Tony Oakden, church and community adviser
Dementia Awareness Week (14-20 May) provides an opportunity for us to think about how we support and care for people living with dementia.
As a Dementia Friends Champion, I have been busy over the last few years delivering Dementia Friends information sessions to lots of church groups and others, helping those who attend to understand more about dementia so that they can then support those living with the illness.
Here are few techniques that I teach in those groups.
Firstly, it is useful to understand that, as unique human beings, our identity is defined by a number of different aspects including :
- our memory
- our ability to reason and make decisions and choices
- our feelings
- our senses
- our skills and abilities
- our relationships
For people living with dementia, the illness can affect their memory, ability to think and reason and ability to carry out everyday tasks – this can lead to a loss of identity and make it difficult to engage with the world around them.
Most of us want to have human contact, but dementia can make it difficult for sufferers to sustain relationships and they can feel cut off and isolated. We can help by making deliberate efforts to contact, visit and spend time with people living with dementia.
Understanding that a person’s thought processes and ability to reason can be affected, and adjusting our expectations accordingly, can help them feel less overawed and anxious.
Memory and emotions
Dementia generally causes problems with recent memory, what is often referred to as short-term memory. Often earlier memories become more important, and exploring those earlier memories with a dementia sufferer, talking about the past can often be more supportive than trying to help that person be in the present.
Dementia affects memory but not emotions, so someone with dementia may not remember a recent conversation but may remember the feelings it invoked. So trying to have positive, happy conversations rather than ones that provoke sadness, anger, frustration or anxiety will help that person to have positive interactions with you.
You can help a person with dementia to remain engaged in making choices and decisions by simplifying your language and breaking choices and decisions down to more manageable sizes. Be prepared to ask questions in several different ways, as this can help them to understand better.
Humans are multi-sensual and, while some senses can be affected, others may not be. The use of music, of aromas and scents, of pictures and objects and the sense of touch can all help access parts of understanding and memory, so being creative and using different medium and stimulating different senses could help those for whom conversation is difficult.
Likewise, helping someone with dementia to engage in activity is helpful. They may not be able to cope with complicated tasks but may enjoy doing simple jigsaws, art and painting/drawing, children’s books etc.
If you can support them to carry on doing everyday tasks, perhaps by doing them together rather than just taking them over because it is easier, it will also help to keep them active and able.
In our communities, our churches, amongst our friends and colleagues, we can help improve the lives of those living with dementia by increasing our understanding of the illness and having a willingness to offer support.
I would be pleased to offer Dementia Friends information sessions to churches and other groups. These sessions are free and last about an hour and a half. You can also find your nearest public session on the Dementia Friends website.
Contact me by phone on 01483 790325 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dementia page has useful information for those suffering from dementia and those supporting them.