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Five ways to help a loved one living with dementia

The small actions you take can make a big difference

The small actions you take can make a big difference to someone who is living with dementia. Here are five ideas for how you can help a loved one.

Living with dementia can pose many challenges, and there are lots of ways that you can help a loved one to deal with their challenges and remain independent for as long as possible.

These are some of the small things you can do to make a positive impact in the life of a loved one who’s living with dementia.

1Offer practical help

Around 70 per cent of people with dementia live at home, and about one-third of those people live alone. Your practical help, when given in ways that suit your loved one's circumstances, can help them retain that independence.

Charmaine Waugh, Australian Unity's General Manager Residential Communities, Independent & Assisted Living Victoria, says it's important to provide help respectfully. "Don't take over; allow the person to do as much for themselves as they can."

For some, small things that are helpful can include cooking a meal, running an errand, mowing the lawn or putting the rubbish bins out.

"Another way to help out can be to break things down into simple steps," Charmaine adds. For example, keeping things in the same places, labelling cupboards and writing reminders can be a good idea.

2Drop in for a visit

A simple way to help a loved one who is living with dementia is to be present. Whether it's visiting for a cup of tea or having a conversation, this is a chance to connect and show that you care.

Charmaine says, "Visiting is still important, even if a person no longer recognises you. Social contact will always remain an important factor in mental and physical wellbeing. When visiting, introduce yourself each time – for example, 'Hi Mum, it's your daughter, Joanna' – as this will make them feel less anxious. They won't have to guess who you are."

Your conversations may need to be adapted a little, too. "A person living with dementia may need quite a bit of time to think about what you’ve said, and then put a response together," Charmaine says. "Don’t finish their sentences, correct them or point out mistakes. They may not remember an important event, so don’t be upset if they cannot remember something special to you.

"Try to use closed questions (with yes or no answers) rather than open ended questions."

3Organise something enjoyable

A person living with dementia needs enjoyment in their life as much as anyone. However, without someone to assist it may be difficult for your loved one to take part in the activities they enjoy.

"One of the most important things to remember about a person who is living with dementia is that they are still an adult, with adult preferences, needs and desires," says Charmaine.

"Music has a well-documented positive effect for people living with dementia, and they will usually prefer music they listened to between the ages of 15 and 30.

"Reminiscing is generally effective, and visual or physical props are helpful with this; for example, buttons or nice bits of fabric for someone who was an avid sewer."

When organising an activity with your loved one, Dementia Australia suggests:

  • Keeping in mind the things they enjoy, and any cultural sensitivities
  • Focusing on simple, unrushed activities
  • Doing any activities at a time of day when your loved one is at their best
  • Considering whether you need to adapt the activity to their current situation

4Look after yourself

It's estimated that more than 425,000 Australians are living with dementia, so you're not alone in dealing with the challenges that it brings for people impacted by dementia, their families and carers.

Dementia Australia acknowledges that, "Caring for someone with dementia can be physically and emotionally tiring and stressful."

Taking a break is important, whether that’s to enjoy a hobby of your own, take a holiday or ask for help. Time out can be an important way to keep supporting your loved one over the long term, and Australian Unity’s Home Care Services can help. Services are flexible and personalised to you, ensuring you get the support you need.

5Learn more about dementia

Understanding dementia, and how it affects your loved one, is one of the most important things you can do to help.

"While many people view dementia as forgetting things or returning to a child-like state, dementia is very complex and memory loss is only one way that it affects the brain," Charmaine says.

"The more you understand, the more you can help in an effective way."

Dementia Australia is a trusted source of information and support for those living with dementia and those caring for someone who is living with dementia.

Speak to a member of our friendly team

For more information or to find out how we can assist you, speak to a member of our friendly team on 1300 160 170.

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