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Ten ways to help families live with dementia

The number of people with dementia in the UK is currently over 800,000 - which means that millions of other people’s lives are also directly affected by the condition… families, friends and neighbours. It can be upsetting as well as hard work for those responsible for the care, so how can families best help their relatives live with dementia, whilst also maintaining their own quality of life?

My ageing Parent website offers a host of information and support for people with older parents and they have just published a detailed guide to dementia and also a raft of helpful advice to families to help them deal with the day-to-day issues around caring for a relative.

“Awareness of the condition has risen hugely in recent years,” says the website’s MD Deborah Stone. “thanks to some really excellent initiatives such as ‘Dementia Friends’.

“When families realise that a relative has the condition, it is momentous and often life changing. Someone who was previously living an independent life now needs a constant eye on their wellbeing and their home may need adaptations. Nothing will be quite the same again. myageingparent.com’s guide, which brings together expert knowledge and advice from a wide range of sources, demonstrates that there’s a host of ways to make life a little bit easier, safer and less stressful for the patient and the family.”

So what are those ten ways to help families live with dementia?

  1. Understand what sort of dementia your loved one has. While Alzheimer’s is the most common form, representing 62% of all cases, there are other forms too, such as vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Frontotemporal Dementia. Each of them will present different symptoms and require different treatments, so knowing which one your relative has will really help you understand how they see the world and how you can best help them.

  2. Try to help them lead a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining blood flow to the vessels in the brain through exercise and a healthy diet will help slow the onset. Smoking and excess alcohol will have the reverse effect.

  3. Ensure that any medications prescribed are taken on time. A real danger for those living with dementia is that they forget to take their tablets when they should. You can use pill boxes with timers as helpful reminders.

  4. Provide stimulating mental activities. Memory cafes can be highly enjoyable and sociable, or you can create your own activities to help a loved one reminisce, solve problems, improve their memory and retain their language skills.

  5. Ensure that they retain a healthy weight: significant weight loss is common in people with dementia, which often affects a person’s ability to make decisions and the ability to follow simple instructions, including preparing meals. A simple list of tried and trusted meal and snack ideas, especially if presented as photos rather than just words, can help a person decide what they would like to eat. A carer may need to help prepare meals.

  6. Look out for swallowing problems: if dementia is affecting a person’s ability to speak and swallow, they must seek medical advice. An inefficient swallow mechanism can cause food particles to enter the airways, resulting in a chest infection.

  7. Help them stay safe in the home. It is important not to make multiple major changes to the home at once. However, there are a few minor adaptations which can be made to enable the person to live independently at home as long as possible, such as using a bright contrasting colour to make the important features of a room more visible, for example, a toilet seat, armchair, or bed linen.

  8. Make it easier to navigate their home. Use written labels or photographs posted on doors and cupboards and ensure that all rooms are well lit.
    Declutter the space and reduce the amount of furniture in the home to reduce the risk of trips and falls.
  9. Help them keep in touch, so keep important telephone numbers on display next to the telephone, or provide a simple to use telephone which has all the key numbers clearly identified, or keyed in on speed dial. myageingparent.com provides some helpful forms to use in their free registration pack on site.

    10. Keep them in touch with the outside world. A daily newspaper delivery can help a person keep track of the day and date, combined with a calendar listing all forthcoming appointments and events.
"While caring for a loved one with dementia is stressful for the family," says Deborah Stone,"remember that they themselves will often be highly frustrated that they cannot manage the tasks they formerly found straightforward. Staying as calm and matter of fact as possible will not always be easy, but it can play a key role in everyone coping with the situation. Understanding the world from their perspective is central to this."

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