Caring for older relatives with dementia
It can be very upsetting having to witness the decline in the mental abilities of a close relative who is suffering from dementia but with your help, they may still be able to lead an enjoyable life for some time to come.
If you have no idea what to do or what to expect after a recent diagnosis of this condition, the following list of things to consider may be of some help. Please bear in mind that it comes from personal experience rather than professional medical knowledge and should not be taken as such.
Issues to consider
- The person you are looking after may start to feel vulnerable as they realise that their memory is deteriorating and they are no longer able to perform simple tasks with ease. If your relative is used to being physically active and practising a physical exercise system such as tai chi, there is no reason why they cannot continue to so so with your assistance. Helping them to continue doing things that have been a part of their daily routine for years could make them feel more confident and self assured than they would otherwise be.
- Nutrition can become an issue. As your relative’s mental functions deteriorate, they may find it difficult to follow a sensible diet. It is possible that they will wish to eat things that do not really go well together and sometimes they may forget to eat anything at all. By preparing regular meals for them, with fresh, nutritious ingredients, you could help them to remain healthier for longer. If you do not have the time to do this all the time, it might be worth finding out if there is a local meals on wheels service that can deliver food on certain days.
- Boredom is often a problem for people that suffer from dementia. The reasons for this are varied. Some people are incapable of doing the things they used to enjoy, such as reading a good book or watching an action film, simply because they will forget what is happening halfway through the film or book. Others may have physical disabilities such as very poor eyesight that make it impossible for them to read. You can try to alleviate their boredom by buying audio books or, if the problem is due to memory loss, decorate their home with interesting pictures and posters.
- Remembering where everyday items are kept can become difficult for somebody who is suffering from dementia. To avoid this becoming a problem for as long as possible, make sure that everything is kept where it always has been and think about placing simple pictures on cupboard doors to remind your relative what is inside. For example, a picture of a cup and saucer could be affixed to the door of a cupboard that contains cups, saucers and mugs. Forgetting where items such as these are stored can be very distressing for the person concerned so you will be helping them to stay calmer as well as providing practical assistance, by following this suggestion.
- Personal safety can become compromised in the latter stages of the illness. As the condition worsens, it may become dangerous for your relative to be left alone. You might wish to consider finding a place for them at one of the many excellent nursing care homes in Buckinghamshire and other counties across the country. Some of these facilities are housed in sympathetically converted period properties that help residents to retain a sense of normality in their lives instead of feeling like they have been admitted to a hospital.
- Sleep patterns can become very erratic. This is especially so for people that have to take medication for other conditions that makes them feel drowsy during the day. If possible, try to stop your relative from napping during the day as this will exacerbate any problems they are already experiencing with sleeping at night. Since you will most likely be asleep all night, you will not want your relative to be wandering around a dark house on their own, in case they should injure themselves.
- An inability to complete everyday tasks and to look after oneself can cause anxiety and frustration. Try to involve your relative in some of the simpler jobs that need doing around the home, so that they do not begin to feel completely useless. Perhaps they can help you to hang the washing on the line when it is sunny outside or weed the flower beds. Anything that they manage to accomplish will make them feel better about themselves and more relaxed about life in general.
- The more praise you give your relative, the less anxious they will feel. If they should happen to make a mess of the simple tasks they help you with around the house, such as those mentioned above, don’t criticise them for their mistakes. Instead, try to focus on the positive things they achieve and make sure they know how much you appreciate their help.Everybody likes to feel appreciated and dementia sufferers are no different in this respect so it is worth making the effort to communicate your feelings on this matter.
- Bathing may become difficult. Getting in and out of a bath or standing under a shower for any length of time can be problematic for people suffering from dementia. In addition to the risk of slipping and hurting themselves, there is always the chance that they may forget where they are and become disorientated as a consequence. Forgetting something as basic as where you are isa classic symptom of dementiaand can be very frightening for the person involved. You may be able to help by accompanying them to the bathroom but this will depend on how they feel about their privacy.
Many people find it very difficult to cope with the demands of caring for somebody who is suffering from dementia but with some professional help, it could be a little easier than you imagined.
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Juliet Martin is from Peverel Court, a nursing home located in United Kingdom.