When you’re thrown an unexpected curveball, it can be hard to know how to stay on track, and to know the best ways to approach the issue.
Facing a medical diagnosis, such as dementia, can be tough for both the individual and their family – and it can be hard to accept the changes that occur as the condition progresses. In the very early stages, it may be possible for the individual to continue living their ‘normal’ life with their own coping mechanisms, but as time goes on, they will, more than likely, need additional support from their family and friends.
Behaviour changes and differences in personality are typical signs that the condition is progressing, and observing this first-hand as a carer can be difficult. In order to support your loved one, it’s a good idea to know how best to deal with this.
Focus on strengthening their relationships
Dementia is known to cause communication issues, making it harder to maintain relationships with others, often resulting in withdrawal from interactions with friends and family. It’s important that as the carer, you try your best to keep their relationships alive.
Being present with them and focusing on their emotional needs through reminiscence, humour and shared experiences is vital, but it’s also a good idea to introduce them to local community and social groups to encourage interaction with others. Our Dementia Choir is a great example of the benefits of social connections.
People with dementia often form great friendships with others who have the same condition – common ground can be reassuring when so much of their life is unrecognisable.
As verbal communication becomes more difficult during the later stages, it will become more beneficial to both you and your loved one to use methods of non-verbal communication. Whether this is through touch, facial expressions, body language or verbal cues, these will become valuable ways of conveying feelings, emotions and desires. It’s important to give positive gestures – whether that’s a smile or affectionate touch – especially in situations that may cause anxiety or uncertainty.
As it becomes more difficult to communicate verbally, it’s a good idea to use visual cues. You can help your loved one remember daily tasks by, for example, leaving written reminders around the house.
Try to remain positive
Caring for a loved one is, undoubtedly, difficult when trying to juggle this with a job, and dealing with others who depend on you. Although it may be emotionally and physically demanding, try your best to stay positive where you can. Projecting negative emotions and feelings will likely transfer to your loved one, so it’s often helpful to seek professional therapy if you’re finding it particularly difficult to remain positive.
By looking after yourself, you’ll be able to give more to those you care for, and prevent yourself from burning out. It’s often a very real risk that the carer becomes ill from the intensity of caring for a loved one.
Simplify their activities
To reduce feelings of confusion, it can be a good idea to try and simplify your loved one’s daily life as much as you can.
Try to write a daily list of things that need to be done, such as getting dressed or making breakfast, and make these choices as simple as possible; such as presenting two outfit or meal options, to avoid feelings of overwhelm. Direct questions about their choices can also be avoided by making suggestions and gauging their response.
Remember to listen
Above all, it’s important to remember to listen wholeheartedly to your loved one. As communication becomes harder you may have to interpret alternative meanings behind common words. Calling out for a loved one who has long since passed away might not simply mean that they have forgotten, but that they might be in need of the love and support that the person used to give them.
Remember it can be just as frustrating for them to not be able to find the right words, as it is for you not being able to interpret them.
Your relationship with your loved one will change as you take on a carer’s role. It’s ok to take some time to accept this, but don’t forget what initially brought you together, and remember to instil the same affection as you always have.