How to Help a Friend or Family Member with Dementia

Dementia

Inevitably, baby boomers are likely to be impacted by family members or friends suffering from cognitive decline or Dementia. World Health Organization reports that approximately 55 million people suffer from dementia with 10 million new cases diagnosed annually. 

Considering the many emotional and physical challenges associated with cognitive decline, boomers can benefit from a better understanding of how they can help their peers and loved ones navigate this debilitating condition. 

Below are some helpful tips that can make all the difference. 

1. Lend a helping hand with tasks.

Whether you are the main caregiver or trying to offer some much-needed support to a friend in that position, lending a helping hand with basic tasks such as the laundry can be a huge relief. Similarly, pitching in with household chores or running errands can eliminate the substantial stress associated with the many demands of caring for a person with dementia. 

Since dementia tends to worsen over time, patients can quickly arrive at a point where they require increasingly more help with daily chores such as bathing, cooking, grocery shopping, and paying bills. It is important to recognize that any help you can give is meaningful for all involved parties. 

2. Be patient and listen carefully when communicating.

Caregivers must put forth an extra effort to communicate with loved ones struggling with dementia. It is important to use short sentences and to speak slowly to improve the odds of connecting. 

Make a special effort to hold eye contact. Be prepared to give your friend or family member plenty of time to respond. 

People with dementia often require extra encouragement to respond to questions. Do not rush them to answer. This will make them feel pressured. 

Resist the urge to answer for them when other people engage them, especially when the conversation turns to inquiries about their health or well-being. 

Be prepared to rephrase questions or comments to promote better understanding. Always acknowledge what they say even when the communication effort becomes challenging. This will encourage them to continue trying to talk to you. 

Remember to use body language as an important part of your communication efforts. When speech becomes difficult, physical contact and body language can fill in the gaps.

3. Actively engage your friend or family member with activities they enjoy.

As a friend or family member, you have the knowledge you need to make your visits meaningful by joining them in activities that they like. Whether they like to play cards, garden or cook, it is important to give them the choice to engage in activities they enjoy. 

Adding music into the mix can also heighten the experience emotionally. If dancing makes the activity more enjoyable, then that is icing on the cake. 

4. Identify potential hazards in the home and make necessary modifications. 

One of the most important tasks necessary for providing a safe home environment for dementia sufferers is to add safety features around the house to prevent future problems. Modifications should be made that make it easier for your loved one to continue moving around as independently as possible while remaining safe. 

Steps are a particular risk. Handrails can provide extra safety. Additionally, adding safety grips or marking stairs with colored tape can render steps less hazardous. 

Electrical outlets also pose a hazard to anyone suffering from cognitive decline. Using safety plugs is recommended. 

Safety latches are also a good idea to keep certain cabinet doors from being opened. 

Tripping hazards such as small rugs prone to sliding out from under your feet or electrical cords should be removed from pathways.

Good lighting is also essential for preventing accidents. Any part of the home where the lighting is insufficient should be upgraded. 

It also makes sense to secure potentially hazardous household products in locked cabinets. Cleaning products and paint should never be easily accessible. 

5. Plan for the future.

Considering the nature of dementia and the potential for becoming increasingly unable to manage one’s affairs, it is crucial that involved parties plan in advance so the impacted loved one can make their wishes known related to health care directives, financial matters, care options and funeral arrangements. 

Obtain written permission as required to speak to doctors and lawyers on behalf of your friend or family member. 

6. Prepare yourself emotionally for good days and bad days.

It is important to prepare yourself emotionally for the erratic and unexpected behavior that is likely to occur when visiting a person with dementia. Memory problems, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and wandering off are a few of the common difficulties to expect. 

It is important to remember that your loved one is not purposefully being difficult. The disease is causing these changes in personality. Remaining compassionate and keeping your sense of humor are strategies that will make it easier to cope. 

Takeaway

The majority of baby boomers will directly or indirectly be impacted by dementia during their lifetime. Being mentally prepared to offer support to caregivers, family members and friends dealing with dementia will make it easier on everyone involved. The tips mentioned above provide proven strategies for getting the best results. 

Sources:

David Goldstein
David launched Boomer Buyer Guides with his wife Alice to provide Baby Boomers with trustworthy, well-researched information about products and services that Baby Boomers buy. Learn more about David Goldstein