Whether you are a family member, friend or professional, learning how to care for someone with dementia can be daunting. It's a serious condition and the diagnosis and subsequent dementia care will impact your relationship. It’s normal to be worried about supporting someone with dementia, but we’ve compiled some tips to help.
Dementia is the name for several progressive illnesses that may include memory problems, changes in mood and problems with processing information and language. There are many different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia.
Most people who develop dementia are over 65, but there are more than 40,000 younger people in the UK with young onset dementia.
Dementia may affect your loved one in many different ways. It’s a progressive condition, so the symptoms will worsen over time.
Some of the symptoms of dementia you may notice include:
If you think that you or a loved one may have signs of dementia, talk to a GP as soon as possible. If you’re concerned about a loved one, you may want to attend the appointment with them. If you are a professional carer, you may also notice the first signs of dementia in a patient you are caring for or a deterioration in the condition of someone that already has a diagnosis - so knowing how to handle this is really important.
Your GP may run some tests themselves or may refer your loved one to a dementia specialist. They will ask about your loved one’s symptoms and their health history, including current illnesses and medication. They will run some blood tests and may also request a brain scan.
Your loved one will also do a series of pen and paper tests, known as cognitive assessments, which look at their long-term and short-term memory, concentration, communication skills and other potential areas of concern.
In combination, all of these tests will show whether your loved one has dementia.
Many people with a dementia diagnosis can continue to live at home. However, they may need a little extra help to stay independent.
As dementia is a progressive disease, you may find yourself taking on more caring responsibilities as time goes on. Providing care for someone with dementia is a constantly changing task, and you’ll need to be adaptable.
Even if communication is difficult, it’s important to keep talking and including your loved one in conversations.
Don’t test your loved one’s memory by quizzing them, but speak clearly and ask questions that need yes or no answers if they’re struggling to answer.
Don’t argue with your loved ones or insist that they’re wrong.
If your loved one wears glasses, make sure they’re cleaned regularly and that the prescription still works for them. If they need hearing aids, ensure that they’re working properly and keep regular appointments with the audiologist.
You may need to make some changes to your loved one’s home, particularly if they live alone and spend time at home by themselves. Some of these changes will be necessary for safety, and others might make life easier and more pleasant for your loved one.
Install an automatic shut-off on the cooker, and flood prevention plugs in baths and sinks. These will help if your loved one starts the oven or begins running a bath and forgets to turn it off.
Any harmful substances like bleach and other strong chemicals should be stored away, and pet food and litter should be kept away from human food to avoid confusion.
It may help to label cupboards, drawers and doors if your loved one is forgetting what is kept where.
Some people with dementia struggle with changes in flooring, so you may want to remove rugs and keep flooring similar between rooms.
If your loved one wakes in the night and is confused, a night light may help them avoid tripping and falling.
Display photos of loved ones and special memories such as weddings, beloved places or holidays. These can be good conversation starters and help your loved one remember people who aren’t always able to visit.
Try not to make too many changes at once, as this can be confusing for someone with dementia.
Making sure that your loved one gets good nutrition can be a difficult part of providing care for someone with dementia. Your loved one may forget to eat or drink or refuse food that you’ve made for them. However, it’s still important to keep trying.
Leave snacks easily available, and offer food outside of usual meal times if this helps – for example if your loved one is awake during the night.
Try to offer a variety of foods, such as foods in different colours or textures. If they had any favourite foods from childhood or earlier life, offer these.
It’s especially important to make sure your loved one drinks plenty to avoid UTIs (water infections). These can make dementia symptoms worse and increase confusion.
If your loved one wants to stay at home, you could think about getting home care. Providing care for a loved one with dementia can be hard, and a Care Assistant could help – either for short term respite care or regular long-term care.
Bringing in outside care isn’t selfish, and is an important way to keep on top of your own wellbeing as a carer.
This will let you have some time for yourself, and help you keep the relationship you previously had rather than just becoming their carer.
It’s a good idea to plan for the future soon after your loved one gets a dementia diagnosis.
You may want to talk to your loved one about their wishes for medical treatment, care and staying in their own home as their disease progresses. Do they want to stay at home or move to a care home? Do they want to write down any advance statements about medical treatment?
If they drive, they will need to inform the DVLA and their car insurance. You may need to discuss whether it’s safe for them to continue driving.
If they haven’t made a will or designated a power of attorney, it’s important to do both of these soon.
Caring for someone with dementia can be incredibly hard. You may find it both physically and mentally difficult, and you may also be grieving the changes in your loved one.
Talk to friends and family members, and ask for help if you need it. It’s important to have some time to yourself. There are local and national dementia and carer support groups where you can find people who are in the same situation as you.
Caring for your own wellbeing isn’t selfish – if you’re struggling, you won’t be able to help yourself or your loved one.
Talk to your GP if you’re feeling very tired, anxious or low. They can refer you to other services for support, such as counselling or occupational therapy.