Finding out that a friend, partner or relative has dementia is likely to be frightening and upsetting. It can bring changes to your relationship and challenges to overcome – particularly as those with dementia rely increasingly on support. However, there is plenty of help and advice available to help you through this difficult time.
What is dementia?
The term ‘dementia’ is used to describe a set of symptoms that develop; these typically include:
- Memory problems
- Communication difficulties
- Decreasing ability to think logically.
Dementia can also cause changes in mood and emotions. It is not a part of normal ageing and occurs as a result of damage to the brain.
There are many different types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (dementia resulting from stroke/s). Most types of dementia are progressive, which means that symptoms get worse over time. However, people can live, and live well, with dementia for many years.
Communicating with someone who has dementia
Dementia can affect a person’s ability to communicate. For example, they may forget words or have problems following a conversation.
- Ensure you have good eye contact before starting a conversation and that there are few distractions, such a background noise
- Try talking to them about topics they like to chat about or that they remember. For example, reminiscing about the past, people or places
- It’s often best to keep conversations short and simple
- Try to avoid asking too many questions. For some people it’s better if they can give a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer
- It’s also important to avoid correcting or contradicting the person with dementia, even when you suspect their statements are incorrect
- If they mention someone who is no longer alive, it’s not advised that you remind them that they’re dead unless they ask directly. Instead, it is best to respond by reminiscing – sharing memories about the person they are asking for.
Helping them remain independent
A person who has dementia may slowly become more reliant on the support of others – something which may leave them feeling vulnerable and unconfident.
There are some ways you can help to support your loved one and help them to stay as independent as possible:
- In the early stages, memory aids – such as pictures on cupboard doors of what’s inside – can help someone remember where things are
- Creating a regular, daily routine to help them feel secure
- Breaking down larger tasks into smaller steps can make them more manageable
- If they make a mistake, be as supportive as possible
- Involve them in small tasks such as shopping, gardening or laying the table
- If they have hobbies they enjoy, such as cooking or listening to music, find ways to help them continue to take part, such as helping to make a meal
- Allow plenty of time for them to complete tasks and be patient with them.
It’s important to involve your loved one as much as possible and to avoid “taking over”, unless you’re worried about their safety. Be patient and encouraging, and try to take into account any particular difficulties they may have.
As their condition progresses it may become more and more difficult for someone to live at home without support. The NHS lists support for those with dementia – such as home adaptations – on its website.
Mental health and wellbeing
A dementia diagnosis can be upsetting and stressful for the person concerned, as well as those who are close to them.
Talk to them and try to understand how they feel, but also try to enjoy the time you can spend with them. Let them know you’re there for them.
It’s important that you allow yourself to experience your feelings – adjusting to changes in someone you love can be almost like a grieving process:
- Let yourself cry if you need to
- If you feel angry, find a safe way to express this. This could be something as simple as listening to music or writing down your emotions
- Relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, can help to give your mind a break. You can find out more about these in our mental health advice blog
- Try to make a little time for the activities you enjoy such as listening to music, watching a film or playing sport
- It can help to find someone you trust to confide in or simply vent to if things get hard. It’s important to feel as if you’re not facing dementia alone, especially if you’re caring for your loved one. This is where support groups can come in useful
- If you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, you can call Ben’s free and confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or, if you’re not ready to talk, you can use our online chat.
You can find out more information on dementia through:
Ben is here to provide support for life to those who work in the UK’s automotive industry and their families. You can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.
We also offer dementia care at our three residential care centres and day care centre. You can find out more about these on our care services pages.