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8 Ways to Help A Loved One with Dementia

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In honor of the 33,000 Nebraskans who live with dementia and in recognition of June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, here are 8 ways to help a loved one with dementia.

Communicating:

  1. Be patient. The changes in a person due to dementia make communication more difficult and behavior less predictable.  Patience is crucial. Adopt new communication methods, such as limiting instructions to one step at a time.
  2. Support focus. When you’re speaking with someone with dementia, begin by removing audio distractions. Approach to within a distance of about an arm’s length, and stand directly in front of the person. Call the person’s name to direct his attention to you and help bring him back into the present moment.
  3. Be compassionate. Someone with dementia may experience anxiety and may or may not be able to communicate feelings of fear, helplessness or pain. Be aware of his daily diet and sleep patterns, as these can affect levels of anxiety. Determine no injuries are present and there is no need for the restroom.  A gentle hand on the arm and a calm, even tone can help diffuse a situation.

Promoting calm:

  1. Minimize agitation with soft sensory experiences. Soothing music and soft voices can create a calm and comforting environment for people with dementia. Bright lights should be softened. Keep soft things on hand such as a favorite blanket or a stuffed animal
  2. Be consistent. Successful primary caregivers set up a routine for activities, such as water color painting every Thursday at 3:00 p.m.  Mentally engaging pass-times, such as jigsaw puzzles, or reminiscing when looking at a photo album, help maintain cognitive abilities.  Home Care Assistance’s Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, has many appealing activities designed for positive mental stimulation.
  3. Monitor nutrition. It may be helpful to supply multiple small meals throughout the day instead of the conventional three meals a day. In addition, encourage drinking water.  Between 5 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of daily, depending on the person’s weight, is appropriate.
  4. Focus on the feelings, not the facts. If a person is hallucinating or confused, reassure him he is okay. Tell him you aren’t experiencing what he is, but that you believe he sees or hears something. For example, if your loved one says, “It’s almost Christmas,” when it’s March, resist the urge to correct him. Use this as an opportunity to ask the him to tell you a story about a previous Christmas.
  5. Pay attention to and avoid anxiety and aggression triggers.  For example, if a TV show’s music is unnerving, avoid the show. If a person with dementia becomes physically aggressive, maintain a safe distance until he calms down. Leave the room for a few minutes, if necessary. If aggressive behavior occurs even occasionally, sharp objects should be removed for safety reasons. Reassure your loved one you are there to help and all is well.

A calm and confident approach is most important.  People with dementia are very aware of the emotions of others and often become anxious when their caregivers do. For more dementia care information, read these short articles and consider the addition ones listed below.

You’re welcome to share these with other caregivers and families living with dementia.

Call me or one of our care managers; we’re here to help, 402-261-5158, in either Lincoln or Omaha.

Lee Nyberg, a partner at Home Care Assistance of Nebraska, focuses on education and aging issues, co-leads a Parkinson’s support group, and is a Legislative Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association.