10 top wellbeing tips for caring for someone living with dementia
This article gives you simple ideas to immediately put into practice if you are supporting someone who is living with dementia. It answers some of the common questions you may have: How can I help someone living with dementia? How can I communicate with someone living with dementia? What should I do to promote wellbeing?
It may be that a member of your family has recently been diagnosed with early-stage dementia and you are looking at ways in which to support them or that you are a carer wondering how to support someone living with dementia effectively. In this article we share some helpful, wellbeing tips based on research as well as our experiences.
1. The person you care for is always right.
Try not to correct the person. Do not disagree or argue with his/her reality; for them it is the reality.
2. Exercise. Recent research shows that every minute of exercise helps to support independent living.
Focusing on some sort of movement for just a short time during the day at least twice a week has many benefits. Building on what the person already does is an easy way to ensure movement continues. Encouraging gardening, walking around, focused lesson of pilates or yoga online, with you, some extra walks up the stairs, longer walks with the dog.
3. Keeping someone free from anxiety.
As with most types of dementia, losing short term memory can be a huge source of anxiety and worry. Imagine if you had no way of recalling if you had eaten your breakfast, if you had posted that letter, if you had called to make an appointment, where you put the phone, what you had done at the weekend. This inability to reference everyday tasks can cause significant stress; not least because you would worry what on earth could be wrong with you. Understanding this anxiety, recognising it, and trying to have this as the main aim rather than conversations that make sense to you, or and then as much as possible keeping someone free from anxiety becomes the key focus.
4. Listen to what the person is saying.
Being heard and really listened to is vital for all of us. Someone living with dementia may need you to expertly listen and look for cues beyond your usual listening techniques. Picking up on verbal cues, physical cues, what is not being said as much as what is being said can help you to understand what is going on for the person.
5. Value the person.
The person living with dementia has lost their ability to store short term memory. They have not lost their intellect, nor ability to make decisions, they should be the one to be “in charge” of their life. They may “go back” to memories that have been stored from a long time ago and these may be very real and appear to be recent memories. They may struggle more with certain things, like communication and emotions but they are still “there”.
6. Keep to a usual routine for the person you are supporting.
And keep things simple. Some people find it helpful to put things that are needed in really obvious places and remove distractions. Simple, manageable steps for tasks can help people living with dementia to stay independent.
7. Prioritise things that are important for the person.
What do they love doing? What activities are meaningful? What could be done to keep these in place? What prompts might they already be showing you? You are a team, working together, the person living with dementia is the expert showing you what is important.
8. Validate emotions:
“Yes you are feeling anxious, worried, happy etc” Giving emotions time and space, rather than dismissing them can be a healthy way of passing through new emotions.
“It’s Monday morning and time for breakfast” these offer clues that are missing and help to give markers and time frames. When short term memory is missing, these cues are anchors and can help someone move on with the day.
10. Look after yourself
If you are a family member the emotions and exhaustion that you may be encountering are real and valid. Ensure you have support for you. Try to get some time off and give yourself space to re-energise. This can be incredibly hard to do in practice, and yet so important. Below are some useful contacts to find local support groups, information and advice.
If you are a carer, remember that you are doing a wonderful job and you too need a break. Keep disciplined around your time off and make sure you find things that you enjoy when you are not working
Read Kemble's Guide to making your home dementia friendly
Carers UK support, information and advice for unpaid carers.
Alzheimer’s Society have a dementia directory to find local support.
Dementia UK have support, information, and advice as well as campaigns.
Age UK have plenty of advice and support and are great at signposting for further services.
Link with your local Health and Wellbeing Coach through your doctor’s surgery
Link with Herefordshire Social Prescribing