Empowering People with Dementia
Empowering someone with dementia does not require fancy qualifications and special training. The keys to empowerment lie more in common sense, empathy and understanding- things that we can all aspire to. Remember, your starting point is that they cannot change to suit you – you have to change to accommodate them.
Tips to Empower Your Loved One
- Develop purposeful activities to counteract boredom which may lead to negative behaviours. Fidget blankets and muffs can help to prevent skin picking. Simple tasks like folding laundry can be both useful and enjoyable. Colouring in books are also good. Being able to see results is empowering. Interaction with children and young people can be incredibly therapeutic and empowering. Don’t leave your loved one alone, bored and neglected with nothing to do. This encourages negative behaviours and also feeds depression and introspection.
- Speak face to face, using simple and common words and making sure that they can see your face. Some people find it beneficial to stand slightly to the person’s left side as this supposedly engages the social right side of the brain. Try this to see if it helps but whatever you do, make sure that they can see that is you talking. Keep sentences short and clear. Be patient when waiting for answers as it can take time for your words to be understood and the answer formulated. Conversation, even at a simple level, is empowering.
- Limit choices so the person is not overwhelmed. Yes, no, the red one or the blue one, cheese or ham? Don’t be annoyed if they cannot make a decision but give them the opportunity to do so if they are capable. The feeling that they are still deemed capable of participating is empowering.
- Hide distractions and make obvious what you want the person to focus on. Don’t start talking about food when the objective is a bath. If they move on to another subject, steer them gently back to the topic of focus, the bath! Use visual cues to emphasis the intended activity such as bath towel, favourite grooming products and so on.
- Don’t argue. It is counterproductive as you are not engaging with someone with whom you can reason. Rather move on to the next thing. Sometimes going out of the room and then coming back in helps to break an argumentative cycle. You are then starting over and the previous engagement is likely to be forgotten.
- Be sensitive to their mood and validate it. You seem worried today. Can you tell me what is worrying you?
- Identify with and enter their reality. If they think you are their brother back in 1962 go along with it. Don’t disagree and try to argue otherwise. You can’t bring them back to your reality so you have to learn to negotiate within the parameters of theirs.
- Keep the environment as simple and uncluttered as possible. Make things that are needed for a specific task obvious so that the person can act independently for as long as possible, even if it is at a slower and simpler level.
- Be observant and notice any triggers that cause confusion and distress. For instance, as perception is affected by dementia, reflections can cause anxiety. The person may also have problems recognising themselves in the mirror – they are expecting to see themselves as they were at whatever stage in their lives they have fixated on and don’t recognise ‘the stranger in the mirror’. Removing mirrors and masking reflective surfaces makes more sense than engaging in a pointless explanation that will be forgotten in 2 minutes and doesn’t resolve the issue.