Guardian Carers Feature on BBC News London

Dementia Do’s and Don'ts

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If you care for someone who suffers from dementia there are a few things you should do and some you would avoid doing. This will help you in caring for them and at the same time, it will make their life better.

The first and most important thing to remember when caring for someone who suffers from dementia is understanding what they are going through. Approaching a person with dementia in the same way you would approach anyone else is not going to work. If you are not committed to understanding what dementia is and what effect it has on the person suffering from it, you will not succeed in making their life better.

The way a person with dementia feels is more complex than what they show through their symptoms. The way that you interact with them, the support that they feel they’re offered as well as the environment that they’re in shapes the way they communicate and behave. Personal relationships, for instance, are essential for a person with dementia. Knowing that they have your support and show that you understand them can be extremely helpful to them. Ultimately, all that a person with dementia wants is to feel that they are heard, that they are taken into consideration. Following a few essential do’s and don’ts will allow you and them to live a better life.

Dementia Do’s

Do be patient

Patience is key when it comes to caring for a dementia patient. Instead of getting annoyed and frustrated with what is happening, try to pause and realise that the dementia person sees the world in a completely different way than you do. Try to speak to them instead, making them aware of what is happening in the moment.

Do listen

We’re used with living in a fast-paced world and receiving information quickly. But in the case of dementia patients, oftentimes they may struggle for words and it’s hard for them to communicate what they are feeling or what they need. Wait for them to form their own sentences and if they struggle, help them out but do not rush them.

Do make eye contact

Making eye contact goes hand in hand with listening to the dementia patient. Looking them in the eye when they are trying to communicate something to you will make them feel that they are really listened to, that you are there for them and you support them.

Do use body language

Using body language is a very useful skill in our daily lives and it’s no different when it comes to communicating with a dementia patient. Using certain hand gestures or facial expressions will help make yourself understood.

Do compromise

Getting someone who struggles with dementia to do something can often be a particularly difficult task. Getting them to compromise will increase your chances of them actually doing what you are asking of them. Compromising leads to an agreement more often than assertiveness.

Dementia Don’ts

Don’t get tense

One of the worst things you can do if you care for a person who suffers from dementia is getting tense because they will feel it instantly. While it may not be easy at first to accept what they are going through, you should remember that they don’t have the same ability they used to have.

Don’t assume they don’t understand

This is again, one of the worst things you can do to someone who suffers from dementia. Assuming they don’t understand the message you are trying to convey and giving up on communicating with them will only make them feel pushed to the side. Also, include them in conversations related to them. Despite not being able to communicate effectively, they will still be able to understand.

Don’t say things related to their memory

Avoid saying things like “Do you remember?”, “Try to remember!”, “Did you forget?”, “How could you forget?” or anything along these lines. A person who suffers from dementia will recall memories from their past and they particularly enjoy talking about them. Do not ask them to tell you anything specific. Just allow them to tell their story and ask general questions.

Don’t talk in a noisy environment

When trying to communicate with a person with dementia avoid doing so in a noisy place. People with dementia generally suffer from hearing loss and may already struggle to understand what you are saying. Being in a noisy place will only make it more complicated for them or even discourage conversation and lead to agitation.

Don’t patronise them

Using patronising language or even worse “baby talk” will hurt the person with dementia or even make them feel angry, which can lead to some very difficult behaviour. Despite thinking that persons with dementia may not understand us, they can feel such things.

Caring for someone with dementia can be an arduous, stressful and particularly emotional journey. At the same time, most carers admit that it’s also a particularly rewarding experience, whether they are caring for a family member or caring professionally.

Following certain key steps when caring for someone with dementia will make your journey and theirs substantially different. As mentioned above, caring for someone with dementia is emotional and it’s based very much on feeling. Someone with dementia can pick up easily on feelings and emotions and you should too. This is the key to dementia care. Truly listening to what the person with dementia needs will help you understand why they are behaving the way that they are and how these behaviours can be avoided, with the aim of improving their life altogether.

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