Five Ways to Help Those with Dementia


Five Ways to Help Those with DementiaImagine a double-decker bus absolutely packed with people – so packed that the driver’s not letting anyone else on! Now picture another 7,975 double-decker buses, all filled up in the same way… If you can picture that, you’ll have some idea of how many people in the UK are currently living with dementia. This month we’re teaming up with the charity Dementia Friends to explain five ways you can help someone with dementia…

But what is dementia?
First, we’ll just say what dementia is not! Dementia is not the inevitable effect of old age. While more common in the elderly, dementia is nevertheless the result of any number of diseases that affect the brain. The most common and well known is Alzheimer’s, but the list includes vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Pick’s disease.

These different types affect the brain in different ways and at different rates. Other factors that influence dementia include your personal circumstances, the people around you and the environment in which you live… That means dementia progresses in a way that’s unique to each individual.

The 670,000 individuals in the UK who have a form of dementia aren’t alone in facing it, though. One in 14 people aged over 65 are likely to develop the disease, but even if you don’t face it personally, you’ll almost certainly know somebody who does… Here’s what you can do to help:

Be patient
This is arguably the easiest thing to write – and the kindest thing to do. Those with dementia can easily become confused and frightened. It’s difficult for people around the condition to cope with too: it’s all too easy to show impatience, frustration or anger.  If you take nothing else away from this sheet, keep this in mind. Develop strategies or routines that sustain your own patience – time out, yoga, meditation, hypnosis, whatever – and give patients plenty of time to speak without feeling anxious or stressed.

Connect with the person behind the dementia
There’s one particular story that captures the importance of making a personal connection beyond dementia.  It tells of an elderly lady with the rather irritating habit of intermittently tapping on table tops – but not rhythmically! Just an erratic, continual and unpredictable tapping, seemingly at random. It simply infuriated the staff and residents in the care home around her…

Imagine, then, the relief and joy following the discovery that the tapping wasn’t random at all… It was Morse code! During the war, the lady had been one of the many dozens of ferociously intelligent women in Bletchley Park, cracking the Nazi’s legendary Enigma code. She was trying to communicate, and this revelation ended years of frustration and irritation not only for the lady but also the people around her.

Make surroundings dementia-friendly
There’s a pervasive idea that people with dementia “see things” that aren’t there. That’s only partly accurate. In many cases it’s more fair to say that some people with dementia see differently things that are there! That’s because dementia can affect your perception…

So for example, it might be that a well-varnished floor looks wet and slippery, or a carpet’s swirly pattern looks like a room of coiled snakes. Indeed, many doormats simply look like a huge hole in the ground to those facing this aspect of the disease. Be aware of this and watch for potential problems. You might, for instance, clearly label what things are and how they work, and consider carefully how things might look in a world where your depth-perception begins to betray you.

Avoid correcting people
One of the Back in Shape team has a friend whose mother used to have the most uncanny knack of finishing off other people’s sentences. Anyone who saw her do it was impressed by her speed and accuracy: she always got the gist, found a space in which to take over the sentence and approximate what was going to be said next… If Derren Brown had seen her, he would’ve eaten his heart out!

And while it was impressive on the one hand it was, on the other – and quite unintentionally – somewhat rude! Why interrupt? Why guess what someone else wants to say? Why presume that the speaker wants to hear someone else’s best guess rather than use their own words? One perceived subtext is that you’re bored with hearing the speaker talk, or that you’re frustrated listening!

Unfortunately that is exactly the kind of message one conveys when we ‘help along’ someone with dementia. They may very well keep forgetting important facts and events, but experience proves that nudging them in this way leaves both parties feeling more frustrated. So… instead of second guessing and nudging along what they don’t recall, convey enthusiasm and interest in the things that they do say and can remember.

Be sure to reminisce
The irony is that while short-term memory loss is often an early sign of dementia, long-term memories often survive intact! It’s a helpful and generous act to encourage and share old stories! Let them repeat stories that they enjoy telling, even if you’ve heard them all before. And be sure that you join in: tell them what’s new, and reminisce along with them.

To find out more about Dementia Friends, drop us a line at the clinic or take a look at the website: