Practical ways we can journey alongside people living with dementia and their caregivers

The person living with dementia is still the same person they were before the disease, with the same heart and soul despite changes occurring as a result of the disease. We need to ask ourselves the question, how would we wish to be treated if we were living with dementia and in what ways would we want to be supported?
How can we contribute in a positive way to our loved ones and members of our community who are living with dementia?

  • Allow them to be independent for as long as possible (and as long as it’s safe to do so). Make small changes to include them in decision making, rather than taking all responsibility away from them.
  • Be patient. Give them time to talk and think about what they want to say. Do not rush them.
  • Listen, not only with your ears but also with your body language.
  • Don’t treat them like a child or talk down to them.
  • Treat them with dignity, respect and kindness.
  • Get to know their history, their likes and dislikes as well as their routine. One of the main things people fear when they receive a diagnosis of dementia is the inevitable loss of independence and control over their world. Daily routines help people living with dementia navigate their world in a predictable way and add a sense of order to their days.
  • Develop activities that are interesting, meaningful, doable and valued by the person – meeting social, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs.

It is important to realise that caregivers looking after a loved one living with dementia also need people to come alongside them on this journey, to offer support and understanding. Some practical ways of offering support include:

  • Offer to assist with one of their daily tasks: shopping, laundry or cooking a meal.
  • Stay with their loved one while they go to that doctor’s appointment they’ve been postponing, go to the hairdresser or join that game of Canasta.
  • Take them out for a cup of coffee and offer a listening ear.
  • Encourage them to talk to a counsellor or join a Support Group (you may even offer to attend the first meeting with them if they are anxious of going on their own).
  • Instead of saying “let me know if there is anything I can help with,” rather offer a specific and practical way you can help. Caregivers often feel that they don’t want to burden anyone else so they may be more likely to accept help offered in this way.

Let’s all think of ways we can support people living with dementia and their caregivers, to allow them to live positive and meaningful lives.

By: Kim Hellberg
Alzheimer’s SA