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The Do’s and Don’ts of Caring For a Person Living with Dementia

December 17th, 2021

Dementia can be hard for everyone, both the person who is living with it, as well as the caregiver and their loved ones. At times, however, it can often be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. The focus should be on nurturing a positive environment for anyone with dementia. And of course, there should be a focus on the individual person to ensure care, environment, and daily activities suit them, their interests, and their needs. We’re going to talk about how to best support and care for someone with dementia and some care approaches to avoid.

The Do’s of Caring For Someone With Dementia 

We can’t control the fact someone has dementia but we can control how we react to it and how we engage with a person. We can do this by improving the way we communicate and the kind of environments we live in. Here are some things to do when someone you love and care for has dementia: 

Create a calming environment 

Sound, light, things we see and much more can cause distress and discomfort for us all, but people with dementia are particularly sensitive to these factors in their environment. People living with dementia prefer quieter, distraction free environments. Each person with dementia has their own triggers and stressors, so it’s important to recognise them and where possible, remove them completely from the environment.

Noise can be a big stressor, especially when it is repetitive and disrupts our sleep or concentration. It can be particularly distressing for residents living with dementia because sometimes they might not know where the noise is coming from or the reasons for it. There has been clear research between high levels of distress and high noise levels. Noise is easier to manage in a home environment, here, you can simply avoid high levels of noise. In care homes, this can be more challenging, but that’s where silent call bells come in. These bells are designed for residents to be able to alert members of staff without the noise of a traditional bell system and work really well when preventing confusion amongst our residents. 

To create a calming environment and prevent confusion consider thinking about the following: 

  • Reducing noise levels 
  • Maintaining a colour scheme with calming colours like light blue, pink, yellow and violet.
  • Keeping the space clean, free of clutter, and easy to navigate 
  • Ensuring a well-lit area with as much natural daylight as possible

Focus on following a regular routine 

Planned daily activities and routines can be comforting for the person with dementia and the caregiver or loved one. They help establish a clear routine, creating a sense of stability whilst removing as much uncertainty as possible. If you need some new daily activities, think about fulfilling activities that fall in different categories. For example, make time for physical and social activities, as well as allowing for personal care, meal times, and any creative activities. Although following a planned routine is good, you can incorporate spontaneous trips and activities in there too, providing it doesn’t cause too much distress.

To begin following a regular, structured routine think about the following before actioning a plan. Remember, as a person with dementia progresses, you’ll need to change and adapt the plan to fit their changing requirements. Consider: 

  • Your loved ones likes, dislikes, and interests 
  • The time of day they function best 
  • The structure of their day before dementia 
  • Creating plenty of time for meals and dressing, particularly if you both have to be somewhere. 
  • Encouraging the same bedtime and wake up time to reinforce the circadian rhythm 
older couple holding hands

Communicate effectively with someone who has dementia 

As someone progresses with dementia, their ability to communicate can worsen. This requires patience, understanding, and careful listening skills from those around. It is important, however, to not make assumptions about someone’s ability to communicate. Everyone’s communication abilities are different. Remember, it’s perfectly okay if you don’t know how to respond all the time, simply being there and offering your support is the best thing. Here are some ways to communicate effectively with someone who has dementia: 

  1. Respond to your loved ones feelings 

Your loved one may feel confused, upset, or angry but might be unable to express it properly. If they are visibly upset or distressed, it’s important to remain calm to avoid escalating their feelings. Give your loved one the option to express how they’re feeling and provide reassurance in response.

  1. Listen to them when they’re sharing fond memories from the past

It’s a good idea to create a memory box with all their favourite pictures and memories from significant events in their lives. You can include letters, CDs and DVDs, awards, or anything related to a hobby. People in the early to mid stages of dementia often enjoy talking about their younger days as it helps them communicate and reminisce about a time they were happiest.

  1. Use simple language and avoid offering complex choices

Patience is essential when communicating with someone who has dementia. Use simple words and avoid talking for long periods of time, instead make one point or ask one question. Take it slow and give them time to process what you said and respond. It’s important not to push them, instead encourage them. In the middle to later stages of dementia, rather than saying “what do you want to do?” consider saying “shall we go to the park?” or “shall we have a coffee?” This is much more clear and allows them to respond with a simple “yes” or “no”. It can also be useful to provide visual cues.

  1. Practice inclusive communication 

Communication isn’t just limited to verbal communication, it involves using touch, gestures, body language, music and more. If your loved one is struggling with speech, practice forms of inclusive communication to make them laugh and smile. This could involve playing their favourite song and humming the tune with them or showing them photographs they’re familiar with. Or you can simply rely on gestures over speech, such as bringing them their favourite food, hugging them, and making them laugh.

The Don’ts of Caring For Someone With Dementia 

We’ve focused on some things to do when caring for someone living with dementia, like creating a positive environment and encouraging communication, no matter the form. There are also things you can avoid to prevent causing further stress or confusion for your loved one. Here are some things to avoid when looking after someone with dementia: 

Don’t resist or question what people with dementia say

As memory loss increases and communication gets a bit more difficult, your loved one might continually forget things. In these situations avoid trying to make them remember or insist on them being wrong. For example, you may have an appointment at the same time each week, if they question why they are going, don’t respond by saying “we go every week at the same time.” Instead, respond by accepting blame and saying “sorry I must have forgotten to tell you” or let them know it’s just a regular check-up with nothing to worry about. 

woman hidden by leaves

Don’t speak negatively 

It’s important to avoid negative phrases such as “no”, “can’t, and “don’t”. For example, instead of saying “You can’t drive anymore”, use positive reinforcement by saying “as we get older it can be harder to make decisions when driving, I struggle with this too”. This is much more comforting than saying they can’t do something. Don’t say “I just told you that” or “don’t you remember?”. It’s also important not to correct them if they get things wrong or misunderstand, this only adds frustration to the situation. Some other examples of how to handle conversations can be found on the Alzheimer’s Society website.

Don’t talk as if they aren’t in the room

Another common mistake to avoid is talking as if they aren’t in the room. This can be very frustrating for someone living with dementia, especially if they’re in the early stages. Even if their speech has decreased, try to involve them in the conversation too. You can do this by addressing them with eye contact and looking at them for approval when talking to healthcare professionals.

Learn More About Dementia Care At New Care Homes 

We hope you have found this post on dementia care useful and comforting. At New Care, we use a range of methods and communication techniques to care for people living with a dementia. The “Magic” table or “Tovertafel” is also popular in the dementia community. Our Magic Table is a sensory activity which uses projections, sounds, and lights to display games that our residents living with dementia can engage with. It’s an opportunity for residents and family members to play freely and it’s perfect for people struggling with their communication. It’s a great way for younger members of the family to experience positive play with their older relatives and nurture stronger relationships.

The biggest thing to take away is to focus on individual care and needs. If you have any questions about caring for someone with dementia or our dementia care services at New Care Homes, please feel free to contact us for support and guidance.