suffer from dementia experience a completely different world than the other people around them who do not have the condition.

The experience of a person with dementia is not all down to their symptoms. The symptoms are in fact the result of their environment, their relationships to the people around them and the support they receive. If you are caring for a person with dementia, it’s essential that you get to truly understand what they are going through. Your relationship with a person with dementia will be fundamental to their wellbeing. Building or maintaining personal relationships with people with dementia can help them feel valued and supported.

As mentioned above, each person with dementia is different. Their experience is influenced by their life history, personality, likes and dislikes. When you care for a person with dementia you should aim to focus on what they still have and influences their present life rather than what their life was like in the past. Understanding how they will help you understand the way they behave. This is the first step in getting dementia patients to cooperate. Here are 10 other ways to get dementia patients to cooperate in different instances of life:

1. Be willing to compromise

It’s well-known that often times it can be quite difficult to get dementia patients to cooperate in even the seemingly easiest tasks, such as showering. It’s important to be able to compromise. This way, you will avoid their mood getting worse. If they do not want to shower, at least agree to wash their hair or have a sponge bath, for instance.

2. Use bribery if necessary

This touches on the same point as above when trying to get dementia patients to do something they may not particularly be keen to do. If you make a request which is met with resistance, try adding bribery to it. This may be something like “If you wash your hands before you eat, you will get to eat your favourite dessert after” or “We will go on a walk”, etc.

3. Don’t take “no” personally

When a dementia patient that you care for refuses to cooperate and says “no” to you, remember that they are not in a position to use their judgement as you are able to. Them saying “no” is not a rejection to you.

4. Use three tries rule

When trying to get a dementia patient to cooperate, you may encounter more than one obstacle. The above-mentioned tips may not work all the time. What the three tries rule refers to is using three different ways of getting the dementia patient to cooperate and get them from saying “no” to “yes”. For example, if you are trying to get them to bake something together and they say “no”, the second time around add some information from their life, such as “You used to bake this for me all the time when I was little”. If they still decline, use personal touch or the afore-mentioned rewards.

5. Offer choices

It’s always better to offer dementia patients options. For example, when they have breakfast you may ask “Would you like to eat right now or would you prefer to eat in an hour?”. This way they will make their choice, and not decline the request if they only had the option to eat.

6. Ask simple questions

It’s easier to get a dementia patient to cooperate if you ask them simple questions which they can answer with “yes” or “no”. When they need to get dressed in the morning you can ask “Would you like to wear the blue trousers or the black trousers?”. This is better than just giving them the outfit and making them wear it. Even a better thing to do is actually showing them the options and making them pick.

7. Use the right body language

Body language is an essential part of communication for all of us. But it is particularly important when communicating with dementia patients and trying to get them to cooperate. Using hand gestures and facial expressions will help you get the message across easier. Pointing or showing certain things will also help. Even more important is touching the dementia patient or holding their hand. This way they can maintain their attention on you. You show them that they have your support.

8. Do not force them to do something

This point is particularly important. If any of those previous tactics do not work in getting them to do something you want them to, do not lose your patience and above all, do not force them to do something they express they do not want to do. This will get them agitated and most likely lead to aggression. You may try again after a couple of hours after you’ve done something to distract them, such as watching their favourite TV show or going for a walk.

9. Use distraction

When dementia patients are unwilling to cooperate in doing thing such as taking their medicine, bruising their teeth or getting dressed, you may use a distraction which will help to take their mind off of what they are requested to do. A good technique comes from music therapy, which has long been used in the treatment of dementia. You can play their favourite songs which will dramatically change their mood. This may make dressing up a particularly fun time of the day for both of you!

10. Pay attention

This is quite an essential tip, but paying attention to what the dementia patient is trying to communicate through their behaviour can often be overlooked. If you can understand the root of the cause, what makes them act stubborn or be agitated, for example, you will be able to deal with these situations easier and prevent them from getting more difficult.

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