The day my mother was diagnosed with dementia I felt awfully hopeless. With little treatment available and no cure in sight, how was I, or any caregiver for that matter, supposed to care for her? I came to learn that there is not much that anyone can do, other than keep their loved one safe and comfortable. Doing so can lead to meaningful gains for people with dementia, both in their quality of life and physical health. Here are a few small steps that you can take to help someone with dementia.
1. Take them out to lunch
Studies show that eating and drinking together can help improve their quality of life. It helps them feel like they belong, that they are part of a group. Dementia can cause a person to lose some of their social group making skills, causing them to feel lonely at times. Whenever possible eat alongside a dear friend or a close relative who suffers from dementia. If you are unable to do so, ask and encourage their caregivers to eat with them.
2. Let them watch and mimic your actions
Dining together will also help people with Alzheimer's mimic particular behaviors if they have lost the ability to perform certain tasks, according to one study. For instance, a person with dementia may be baffled by a fork and a knife, and may not know what to do with them. However, watching someone else eat first can entice them to remember. This activity is not only restricted to dining, too. It can be applied to all sorts of daily activities, from using a phone, to doing the laundry - all of which can be modeled and mimicked. Re-teaching them these essential daily skills can help patients retain their mental grasp, as long as possible.
3. Prepare a meal that they'll recognize
It's easier for someone with dementia to recall a memory from childhood, as opposed to remembering what happened yesterday. So, preparing a meal they'll instantly recognize will help facilitate eating. Find out what foods they loved when they were younger and watch them enjoy their meal.
4. Ask them to play the piano
But only if they've played it before. A 2015 study conducted on 200 residents at care facilities found that older adults who participate in fewer activities reported to have a lower quality of life. It was also found that activities at most nursing homes related more to the interest of the staff rather than the person with dementia - activities are usually stereotypical to nursing homes which usually include bingo, movies and manicures. Within the study, some of the participants said that they wanted to play the piano but were not encouraged to do so, primarily due to the assumption that individuals with dementia would not have the capacity to do so. They should therefore be encouraged to participate in hobbies and activities they previously enjoyed, enabling them to socialize and overcome loneliness and frustration.
5. Make sure they drink, often
Dehydration is the leading cause of death among those that suffer from dementia. While thirst does decrease with age, people with dementia often forget to drink, they may also lack the communication skills to ask for something to sip, or have difficulty swallowing. Gently encourage your loved one to drink throughout the day. Water may also not always be the best option, so opt for something more appealing like a sports drink or some food. Soups or foods with high water content such as apple or cucumbers may also be a better alternative, while also fighting off dehydration.
6. Play their favorite tunes
Music can uplift our spirits and make us feel better, making it a powerful tool for people with dementia too. In fact, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, music can calm agitated patients, lightening their mood, helping them with coordination (the motor center in our brain responds automatically to sound). Stick with hits from their early 20s - the songs they are most likely to recall and react strongly to.
7. Take them for a garden tour
Little beats spending time in nature. It has the capacity to make us feel at ease. A study conducted in 2014 found that dementia patients who spent time in outdoor gardens had lower levels of agitation. Study author Rebecca Whear says that "gardens offer a form of therapy whereby people are more able to easily engage with their environment." Patients with dementia are usually comforted by the smell of flowers or the feel of the soil, or even the memory of taking care of their own plants when there were younger.