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Practical Tips for Daily Life: Helping a Family Member Living With Dementia

Updated: Apr 10


Caring for someone living with Dementia brings rewarding moments, but it may also have its challenges. You see changes in your loved one and their needs, and sometimes, you feel tired, frustrated, or emotionally drained. To help minimize stress and streamline your day, it helps to have a toolkit of Dementia care tips on hand and a built-in schedule of giving some TLC (Tender Loving Care) to yourself as a care partner.

 

Here are some helpful tips for Dementia caregivers.


Tips to Help You Navigate the Everyday

People living with Dementia, especially as the syndrome progresses, often find it difficult to express themselves. Understanding and remembering what is asked of them may also be a challenge. As a caregiver, it helps if you stay positive and speak in a pleasant tone. When asking your loved one to do something, use simple words and phrases, and try to remain patient if they ask you to repeat your request or ask the same questions. If your loved one appears sad, angry, or upset, acknowledge their feelings. Tell them you see that they're angry or frustrated, and suggest doing something together, like a walk or helping you prep for a meal, says Laura N. Gitlin, PhD, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions and executive director of the AgeWell Collaboratory at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

 

People living with Dementia may become confused at times. Having familiar objects and people around may help. Look at a photo album of family members with your loved one regularly, pointing out who's who. Routine can bring comfort as well. Help them keep a regular sleep, hygiene, and healthy meal schedule as much as possible. Post notes in the bathroom or on the refrigerator as reminders of routine tasks, like brushing teeth and taking medicines. Place labels or photos on cupboards and drawers to help them remember what's there.

 

Mealtime may go more smoothly if you plan it in advance and make foods you know your loved one likes. Smaller portions are best so that their plate doesn't look overwhelming. If utensils are challenging, swap in finger foods or foods they can pick up instead, like chicken fingers or a Caesar salad wrap. Allow enough time for them to enjoy their meal slowly.

 

If your loved one is anxious, play calming music softly in the background to help reduce their restlessness. So the atmosphere remains calm; don't blast the TV or the radio, Gitlin says.


Activities for Someone Living With Dementia

People living with Dementia need to be engaged in daily life in meaningful ways. Everyday activities, like dressing and keeping up with hobbies, help to provide meaning and purpose to life, regardless of what stage of Dementia they're in, Gitlin says.

 

One way to include your loved one living with Dementia in an everyday activity is to have them help you prepare meals, Gitlin says. Ask them to help you make the salad. If they're able, the person living with Dementia might enjoy washing lettuce or putting pre-cut tomatoes or other salad items in a big bowl, Gitlin says. Remember to be specific in your instructions. Don't say, "Make a salad." Instead, suggest how to put the ingredients together in a bowl. They may also be able to set the table with your verbal instructions, Gitlin says. She says that if they do the task successfully, praise them and tell them what a great job they did.

 

Gitlin says keeping busy with activities may also improve their mood and help them stay calm. You'll want to match interests and abilities with the activities you set up. "Think about what the person living with Dementia used to like to do, and find activities that match that interest," Gitlin says. For example, someone who once worked with their hands might enjoy sorting beads or coins and moving them from one container to another.


Warning: Please look for signs that the person might put small objects in their mouth to eat as if they were food. When this happens, which it can as Dementia progresses, only allow larger objects that cannot be swallowed.

 

Other activities to consider include folding towels or clothes, vacuuming rugs, rolling a ball of yarn, and washing dishes (even if they don't get clean), Gitlin says.

 

The options are truly endless. Sensory experiences like foot massages, petting an animal, brushing their hair, or even organizing spools of threads or boxes of old photos or jewelry may be calming and pleasurable. Be sure there's sufficient lighting and comfortable seating.

 

Regular exercise is also a wonderful way to keep people living with Dementia on a schedule of healthy movement—even a simple stroll around the block or walking laps around a mall or grocery store counts.

 

If your loved one is hungry or tired, it may not be the right time to try one of these activities, but you can always try later. Be flexible, too. "If they're helping you make a bed and the sheets don't line up, it's OK," Gitlin says.


Dementia Safety Tips to Keep in Mind

You'll need to adjust your loved one's living space to keep them safe. Make sure living areas are well-lit, including stairwells. Keeping the bedroom dark at night helps with sleep, but your loved one needs to be able to see how to get to the toilet. Motion-activated night lights may help navigation during the night. Clearing pathways is also vital to safety. Remove any fall hazards, such as throw rugs and electrical cords. Make sure tables are stable and at a height comfortable for them to eat and drink and that a wheelchair fits underneath if needed.

 

"I highly recommend asking your loved one's primary care doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist who can do a home evaluation for safety," Gitlin says.

 

Here's more on how to make a home safer for someone living with Dementia.


Don't Neglect Yourself

Gitlin says that one of the first rules of caregiving is that you must first take care of yourself. Dementia care may be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting at times, so it's important to look after your health. Look for signs of feeling rundown or overwhelmed, and take action when needed.

 

Ask for help from other family members, friends, and community groups, such as your church or synagogue, Gitlin says. Many places offer respite care for people living with Dementia. Find resources in your neighborhood, and sign up your loved one for as many days as you need. Local senior living groups may also offer these services.

 

Your Dementia caregiver toolkit includes self-care. Take time to do things you enjoy: walk, grab coffee with a friend, or see a movie. Be sure to get enough sleep, exercise in a way you enjoy, and eat nourishing meals. These things can give you a fresh perspective and energy for your role as a caregiver.


Dementia Caregiver Support: Help Is Available

Here are some Dementia caregiver support resources that may help:

 

●       Dementia Society of America: On our website, you can find resources such as online caregiver training, reading materials, videos, and more, and you can search for support in your area by zip code in the Member Directory tab in our website navigation menu.

 

●       Care.com: Connects families with local home or facility care partners.

 

●       Dementia Care Central: Provides in-person and online Dementia support groups for caregivers and those living with Dementia.

 

Authors' opinions are not necessarily those of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, paid or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org

 

Contributing Author: Beth W. Orenstein

 

Beth W. Orenstein is a freelance medical writer. A magna cum laude graduate of Tufts University, Orenstein has written for HealthDay, EverydayHealth, and the National Psoriasis Foundation and is a regular contributor to American Legion Magazine's Living Well and Radiology Today.

 

References:

 

Interview with Laura N. Gitlin, PhD, professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions and executive director of the AgeWell Collaboratory at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and co-author of A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Activities and Other Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms.American Academy of Family Physicians: Caring for a Relative Who Has Dementia

 

National Library of Medicine: Dementia – home care

 

NHS: Looking after someone with Dementia

 

NHS: How to make your home dementia friendly

 

Kaiser Permanente: Dementia Support for Caregivers

 

Houston Methodist: How to care for someone with Dementia: 5 tips for caregivers

 

Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia: Dementia - activities and exercise. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dementia-activities-and-exercise

 

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