this is so easy to say and so hard to do. People with dementia need time to process thoughts and actions. Keep remembering that their brain is working more slowly than yours. Allow extra time to get an answer in conversation. Allow extra time to get ready for an outing. It may help if you keep reminding yourself that’ losing your rag’ won’t help. The person with dementia may get upset but they will not understand why you are cross. All the same, everyone is human. If you do lose your temper on occasion don’t feel too bad about it. The chances are the person with dementia will forget the occasion long before you do!
Keep Questions simple
Questions are stressful – for all of us. You only have to think how you feel if someone suddenly asks you something when you are unprepared for it. People with dementia are never prepared for questions. They cannot process a lot of information in a short time. They have to understand firstly, that you are speaking to them, then work out what you are asking and then they have to decide on their decision and formulate an answer. Keep your questions simple: “Do you want a drink?” NOT “Would you like tea or coffee or as it is rather hot would you prefer a cold drink? “You can make choice easier – by restricting the number of options or re-phrasing a question as a suggestion. Don’t ask “What do you want to eat?” but suggest “Let’s have a sandwich for lunch?”
people with dementia forget easily even things which you told them a few minutes ago. In fact it is their short term memory which is lost earliest. So remember to remind them often about what is going on but be sure to do it in a kindly and matter of fact manner.
Do not argue
if it isn’t important when or how something happened do not bother to correct someone with dementia if they get facts slightly wrong. This is a hard thing to learn for many of us who often correct others routinely and without thinking – but those who are teachers at heart need to forget their calling. Most of the time it isn’t important if a fact is wrong or a story is told wrongly. Friends who know the person with dementia will make allowances anyway. It may be salutary to ask yourself why you feel the need to correct – who benefits from the correction. It certainly isn’t the person with dementia who will be made to feel stupid at the time and won’t remember your correction later. I often advise my clients that they will never win an argument with someone who has dementia – so why begin one?
Sometimes it is simpler to accept their reality – if the person with dementia says something you know to be untrue “my mother is in the garden” for example (when mother has been dead for years) it is best just to say “Is she.” And let the moment pass rather than begin an argument about truth telling.
This leads me on to another piece of advice – Choose your battles – Sometimes it is important to take a stand but at other times it doesn’t matter. If the person you care for calls you “Mum” by mistake it isn’t important, however cross it might make you feel but if they want to cross the road without checking the traffic it is an important safety issue. Save your moments of correction or disagreement for the few times they are really necessary. Your life will be less stressful as well.
About the author
Mary works for a national dementia charity and is an Associate Director of ELM (End of Life Management Ltd). She has had considerable experience of caring for elderly relatives and friends and worked in the NHS for 9 years. Earlier publications include books on Caring and on GP Practice Management, in addition to articles in nursing and social care journals and magazines. Mary has published her new book this month by Hammersmith Books called ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia’ and each month she will offer practical advice on how to deal with dementia.
‘The Essential Carer’s Guide’ is published by Hammersmith Health Books priced at £12.99 in print and £5.99 as an ebook. www.hammersmithbooks.co.ukLast modified: June 10, 2021