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Top ten tips to help relatives with dementia

Live-in carers from a well-respected national caring agency came up with the following list of advice for people living with dementia and their families: 

older couple

  1. Put some structure into each day, like going for a walk, or to the shops. This will make the day feel like it has more purpose, and the exercise will help to maintain a healthy sleep pattern.

  2. Don’t give too much notice of a visit. If your elderly relative is expecting a visitor, ask them not to give too much notice of their arrival to the person they are visiting, but to call just before they arrive. People with dementia get anxious and confused about appointments and it can be very stressful, so a ‘just in time’ approach helps them not to fret for hours or days ahead.

  3. Seek out reasons for anxiety. General anxious behaviour is often experienced by dementia sufferers for a number of reasons, but the person with dementia will often not be able to explain how they feel, or why.

    Check some of the basic things first. Are they:

    1. feeling too hot or cold
    2. hungry or thirsty, constipated
    3. in pain or suffering a medication side effect?

    Whilst it is sometimes difficult to pin- point a cause of the problem immediately, just having these things in your mind might help you to pick up small clues to the cause and can help you to alleviate their distress.

  4. Mirrors can be distressing for people with dementia. They may think of themselves as still being in their early twenties and so they might think a reflection of themselves is their parent or grandparent. This in turn can lead to quite disturbing behaviour, for example, the dementia sufferer might accuse their own spouse of having an affair with the sufferer’s parent. If possible, remove the mirrors to lessen potential confusion and distress.

  5. Involve a person with dementia with some household tasks, to help them feel useful and active. These tasks may have to be invented to fit the capabilities of the sufferer, but the effect of ‘busyness’ will be the same, i.e. folding tea towels and cloths, dusting a piece of furniture, or brushing out flower pots or other outdoor activities.

  6. Try to remember that some behaviour is beyond the conscious control of the sufferer’s mind, i.e. sexual remarks, shouting, swearing and accusing people of stealing. Try to reassure your older relative with dementia that things are OK and take steps to distract them, maybe by moving them into another room to provide a new set of stimuli. When accusations of stealing are made, bear in mind that people with dementia can be, and often are, victims of crime the same as everyone else and you should take steps to make sure no theft has actually taken place before you just assume they are making false accusations.

  7. Don’t be put off giving someone with dementia food and drink if they say they are not hungry or thirsty. The condition sometimes makes it hard for people with dementia to recognise hunger pains or thirst. Try to eat together to increase their social interaction. People who don’t recognise their own need for food will tend to eat with others and enjoy the meal experience. Make sure the food is well presented and appetising and don’t give someone a food type you know they don’t enjoy! 

  8. Let your relative or friend with dementia lead the conversation and don’t be tempted to correct small details in the accuracy of the story. It is much better to enjoy a general flow of conversation, rather than frustrate them by correcting and being corrected constantly. Try to relax and enjoy the conversation, even if what they are saying might be described as nonsense. It’s easier for you and them to just ‘’go with the flow’.

  9. Close the curtains before it gets dark. As it gets dark in the evening, some people can become upset and agitated. Try closing the curtains a little earlier and making the room cheerful with lamps to distract attention from the dark evenings.

  10. Always accept any offer of help. Friends and family will often offer to help, but they may not know what kind of help is needed, or what they can do. Ask them to prepare some food, do some ironing, or take your partner for a walk or out to eat... whatever will help you out and give you a break from the stress of caring for your relative with dementia. You need some well-deserved respite and it’s important that you stay fit and well, so don’t feel at all guilty.

This list was originally from the website, but that website is no longer live.

Last updated: 08/07/2021