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It’s very important that people with dementia are treated with respect.  If you can understand what the person is going through, it might be easier for you to realise why they behave in certain ways.  It is important to remember that a person with dementia is still a unique and valuable human being, despite their illness.  Remember that they too were your age once and they deserve the same respect, that you as an individual would want.

When a person with dementia finds that their mental abilities are declining, they are often frightened and feel vulnerable and are in need of reassurance and support.  The people closest to them – including their carers, friends and family – need to do everything they can to help the person to retain their sense of indentity and feelings of self-worth.

Feeling Valued

The person with dementia needs to feel respected and valued for who they are now, as well as for who they were in the past.  As a carer, there are many thing you can do to help:

  • Try to be flexible and  tolerant
  • Make time to listen, have regular chats, and enjoy being with the person.
  • Show affection in a way you both feel comfortable with.

Understanding their needs

When people with Dementia are very unsettled and wandering, or asking for family members.  This could mean that they feel they are lacking in areas of comfort, that they are not aware of and they are unable to express themselves.  Clues to this could be:

MUM – when they are asking for their mum, “when she is coming back, how long will she be, where has she gone”?  This is could be an indication that they are in need of a little love and comfort.
DAD – when they are asking for the dad/father, this could be an indication that they need to feel safe, or protected.
WORK – when they are tiding up all the time, arranging papers, organising things into piles, or putting things away.  This could be an indication that they are looking for some sort of routine in their lives and security.
HOME – when they are asking about home, going home, where their home is, getting transport home.  This could be an indication that they are seeking a sense of familiarity.

Things to remember

  • Each person with dementia is a unique individual, with their own very different experiences of life, their own needs, feeling, likes and dislikes.
  • Although some symptoms of dementia are common to everyone,  dementia affects each person in different ways.
  • Everyone, including friend, family, carers and the person with dementia – reacts to the experience of dementia in their own way.  Dementia means different things to different people.

There are lots of things you can do to help the person with dementia feel good about themselves.  Here are some suggestions.

As someone caring for a person with dementia, you need to take account of ther person’s abilities, interests and preferences.  These may change as the dementia progresses.  It’s not always easy, but try to respond flexibly and sensitively.

Supporting other people

If anyone else is involved in caring for the person, give them as much background information as possible, as well as information about their present situation.  This will help them see the person they’re caring for as a ‘whole person’ rather than simply ‘someone with dementia’.  It may also help them to feel more confident about finding conversation topics or suggesting activities that the person may enjoy.

If someone is not used to being around people with dementia, here are a few things to emphasise:

  • Dementia is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is no one’s fault.
  • If the person tends to behave in ways that other people find irritating or upsetting, this may be because of the dementia – it’s not deliberate.
  • The person with dementia may remember the distant past more clearly than recent events.  They are often happy to talk about their memories, but anyone listening needs to be aware that some of these memories may be painful.

What is a name?

Our sense of who we are is closely connected to the names by which we call ourselves.  It’s important that people address the person with dementia in a way that the person recognises and prefers.

  • Some people may be happy for anybody to call them by their first name or nickname.
  • Others may prefer younger people, or those who do not know them very well, to address them formally and to use courtesy titles, such as Mr or Mrs.

Cultural values

Make sure you explain the person’s cultural or religious background, and any rules and customs, to anyone from a different background so that they can behave accordingly.  These may include:

  • respectful forms of address.
  • religious observances, such as prayer and festivals.
  • particular clothing or jewellery that they (or those in their presence) should or should not wear.
  • any forms of touch or gestures that are considered disrespectful.
  • ways of undressing.
  • ways of dressing the hair.
  • how they wash or use the toilet.

Acting with courtesy

Many people with dementia have a fragile sense of self-worth; it’s especially important that people continue to treat them with courtesy, however advanced there dementia.

  • Be kind and reasuring to the person you’re caring for without talking down to them.
  • Never talk over their head as if they are not there – especially if your talking about them.
  • If they can not see reason to something and are arguementative, do not argue back!, but walk away.  They will have forgotten 10 minutes later.
  • When you speak make sure your questions and answers are short and to the point.
  • If you have an accent, make sure that you talk to your client in a slow and articulate manner.
  • Avoid scolding or criticising them – this will make them feel small.
  • Look for the meaning behind their words, even if they don’t seem to be making much sense.  Whatever the person is saying, they are usually trying to communicate with you about how they feel.
  • Try  to imagine how you would like to be spoken to if you were in their position.

Respecting privacy

  • Try to make sure that the person’s right to privacy is respected.
  • Suggest to other people that they should always knock on the person’s bedroom door before entering.
  • If they need help with intimate personal activities, such as washing or dressing,  using the toilet, do this sensitively and make sure the door is kept closed if other people are around.

Offer simple choices

  • Make sure that, whatever possible, you inform and consult the person about matters that concern them.  Give them every opportunity to make their own choices.
  • Always explain what you are doing and why.  You many be able to judge ther person’s reaction from their expression and body language.
  • People with dementia can find choice confusing, so keep it simple.  Phrase questions so that they only need a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, such ‘Would you like to wear you blue jumper today?’ rather than ‘Which jumper would you like to wear today?’

Tips for making the person feel good about themselves.

  • Avoid situations in which the person is bound to fail, as this can be humiliating.  Look for tasks they can still manage and activities they enjoy.
  • Give them plenty of encouragement.  Let them do things at their own pace and in their own way.
  • Do things with them, rather than for them, to help them retain their independence.
  • Break activities down into small steps so that they feel a sense of achievement, even if they can only manage part of a task.
  • Our self-respect is often bound up with the way we look.  Encourage the person to take a pride in their appearance and compliment them on how they look.

Expressing feelings

Dementia affects people’s thinking, reasoning and memory, but the person’s feelings remain intact.  A person with dementia will probably be sad or upset at times.
In the earlier stages, the person may want to talk about their anxieties and the problems they are ewxperiencing.

  • Try to understand how the person feels.
  • Make time to offer them support, rather than ignoring them or ‘jollying them along’.
  • Don’t brush their worries aside, however painful they may be.  Listen and show them that you are there for them.