7 Tips for Supporting Someone with Dementia

My last post on caring focused on the overwhelming burden and (lack of) social recognition for carers, especially men. This one’s about solutions. Because there are ways to make it easier. I’ve worked as a carer for many types of people (or “client groups” as the social work lingo is now) but in terms of family, apart from some mostly very happy time as a babysitter, my experience is of looking after someone with dementia. So these 7 tips are about that.

  1. Get organised. Getting up half an hour earlier than they do or preparing the night before means you can head them off at the pass—before things start going downhill.
  2. Establish a routine and stick to it. Change may be as good as a rest but habits are one of the last things to go when the mind shuts down and they provide a series of guiding snow poles in the mental blizzard and therefore security. Bed time especially is important as you need time to relax when your charge is in bed, and for you to get enough sleep too.
  3. Have someone sane you can moan to, at least briefly, on a regular basis, who won’t judge you (for caring or for moaning) and won’t try to fix you or the situation.
  4. Make lists and get things done. It’s tempting to use caring as a karma dump: “if only I was free to do that but I’m not” but reminding yourself that you chose this helps. You can still get on with your own life. Somehow and to some extent.
  5. Eat healthily and exercise. That goes for both of you, as keeping yourself and your charge as healthy and lithe as possible is best—as the alternative brings a whole load of problems!
  6. Be realistic about your time and energy. There’s only so much you can do in one day. Try to avoid what Robert M. Pirsig* calls “gumption traps”: the things that sap your will. I especially hate finding unwashed dishes stacked away (a common occurrence in a household with an elderly person with good intentions and bad eyesight) and hygiene in general is a basic necessity so keep up with the dishes, the laundry and the essential cleaning. The dusting can mostly wait—but not forever!
  7. Accept help. Grab anything the social services will give you for free and pay for whatever else is essential (taxis, day care, items for personal care or adapting their bedroom or the bathroom). Work patiently with state or private carers. A good working relationship with mutual trust and respect for boundaries is a tremendous support.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, caring for someone who lives in the moment can be a Zen-like experience as it forces you to slow down and appreciate simple joys like the bees busy among the flowers during the day or a wee sherry and an old film in the evening.

All things pass and this will too. Inasmuch as you’re able, try to cherish this time. It is building your character (patience, perseverance, long suffering, compassion) in a way few things could—and it won’t come again.

Photo by author of completed ActiveMinds jigsaw puzzle Monet’s Garden.

*(you can read about this American philosopher in my book on his work)