See the person, not just the condition
How you care for someone will often depend on your relationship with them and your intuition. If it’s a family member or loved one you will know them well and you should not underestimate the value of your understanding and insight into their life. More than anything else it is essential that you continue to see the person as they are inside and not just the external display of their dementia.
It’s very important that people with dementia are treated with respect. It is important to remember that a person with dementia is still a unique and valuable human being, despite their illness. We should all do what we can to help our elderly loved ones retain their sense of identity and feeling of self-worth.
They are still the same person they were before they had dementia. They also need to be respected and valued for who they are now, as well as for who they were in the past. There are many things people can do to help such as making time to listen, talking with them regularly, showing affection in a way they feel comfortable with and finding things to do together, enjoy being with them.
Remember to always address an older person with respect and courtesy. If it is your custom to bow before an elderly person then bow to someone with dementia in the same way when greeting them. Continue to address them by the name and title they have earned. If you are discussing something whilst they are in the room you should involve them as much as you can. Never talk over their heads or talk about them as if they were not there. Try to imagine how you would like to be treated if you were their age.
Continue to respect their privacy. Make sure you and others adopt simple habits like always knocking on their door before entering. If helping with intimate personal activities, such as washing or using the toilet, do this sensitively and make sure the door is kept closed if other people are around.
Dementia affects people’s thinking, reasoning and memory, but their feelings remain intact. Like most of us, a person with dementia will probably be sad or upset at times. Make time to listen to what they have to say in a way that they can see you are paying attention.
As the condition progresses, dementia will affect the person’s ability to carry out tasks in everyday life that they would have found easy before. That does not mean that you should do everything for them. On the contrary it is easier for you, and better for them, if you support and encourage them to continue to do as much as they can for themselves. When you do help out, try to do things with them, not for them. This can help the person retain their independence as well as improve their wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem.
Dementia is nothing to be ashamed of. It is no one’s fault.