Positive dementia action plan: Part 2

Keeping active and sharing the good things in life

At every stage of your loved one’s dementia, you can make a priceless difference to their life.

It may not feel like it if they are unresponsive to things you have tried, or their conversation is such that the lack of feedback from them leaves you feeling frustrated, but you provide a connection to their past that is vital when it comes to bringing therapeutic care to their dementia journey.

Throughout my dad’s dementia, we actively tried to use therapeutic interventions to calm his symptoms of agitation and restlessness, vocalising, becoming upset and distressed, being destructive, or to combat boredom and lack of interest in his surroundings.

We had a huge amount of success, and I would advocate that anyone can have similar positive experiences with therapies personally tailored to each individual living with dementia.

In my father’s case, music was his greatest love, therefore instead of having a television in his room blaring out modern programmes that he had no concept of, we had a CD player and numerous disks of music to match just about any mood, from orchestral to hymns, operetta to popular song, marching bands to show tunes; we even had disks of bird song and steam trains.

His room was filled with books and pictures, and although as his dementia progressed he could no longer interact with these independently, the books could still be read to him and the pictures given to him to hold. He would go to the care home’s main lounge to watch old films, comedies and the major sporting events on the big screen, and we would take him out into the garden as often as possible. Even when dad could no longer participate in gardening, he could watch us and be given flowers to admire.

For other people, painting, drawing or crafts may engage them physically and mentally with something they enjoy. Modelling clay, safe needlecrafts or colouring books can all be stimulating, while making collages by pasting pictures of famous people or events from the past is great at promoting conversation and tapping into memories of days gone by. Pet ‘pat’ therapies or even just miniature life-like soft toys of favourite furry friends can also be wonderful for people with an affinity for animals. I remember one lady at my dad’s home who I had never heard utter a word until one day, when she saw one of dad’s cushions depicting a beautiful horse, her face lit up and suddenly she was talking about horses.

Having dementia often means that exercise is neglected. Unless your loved one walks constantly as part of their dementia, life can become very sedentary and this can lead to additional health problems. If their physical health allows for exercise, then walking, kicking balls or throwing giant balloons, gentle stretches and music-based rhythmical movement are all very beneficial. Equally diet is an essential part of living well with dementia. Enjoying favourite foods prepared with fresh, nutritious ingredients, and recipes that bring reminiscence of days gone by, are wonderful for both good health and happiness.

Dementia can be a very isolating disease, sometimes because the person with dementia loses the confidence to go out, or because carers are anxious about taking their loved one ‘out in public’ for fear of problems or misunderstandings. I won’t pretend that it is always easy to leave the confines of your own home or care home, but my father benefited hugely from trips to the garden centre, coffee shop, pub, open farms and other attractions, or even from being pushed in his wheelchair down the road.

Sunshine and fresh air is good for wellbeing, and a change of scene can be very refreshing for everyone in the family, if the person with dementia is willing to try it. I knew one man who came to visit his mother every afternoon and would take her out to a coffee shop for tea and cake all year round, while another lady was periodically taken clothes shopping by the care home manager. This resident would come back from the shops with embellished cardigans and pretty tops, a happy reminder of her glamorous days dancing the night away on cruise ships.

Things that were once a normal part of life can also begin to slip when people have dementia. Attending church or other recreational or social events can become more difficult, while regular trips to dentists, chiropodists and hairdressers that were commonplace before a person developed dementia, can also become lost in trying to keep up with the many day-to-day challenges that come with the disease. However, maintaining your loved one’s personal appearance, as well as essential healthcare like dentistry, is vital, whilst spiritual and emotional wellbeing is key to avoiding the feelings of depression and worthlessness that often accompany dementia, particularly in the earlier stages of the disease when the person has more awareness of the changes that are happening to them, and perhaps feels very frustrated or frightened.

How you personally choose to make dementia a more positive experience for you and your loved one will come down to that invaluable knowledge you have of their needs, likes, dislikes and what has been important to them in their life. Imparting this knowledge to any professionals looking after them will be crucial, but your personal involvement as their family is what ultimately can make therapeutic dementia care truly successful. Keeping active and sharing the good things in life is what makes living with dementia that little bit easier for you and your loved one, and anything that can help with that is priceless for you both.

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