What Can You Do To Help Your Loved One With Dementia
Dementia can affect a person’s memory and ability to coordinate, recognise objects, and interpret their environment. In addition, they may have other health conditions which can affect their sight, mobility, and independence. This can have a significant impact on the person’s daily life including how they function within their own home. However, with some simple adjustments you can make a home easier to manage and more ‘dementia friendly’. This not only helps the person maintain their independence for longer but it can minimise distress and frustration, thereby supporting a better quality of life.
Here are some tips on how to do this:
Reduce unnecessary background noise such as the TV and /or radio, unless it is being used. People may find it difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at once so it is important not to over stimulate.
Light is exceptionally important for someone with dementia as it helps with orientation and well-being. Try increasing natural light during the day by taking down unnecessary net curtains or blinds, and push back heavy curtains. If possible, have curtains that are a light fabric and light in colour in the living areas as this helps to reflect daylight. To create more light, use higher watt light bulbs. You can also get portable low level lights if you want to have lights on at night in case the person with dementia gets up to walk around. Also, pop the person’s favourite chair by a window so they get more natural daylight and they can look out to see what is going on. To aid sleep at night use heavier curtains in the bedroom.
For safety, fit smoke alarms and heat detectors in the home and check the batteries regularly. You can get movement sensors in beds to alert you if a person has left the bed, and there are plugs that automatically drain away water when sinks and baths are too full to prevent flooding. Keep chemicals in a locked cupboard so they are out of harm’s reach. And, there are devices available to help people open jars, lids and so on.
A wardrobe of clothes can be overwhelming for someone with dementia, so lay their clothes out for the next day the night before or in the morning as it encourages the person to dress themselves with the clothes that are readily there. Also, if you change your clothes into night clothes it tells the person it is now night time and they will do the same. Or, put a dressing gown over your day clothes to look like night clothes if your bedtimes are different.
Labelling rooms and what’s in cupboards can be helpful but try not to introduce new systems as this may increase confusion. For example, for the bathroom door put up pictures of a toilet, sink and bath. In the bedroom, use a picture of socks on the front of a sock drawer, and so on. Images can be found on the internet and printed off or specific signage can be purchased.
In the bathroom, leave the light on at night so the toilet is easier to find and have a toilet lid and seat that contrasts with the colour of the pan for visual ease. Avoid toilet and bath mats as someone with dementia might think these are barriers they need to step over. Have a free stand toilet paper holder that is easy to find and have toilet paper that is a different colour to the holder, walls and floor so it stands out. (Also, use high quality toilet paper as it makes the end easier to find). With towels, keep these a different colour to the wall too, so they stand out.
In the kitchen remove clutter and make things readily accessible; so, for example, you could take cupboard fronts/ doors off. Mark hot and cold taps (either write the words on the labels or use red and blue signage). If possible, use plain plates with a coloured solid band to make the food stand out, and contrast the plate with plain coloured place mats and table cloths to make the food easier to find. Put cups and cutlery into people’s hands to stimulate memory to lift them to their mouths.
Where possible have matt flooring and walls as anything shiny may be mistaken as being wet or slippery. If you’re changing flooring try to pick one colour rather than patterns, and try to keep it the same throughout the property. People may misinterpret changes in floor colour as a step or water so may avoid stepping onto it. Keep walls a different colour from the floor so there is a contrast to avoid confusion. Don’t use rugs as they are loose and easy to trip over.
Try to keep important items in the same place to aid memory such as keys, money, note books, medication, and phone book.
Try using a white board to have reminders for the person, which can include appointments or events. A large calendar and/or clock which indicates the day/date alongside this will also help.
Finally, there are a number of useful websites which advertise aids and assistive technology for people with dementia, which can make day to day activities easier to manage. We recommend that you choose carefully as some aids may not work for everyone. Think through what the person is finding difficult first and then look at possible aids or adaptations. Not all changes have to be expensive!