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Caring for someone with dementia

How to care for a parent with dementia at home

Caring for a parent with dementia at home can be the very best thing for their wellbeing, however it can create additional challenges. Post-diagnosis it can be difficult for loved ones to reconcile how their parent’s needs will change, and even the most informed can find the new situation overwhelming. Being prepared for some of the changes that will occur as the disease progresses will certainly help the transition, so finding out how best to support them will be beneficial. Learning as much as possible about the type of dementia they have been diagnosed with, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, or something rarer, will mean family members can help to minimize anxiety and uncertainty for the parent concerned. This will lead to a higher quality of life for them, while remaining in familiar and comforting surroundings will also keep disruption to a minimum.

Dementia care for family and loved ones

When you’re caring for someone with dementia, some days will undoubtedly be better than others, however there’s no reason why they shouldn’t remain living comfortably at home for the duration of their dementia journey. The NHS tells us that “Many people with mild-to-moderate dementia are able to stay in their own home and live well if they have adequate support. Being in familiar surroundings can help people cope better with their condition.”

Everyone is different though, and people living with dementia should be looked at on an individual basis – just because they are living with the same condition doesn’t mean they’ll be having the same experience. Talking about potential future dementia care needs while the person is still able to will also mean their wishes are respected and followed as their condition progresses, which will give loved ones some comfort knowing that they’re acting on the person’s own request. It’s also important that family and loved ones are also given appropriate support to manage the changes that a dementia diagnosis brings, and by talking to organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK, emotional wellbeing of the whole family is also considered along with physical and practical care needs.

How to support someone with dementia

The best way to support someone living with dementia is to get inside their world whenever possible. Knowing how to care for someone with dementia hinges on taking the time to get to know their illness, their individual circumstances, and the reality of their world. While it’s vitally important to ‘see the world as they do’, loved ones can nevertheless find themselves feeling like a detective while trying work out what the person is trying to communicate. It’s totally understandable that family and other loved ones become frustrated and upset when trying to communicate with a person living with dementia, especially if they feel the person is behaving in an unexpected way, but it’s important to try and remain calm and never to raise voices.

The changes the disease brings can be difficult to understand for both the person and their loved ones, especially when it seems to make the person act out of character, but it’s important to remember there is always a reason for the behaviour. Sometimes people living with dementia are accused of ‘challenging behaviour’, ‘wandering’, ‘acting up’, and all sorts of disrespectful terms that do nothing to advance understanding of the condition.

Most dementia behaviours are purposeful, and usually represent the person trying to communicate that they need something. For instance, they may be accused of ‘wandering’ outside of the house; trying to leave at the same time everyday and lashing out when well-meaning family members stop them. The time of day is the crucial clue – if they do it after lunch it may be that their brain has regressed them to a time when they had young children, and they think they need collecting from school. Preventing them from leaving the house will cause panic and distress as they’ll imagine their children waiting outside alone, which will cause the person to make their feelings obvious in the only way open to them, hoping the person with them will understand. This could be through screaming, thrashing their limbs, punching, biting, or other behaviours that would be labelled as ‘challenging’, and get them categorised as a ‘difficult’ individual, whereas with just a little understanding the whole episode could be avoided. If family members had accompanied them outside of the home and let them walk in the direction they felt necessary, they would likely remain calm, and the reason they’d wanted to leave the house in the first place will have deserted them. Loved ones could then gently suggest returning home, perhaps with the offer of a cup of tea and a piece of cake as encouragement.

This may sound simplistic, but understanding why someone is behaving in a certain way can make all the difference to them living well, because a person living with dementia is not defined by their illness and still deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, and dignity.

Where is the best place for someone with dementia

Remaining in their own home will usually be the most beneficial environment for someone living with dementia, although individual circumstances should always be considered. Helping Hands can provide visiting or live in care and support, helping someone with dementia to live as well as possible in the home they love, while making the most of their local community too. Having someone coming into their home and caring for them may at first be difficult for them to accept, as they may imagine they’re a younger version of themselves and certainly not in need of care. This is where approaching it from the angle of a companion, supporter, or friend coming to see them, (rather than calling them a carer) may be helpful, and easier to elicit their agreement. If the person has lived in their house for many years and enjoyed living there, it stands to reason that they will be more comfortable and less distressed remaining in those precious surroundings. Having a carer coming to their home or living in will also ensure that the person doesn’t witness loved ones stressed or upset, allowing them to step back if needs be while knowing that their loved one is in excellent hands.

One of the best resources for knowing how to support someone with dementia is the Alzheimer’s Society website, and they have an excellent guide to phrases that should be avoided to best support loved ones. For instance, getting frustrated and saying ‘I’ve just told you that’ when repeating something that a loved one keeps asking is understandable but will be upsetting for both parties in the long run. Instead, if the person repeatedly asks the time for instance, ensure they are in view of a clock, and make sure that they are comfortable, warm, aren’t in need of the bathroom, hungry or thirsty. Repeated behaviour can be a sign of discomfort or anxiety, and if the person is unable to ask directly or they are non-verbal they may be trying to express a basic need, or that they don’t feel safe. Using some of these techniques is just one example for how to care for someone with dementia and could make all the difference when it comes to helping them live as well as possible.

If you or a loved one is living with dementia and you would like to explore your care options at home, then talk to the home care experts. Since 1989 we’ve been supporting people living with dementia to remain safely and comfortably in the homes they love, and our friendly customer care team will be happy to explain our live in and visiting care options for you in your area. Contact us via our website, on the phone or chat to your local branch team – we have 150 across the whole of England and Wales.