Statistics: who needs them? When they relate to anything to do with health and well-being, they’re often scary and unpleasant. Let’s ignore them, and, instead, start by saying that dementia is an illness that affects a lot of people in the UK.
If you’re reading this, that probably includes somebody you love.
Dementia is often known by another name: Alzheimer’s. The two have become synonymous, but are actually different, in a way. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, the most common form that presents the classic symptoms of memory loss, confusion, concentration problems and personality changes.
When an individual displays these symptoms, it can be a very distressing time. Many people living with dementia experience anxiety and reclusion. There is a stigma surrounding the illness that results in people becoming shut out from the normality of life.
Once dementia kicks in, that’s it — you’re done. This can be the reaction to the diagnosis.
But dementia is not the end. In fact, it’s far from it. On average, those diagnosed live around a decade after first displaying symptoms, with many going on for far longer. The result is that, despite having dementia, people still have many good years to cram in everything life has to offer. It may get tougher as symptoms worsen, but that doesn’t mean that a person with dementia cannot live a rich and fulfilling life, although they may need extra help.
So, what can you do to support somebody with dementia and make sure they live with purpose?
Help Manage Concerns
Dementia and depression go hand-in-hand. Fear of the illness can result in harmful mental patterns and difficult emotions, especially in the early stages — when cognitive abilities have yet to be severely affected — making awareness of what is to come particularly vivid.
This is the time when isolation and reclusive behaviour may set in.
Those living with dementia can separate themselves from their normal life and routine out of anxiety. This is a critical stage in the progression of the illness. Reassurance and building confidence now can play a significant role later on. The further dementia progresses, the harder it is to support a purpose-driven, active and engaged lifestyle. The lesser the impact of the diagnosis, the easier it will be to continue supporting a life that is worth living.
Now is the time to ensure the individual you are trying to support gets the help and treatment they need. This includes support from dementia communities, doctors, carers, friends and family, as well as receiving information about the condition and how to manage it.
You are in a position to help those with dementia understand what their diagnosis means and why it doesn’t mean they cannot continue to live with purpose and happiness.
Identify What Is Important
Living with purpose means different things to different people.
While you may be driven by family, another may be driven by a hobby or interest. Those living with dementia are no different; they’ll have different things they love to do — things that get them out of bed in the morning and make them happy.
Spend time working out exactly what those drives are. If you are close, you may already have an idea, but it’s important not to make assumptions. How they feel about their life, and what direction they want to take, may have changed with their diagnosis. Big changes tend to have a profound effect on how we perceive the world around us and the news of dementia is no different. Talk through passions and interests, hobbies and potential activities.
What exactly is going to help them live with purpose?
Support Their Goals and Aspirations
Once you know what drives them, it’s time to look at how to make these desires a reality while living with dementia.
Your first step is to identify any barriers they may face. This will depend on the type and severity of symptoms. Everyone is different and dementia can impact the brain in different ways. Some may really struggle with memory, while others face challenges with problem-solving or mobility.
Awareness of obstacles allows them to be overcome. If movement or getting confused is a problem, for example, arrangement of transportation to locations hobbies take place at ensures they are able to safely reach their destination and enjoy their time without concern. Likewise, if physical support is needed, the adoption of home care services can enable continued activity.
Whatever the barriers, with proper support, steps can be taken to minimise their impact. The answer is all about finding the solutions that fit an individual’s unique circumstances — circumstances affected both by dementia and their goals for life.
Adjust Course as Needed
As dementia progresses, what was once easy can become difficult. For example, attending social events may have been straightforward and enjoyable, but, as confusion and concentration problems have an increased impact on the brain, holding conversations with large groups of people can become challenging.
This doesn’t mean that purpose needs to be lost, but that adjustments should be made. These changes should support both the individual’s lifestyle and the management of the illness.
Where social activities are an important part of a purpose-driven life, you can support those you love living with dementia by helping to arrange smaller social gatherings that they are able to enjoy more easily. This is just one example. Almost anything can be adjusted to provide continued enjoyment, while working around dementia symptoms.
Don’t Be Forceful
Unfortunately, as is the degenerative nature of dementia, eventually, activities and experiences may become too challenging. Your loved one might find them too taxing or no longer be able to engage with them properly.
It is hard to watch somebody go downhill and it’s tempting to try and fight on for them. However, forcing somebody with dementia to do something they can’t or don’t want to do can be very stressful and exacerbate symptoms. You must be flexible and move with their movements.
Supportive actions are just that: they support the needs of the individual. Don’t pressure them to follow what you believe is best for them or what you think they need, even if it means them letting go of the things they used to love.
Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post