Caring for someone who has dementia and learning how to navigate interactions with your loved one under changing circumstances can leave you feeling incredibly unsteady. All too often, carers can experience great stress and exhaustion, because of the physical and emotional input that providing this type of care demands. There are however choices that you can make in your approach to caring for someone with dementia that will make the journey a little easier. Here, we explore some of the strategies that you can adopt to support the wellbeing of both yourself and your loved one.
1. Communicating Without Words
For your loved one, finding the right words can be tricky. When words are out of reach, it is important to remember how much we can share without speaking! A loving expression in your eyes, and a kind and a friendly smile, can work wonders in lifting both of your spirits. This, in turn, can help you to feel connected, and melt away feelings of worry. When you look into your loved one’s eyes, you will also be able to read much of how they are feeling without them having to explain. We can always make the most of the fact that our eyes tend to convey a great deal about our inner state.
Be aware of your facial expression when interacting with your loved one and imagine projecting reassurance towards them – reflecting the emotion that you want them to feel. When your eyes and body language appear relaxed and open, there is a good chance that they will feel at ease and mirror those emotions right back at you.
2. Skipping Direct Questions
For someone suffering from dementia, answering the most simple of questions can be incredibly difficult; even seemingly basic ones, such as “how are you feeling today?” or “what would you like for lunch?”. Trying to find the answer may leave your loved one feeling distressed while leaving you feeling frustrated. We all have the instinct to ask questions but practicing a different approach can lift some of the stress of communication for both of you. Try supplementing questions with a gentle suggestion, such as “wouldn’t it be lovely to go out in the garden this morning?” or “a ham and cheese sandwich would be good for lunch, wouldn’t it?” By sharing fully formed ideas, you can alleviate the need for your loved one to try to do so and keep your communication more positive and straightforward.
3. Nurturing Self Esteem
For your loved one, self-esteem can feel elusive as they increasingly find carrying out tasks and remembering things more difficult. In your role as a carer, focusing on little wins, and providing praise and encouragement can make all the difference. A little cheering from the sidelines can make your loved one’s experience far more positive, and can also help you to focus less on the negative aspects of caring that have a tendency to make you feel drained.
4. Clear Mental and Physical Space
For someone with dementia, any background noise can make focusing and concentrating more difficult. This counts for physical clutter in the home, and external distractions when you are trying to communicate. Having a good clear out to create a clutter-free environment can help, as well as making housekeeping easier too. When It comes to having a conversation, moving into a quieter space, and turning off the radio and television can make following what you say and forming thoughts a much simpler process for your loved one.
5. Making A Connection When You Can
When it comes to recall, you will probably find that your loved one has good days and bad days. For someone with dementia, the ability to retrieve memories can be very inconsistent. As their carer, there is no need to push your loved one to remember when the past is out of reach, but you can certainly help them enjoy the moment when recall is more forthcoming!
Having old family photos and memorabilia on hand for better days can allow you to encourage them to dip into happy moments and fond memories from the past. Keep in mind that your loved one may not be able to find the names of people, or places, and that is completely OK. You can help them tap into their memory bank by prompting them with the details, so that they can take pleasure in re-visiting retrieved experiences, rather than getting bogged down by the bits they cannot remember.
6. Learning To Pace Yourself
Dementia is a progressive disease, which makes it all the more important to pace yourself in your role as carer. As your loved one’s behaviour and needs become more challenging, it is vital that you monitor your own wellbeing, and take regular breaks. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is a natural and normal response when acting as carer in this capacity. However, checking in with yourself, and being honest about your limits is a must.
Sometimes, simply walking away for five minutes, to re-ground and take a breath, can give you a crucial boost. At others, you may find that some short or even longer-term support is what is required to let you keep your personal resources topped-up and safeguard your capacity to keep caring. Remind yourself that you are only human, and there is no need to feel guilty about moments when you struggle. Caring for a loved one is an immensely noble undertaking, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it can at times be incredibly hard and places strain on your ability to meet your own basic needs.
7. Knowing When To Ask For Help
Admitting when you need help can be difficult, but the only way to ensure the best care for your loved one is by facing up to what you can and cannot shoulder. A personal network of friends or family can potentially offer the support necessary to give you vital moments to recharge your battery. As your loved one’s condition worsens, however, you may find that it is also valuable to know what other options are available to you.
Professional carers from Heritage Independent Living can offer respite care, providing you with a stress-free break from your duties as carer. In the longer term, a live-in carer can give wonderful peace of mind, allowing your loved one to remain in their home, while you enjoy the confidence that comes with knowing there is always someone there to support them. We take great pride in providing flexible solutions, tailored to the needs of each of our unique clients. If you are finding caring for your loved one with dementia a struggle, or simply want to explore your options for the future, contact us today for a commitment-free consultation.