This guide lays out some quick and easy tips that could help you in a pinch.
Believe affection means better understanding. If we take the time to understand as much as we can about dementia, not only can we provide better care for our partners, but we can also preserve dignity, control, and peace of mind for all individuals involved.
The idea of “right versus wrong” or “truth versus lie” is easy to get caught up in. If your partner states something you know to be inaccurate or believe to be false, instead of insisting that they are wrong or stating unwelcomed “facts,” ask yourself if it matters whether what they are saying is true or false. If the answer is no, it really doesn’t matter - simply let it go. Please avoid arguing.
A simple smile can set the mood for an interaction. Our attitude and body language are strong communicators and often speak louder than words. Because those with dementia often retain the ability to pick up on non-verbals, we must be mindful of our tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. It is not uncommon for someone with dementia to mirror the emotions of someone else in their presence. Unfortunately, this goes for both negative and positive emotions. So, our recommendation is to choose the positive. Of course, this is easier said than done, but we encourage you to give it a try and see if it makes a difference in your interactions with your partner.
Life can be busy and we can often feel like we are always on “go go go.” Although those with dementia often have a difficult time communicating, if you take a moment to slow down and really try to listen and understand, you will see just how much you can learn about how your partner feels and what they need.
Put the feelings of your partner first. When it comes to getting a task done, such as bathing, dressing, or eating, you may find it much more productive if you deprioritize the task and prioritize the person. Tune into their needs and desires first. You can always revisit the task later if your partner absolutely refuses to participate. There is nothing wrong with taking a step back and trying again later. If you force a task upon your partner without acknowledging their wants and needs, you may come head to head with a lot of resistance.
Most people have a strong need to feel at least partially in control and like they have a say. However, sometimes those with dementia can struggle to verbalize their desires. Giving them options is a good way to allow them opportunities for autonomy. However, giving too many options can be overwhelming and confusing. Try limiting their options to just two. For example: Would you like to take your shower now or after lunch? Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt? Do you want eggs or oatmeal?
As dementia progresses, depth perception (ability to judge distances between objects) worsens as well as contrast sensitivity (ability to detect differences in colors). This can result in misperceptions of the environment, difficulty locating objects, or inability to discern stairs and curbs. When possible, try to use contrasting colors such as a red toilet seat, a red placemat under a white plate, a dark-colored plate for mashed potatoes, chairs that contrast with the floor and/or wall, contrasting anti-slip tape at the edge of each stair, laying out colored clothes on white bedding, putting a colored towel down for white or light colored-clothing, placing a red non-skid mat at the bottom of a white shower or tub floor, etc. Also, try avoiding black rugs or tiling as the may be perceived as a black hole. These small changes can make a world of difference in your partner’s ability to navigate and function in their environment.
No matter what stage your partner with dementia may be in, music can be a very powerful tool. Music can provide joy, comfort, and decrease anxiety. If your partner is feeling agitated or anxious, try playing music that you know or think your partner would enjoy. Please be mindful of the volume though. If it’s too low they may not be able to hear it, but if it’s too loud it could be overwhelming which could increase agitation or anxiety.
Sometimes we think we have to go through the dementia care journey alone, but we don’t. Even if your family isn’t stepping up or your friends are disappearing, find an online or in-person support group, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 hotline (800 272 3900) for advice and support, identify local resources that can help provide respite care, or reach out to Bambu Care - we are always here to help any way we can.
The dementia care journey is by no means an easy one. There will be many ups and downs and you may make a lot of “mistakes.” It is important to forgive yourself and learn from it. Apologize to your partner if it feels like the right thing to do and move on. Beating yourself up about something you or may have not done will only hinder you. Your only job is to do the best you can. As long as you are doing that - pat yourself on the back. You are doing just fine.