Re:Cognition Health is passionate about changing the future of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and recognises National Dementia Carer’s Day on 11th September as an important awareness day to celebrate the amazing job undertaken by the estimated 670,000 dementia carers in the UK.
Re:Cognition Health’s content manager Christina Macdonald shares her top tips to help care for someone with dementia, after her experience of caring for her mother who had vascular dementia.
1. Enlist a support crew
You can’t do it on your own so you should enlist the support of trusted friends, family and neighbours and accept help when it is offered, even if you think you won’t need it straight away.
2. Knowledge is Power
Speak to professional organisations for advice and support – your local authority, Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, Dementia UK, Carers UK, and visit online resources including The Alzheimer’s Show website – do your research on local support and funding available. More information on funding and available support can be found in Christina Macdonald’s new book, Dementia Care: A Guide (published by Sheldon Press, £7.99) and available on Amazon and in all good bookstores.
3. Mentally detach yourself when you need to
It’s important to remember that dementia is a disease of the brain, so a person with behaviour could be susceptible to sudden and unpredictable mood swings, often without warning. It is the disease talking, not the individual, and because they are unable to change their behaviour, you need to change yours by learning to detach yourself from the situation. Give them some space to calm down if need be.
4. Be in a good place when you visit
A person with dementia can be happy one minute and angry the next. As moods can be erratic, be prepared for all situations when you visit. If you are tired, stressed or not in a good place, it will not benefit either person. The person with dementia remembers how the carer makes them feel, so it is important to be upbeat and consistent and avoid a visit if you feel tired or fed up.
5. Exercise regularly
The endorphins released when exercising is mood enhancing. Exercising with the person you are caring for will benefit you both, helping to clear the mind and it may even help reduce symptoms of sundowning (when a person with dementia can be susceptible to mood swings late afternoon or early evening when the sun goes down).
6. Distract and deflect
Don’t talk about bereavements – even though they may have happened a very long time ago, they can be perceived as news to the person and trigger episodes of grief. When you can, change the subject when asked about where a deceased person is, you may find it’s a brief moment that you can move on from very quickly.
7. Encourage the person to socialise
Social interaction with others will make a difference to the person’s mood and mental awareness. Encourage the person to get involved in activities or mix with others as mental stimulation helps. Know when to back off if they don’t want to do something and don’t forget to mix yourself – befriending other carers is an excellent opportunity to vent, share and support, or having a coffee and a catch up with those unaffected by dementia will give you a chance to switch off from your caring duties.
A regular routine and a familiar environment will make the person feel secure. If you are planning a day trip, find a favourite haunt where the person feels comfortable or associates with happy memories.
The time will come when the person with dementia can no longer be left alone so it’s advisable to start planning, preparing and thinking about the future as soon as possible. Make sure paperwork is in order, organize a Lasting Power of Attorney while you still can for Property & Finance and Health & Welfare, notify the DVLA of the person’s dementia diagnosis and locate important documents you may need to manage in future – bank statements, bills, etc.
10. Look after yourself
A healthy carer makes a good carer; you can’t look after someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. You need to take time out, take regular breaks on a daily basis as well as short breaks away. Try not to feel burden down with guilt as it doesn’t help the situation.
For further information, visit the Re:Cognition Health website.
About Re:Cognition Health
Re:Cognition Health was established in 2011 to provide a specialist service in the neurological assessment and imaging of cognitive impairment, neurovascular diseases and traumatic brain injury, including the provision medico-legal expert opinion. The Re:Cognition Clinics in London, Essex, Surrey and Plymouth are also major centres for international trials of disease-modifying and new symptomatic drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions.