Dementia progresses through 7 stages of decline over a period of several years. During the first 6 stages, dementia patients are still capable of leading productive, satisfying lives. Some people think that once a person is diagnosed, they are no longer capable of doing any of the normal activities they once did.
In reality, people in the earlier stages of dementia can do a lot of the things they’ve always done. They want to feel like they make a difference and contribute to their family’s and friends’ lives. As the disease progresses, they will need supervision and assistance to ensure their safety. But that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to be functional and happy for most of the time they have left.
The type of care dementia patients receive, as well as their living environment, greatly influence the joy they continue to get from life. The right type of care provides a better quality of life for the patient and reduces the stress of the caregiver. Here are some ways to support a healthy life for dementia patients so they can make the most of each day.
– Start by Establishing a Routine
Dementia patients lose the ability to recognize time in the way they once did. They get confused about when it’s time to do certain things. This confusion often gives way to frustration. Establishing a routine helps them relate to time in a different way. They may not know that they go for a morning walk at 9 in the morning and then have breakfast at 10. But they will know that their walk is the first thing they do after they get up in the morning and that they have breakfast when they get back inside. A routine helps eliminate the confusion and makes them feel safer and more comfortable.
– Create a Safe, Familiar Living Environment
Familiarity is the key to creating a comfortable living environment. Surprises like rearranging the furniture, or even a new bedspread in their room, can confuse them.
What kinds of things did they enjoy and find relaxing before their diagnosis? Was there a certain type of music they appreciated? Find out what kind of movies they liked. If they can’t provide answers, their family members probably can. Once you know what the person needs to help them relax, you can enjoy it together.
Spirituality is important to many people. That doesn’t go away with a diagnosis of dementia. The person might enjoy listening to sermons on TV, on audio tapes, or on the internet. Hymns that are performed with soft instruments can help them relax and provide a sense of calm. Just make sure your selections are appropriate for the person’s beliefs.
– Add Meaningful Activities
Dementia patients want to feel useful. Don’t assign them busywork just to occupy their time. Look for ways they can contribute to the workload. Some examples include:
- Folding laundry
- Grooming/walking a pet
- Organizing household items
- Tend the garden
- Setting the table
Activities become much more meaningful when they are things the person enjoyed doing in the past. The activities need to fit the individual. For example, a man who took care of the household repairs or worked on the family’s vehicles won’t feel useful washing the dishes. He might prefer something like helping you wash the car or fitting together pieces of pipe.
Other activities like working puzzles, doing arts and crafts, and playing music also have meaning. They help boost self-esteem and improve cognitive function.
– Engage in Conversation
Caring for a person with dementia takes a lot of time, energy, and patience. When there’s a lot to be done, it’s easy to overlook the need to just sit down and talk with them. Expressing their thoughts is important to them and to you. It helps you identify their needs and feelings so you can be a better caregiver. Patients who can’t remember what happened hours or minutes earlier can often recall older memories in great detail. This is something that usually gives them a great deal of pleasure.
One way to help is by using family photos. Look through the albums together and let them tell you about the photos they recognize. You can repeat this activity frequently without them getting tired of it. If they don’t always get the names or stories right, just ignore it. It isn’t unusual for their recollection of events to change daily.
– The Do’s and Don’ts of Caregiving
Spend your time together with the goal of helping the patient relax. They need to know they are in a safe environment where they feel somewhat in control. To help create a safe and comfortable environment:
- Do – adjust activities to meet the skill level of the patient. The best activities provide a challenge while also giving them a sense of accomplishment. Choose activities that aren’t too simple or too difficult. The last thing you want is to cause the patient to become frustrated.
- Don’t – be condescending or disrespectful. Dementia patients are like children in many ways. They require supervision and help with many of the things they do. But they are adults who have lived long, purposeful lives. They deserve respect and consideration throughout every phase of their disease.
- Do– get to know the patient and what is important to them. Create activities that fit the individual’s likes and avoid their dislikes. Keep in mind that just because they did something in their past, it doesn’t mean they enjoyed it.
- Don’t– correct their mistakes. There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with how they perform activities. Your job is to guide them when they need it, not take it over and do it for them.
- Do– give them all the time they need. Practice patience and keep the environment relaxing and fun.
- Don’t– try to force them to participate in activities they don’t want to do.
- Do– allow room for creativity. It’s more about self-expression than creating a fine work of art.
Providing care to a loved one is often more challenging than people realize. It takes a certain type of person and a lot of spare time to provide the level of care that improves the person’s quality of life.
If you are struggling to balance your role as caregiver with the other responsibilities in your life, there is a better solution. Contact Lakeside Manor to learn more about our specialized dementia care. Our assisted living and memory care services are focused on providing the best quality of life to dementia patients at every stage of the disease.