Posted on May 13, 2016
Dementia management requires patience and understanding. The best way for caregivers to help their loved one is to listen to specialist advice. By improving your knowledge of this condition, both you and your loved one will reduce stress and manage symptoms with much greater success. Here are five common misconceptions.
This is a dangerous myth as it prevents people from getting an early diagnosis. Dementia is a progressive condition; however, early intervention can help with troubling symptoms and allow the sufferer to retain independence for much longer. Specialists may recommend diet, exercise and environmental changes to slow the condition. Drug treatments can also slow or reverse some symptoms. It may also be possible for your loved one to take part in new treatments as part of a medical trial.
Dementia sufferers are happier and easier to manage if you agree with their version of reality. Constantly contradicting them can lead to confusion, depression and aggressiveness. If your loved one calls someone by the wrong name or tells a story that doesn’t make sense, it is best to focus on the fact that s/he is engaged in a positive social interaction, rather than the accuracy of the conversation. In response to a comment such as “The moon is much bigger now than when I was young”, you could say that you saw some fantastic space pictures recently in a magazine.
Dementia sufferers are not inherently violent. Aggressive behaviour is usually a response to something which frightens them and triggers defence mechanisms. If a strange man walked into the room and touched you on the arm, you may be inclined to hit him. A dementia sufferer may not initially recognise someone, even if they are a close relative or friend. By observing your loved one’s responses to particular situations, you can avoid such problems. You might, for example, choose to show your loved one photos of the person who will be visiting before they arrive.
Hazel Hawke, ex-wife of Prime Minister Bob Hawke, is perhaps our most famous example that people with dementia can find purpose and immerse themselves in the joys of life. She lived alone for almost a decade after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, with moderate assistance from family and carers. Hazel continued to play piano, garden and meet friends for coffee. Her daughter acknowledges that just because her mum was slowly changing, it did not diminish her ability to appreciate life.
Sufferers may be aware of events happening around them, but are unable to tell you. This is because the part of the brain which controls communication, including language, is severely affected by dementia. Always tell your loved one about changes that are going to take place, even if they do not respond. If you place your loved one in a home or new room, make sure it is decorated to his/her tastes with favourite pictures, family photos and access to music s/he likes. Similarly, play television programs s/he would enjoy.
Your journey through dementia with your loved one will be both enlightening and challenging. Make sure your dementia management techniques are effective by ignoring these myths that are based on hearsay and decades-old research.
Image credit: "Grandma Opening Gifts" (cropped) by Todd Kulesza. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)