5 things you can do to help a friend or relative with dementia

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When a relative is diagnosed with dementia, feelings of helplessness and worry can be a real problem for family members. Watching a loved one gradually lose treasured memories is heartbreaking, but there are things you can do to help them and to make your visits as enjoyable for both of you as possible.

1) Communicating with someone with dementia will get more difficult as the disease progresses. Speaking slightly more slowly with simpler words and sentence structure will help them to understand you. Non verbal communication is really important! Things like eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language are valuable ways of communication and help someone with dementia to focus on you. Try to avoid sudden movements and loud noises, it can be upsetting or distressing for a dementia sufferer. 

2) Include them in conversations! Speaking on their behalf, completing their sentences and allowing people to exclude them can make them feel ashamed and make them lose self respect. Understand that the brains of dementia sufferers may take a little longer to process information, so be patient. Give them time, remove distractions such as TV, and try to work out what they mean. Direct questions can make a dementia sufferer feel put on the spot, giving them options or asking yes/no questions can be easier for them. 

3) Help dementia patients to keep as much of their independence as possible. A gradual loss of independence is inevitable, but there are things we can do to help sufferers to maintain their dignity. Where possible, support the person to do things for themselves rather than jumping in and taking over. It can be really hard when someone with dementia is fighting for their independence, and may not want to accept that they need help. Try not to assume that the sufferer doesn't understand what is happening. Involving them in decisions governing their care will make them feel as though they still have some control.

4) Break down tasks into small chunks, and complete them together. If tasks are adapted to take account of the person's strengths and weaknesses, completing them will give them as sense of achievement and self worth. 

5) Self esteem can be massively affected by dementia. Praising achievements, celebrating success, doing activities together, avoiding harsh criticism or belittling comments, and helping them to maintain existing social relationships (and to form new ones!) are really important ways to keep the quality of live of dementia patients. 

There is a lot you can do to help a dementia patient. To learn more, check out the wealth of information from the Alzheimer's Society!