Do you have a family member or friend who you think may be developing dementia? Or perhaps they have been diagnosed already. In that case, you are probably all, family, friends and patient, still coming to terms with the news.
Typical symptoms include difficulty with speech, communication, and processing information, but first comes forgetfulness and confusion. It is important to remember that there is also confusion and anxiety for the relative or friend who has to deal with these changes. A dementia sufferer has a low sense of self worth, but the confidence of the carer is likely to take a knock initially, too.
A daily routine is comforting and reassuring to the patient, and will make life easier for the carer. Ask them to make simple choices requiring a yes/no answer, rather than asking them to complete tasks where they are bound to fail. Encourage them, do things with them, not for them. Small steps build confidence. Help them to dress well and to continue to take pride in their appearance.
Regular exercise and general health are very important. The patient may have problems in recognising food or simply in asking for what they want. If they become poor eaters, their weight will drop and they will be susceptible to illnesses, which can increase confusion in dementia patients.
It's important to continue with hobbies in some form. Someone who loves cooking can still help in the preparation of a meal; a gardener can sweep leaves or do other jobs outside, or may enjoy a walk in the park. Pets are very rewarding and easy to relate to. Music has been found to be particularly therapeutic, and can trigger memories from the past.
Help them to remain independent and to retain a sense of control, and you will also help yourself. Pin notes or pictures to cupboard doors, or to the toilet door if forgetfulness causes incontinence. Put a notice inside the front door to remind them to take the front door key out with them, and leave keys in a large bowl nearby so that they easy to find, and harder to lose.
Encourage them to keep a diary of recent events, or pin up a weekly timetable of tasks. A daily newspaper will remind them of the day and date. Important contact numbers can be kept by the phone, or keyed into a mobile. Arrange for them to pay bills by direct debit so that they can manage their own finances.
You will need to be flexible and tolerant, although it's only natural that you will lose patience at times. Try not to be too critical - and don't talk about them as if they're not there!
A person with dementia is still a unique individual with a past history, who deserves respect and consideration. Sit and chat with them; listen to what they have to say, even if it takes time. Do things together, fill a photo album, record their past - their long term memory may be better than their recollection of yesterday. Use this precious opportunity to get to know another part of them. After all, they are still there.