When the stages of dementia progress, it can be difficult to “see” our loved ones the way we remember them; their smile, their laughter, and their familiar ways. They may not speak the same way, react the same way, or have the same abilities anymore. It’s during this important time, even more, that we remember every person deserves the same respect, honor and dignified care. Empowering persons with dementia is key: provide choices; plan familiar activities; encourage outings; and plan visits which provide reassurance.
Providing choices means encouraging and promoting independence with simple, matter of fact cues and prompts. All too often daily routines can sound like a parent helping a child. When this happens, voice and body language are easily translated and “felt:” ‘You can’t do this for yourself.” Whether it’s with activities of daily living, choosing attire for the day, choosing meals, beverages, or engaging in activities that familiar and comfortable, empowering persons with dementia with the ability to make choices throughout the day restores a sense of control and purpose.
Planning activities and outings, although challenging at times, is vital. As physical abilities allow, plan trips that are familiar with your loved one’s habits and hobbies. When’s the last time you had your favorite cone at your local ice cream shop? How about the theatre, the mall, museums, church services, restaurants, a trip to the park, or a favorite coffee shop? As physical challenges arise, try to plan “rides” to familiar places. You can limit the amount of time out of a vehicle and still have a fulfilling experience reminiscing and grabbing a “drive-thru” snack. Every season has its beauty: summer mornings at the park; autumn days to look at the leaves, ride to a pumpkin patch; or take a drive through the city. Spring days are filled with marvels in nature as everything is waking up from winter. Take the time to plan simple, familiar and meaningful experiences.
Visiting a family member who has dementia can be challenging. It can force the human spirit to work very hard. Summoning all of one’s strengths, resources and heart allows us to glimpse into another’s world. A successful visit requires us to see our loved one for who they are now, not compare them to who they were. Compassion, patience and empathy are needed. Arrive with a plan to involve your loved one and family in a conversation or activities. Ask closed-ended questions, and pay attention to feelings. Use gentle humor. Bring in the family and children when you can. Remember sometimes silence is golden. Just sitting with your loved one, holding their hand, is comforting to them. These are the things that leave your loved one feeling valued, happy and relaxed.
Being a caregiver is challenging, at best. You are no longer taking care of the person you once knew. You’re caring for the person your loved one has become.