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Dementia and Dignity: Quality of Life with Memory Loss

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One of the best ways to help a loved one deal with dementia is to help them retain their dignity. Dementia can be a scary and confusing illness to live through. The resultant loss of privacy and decreased ability to perform basic self-care exacerbates feelings of helplessness and disorientation. Your loved one can’t necessarily rely on their own mind to tell them what to do in given situations. They may have to rely on others to remind them to do things, such as taking their blood pressure medication. They may not be able to bathe or use the bathroom by themselves, which can cause embarrassment and shame. But there are ways to help your loved one keep as much dignity as possible. It is possible to have both dementia and dignity.

Tips of providing quality of life with dementia

Help your loved one stay independent as long as possible.

It might be easier and quicker to help Mom bathe, but she’ll probably be happier doing it herself. Take the time to research bathing aids and get them installed them in her home. Grab bars, a shower seat, and a handheld shower wand can help her bathe independently longer. Your role is not necessarily to take over, but to try to make things as easy as possible for your parent. So instead of making Mom coffee when she prefers to do it herself, buy her an easy- to-use machine.

Make sure mugs are stored where she can reach them without a struggle. When you are at the store, look for creamer that is easy to open. It may sound counterintuitive, but an assisted living facility can keep your parent living independently even more easily than living at home can. This is because the environment is set up to be as user-friendly as possible. If living at home is important to Mom, have an occupational therapist tour her home. He can offer suggestions on how to make her home as safe as possible for her.

Don’t treat them like a child.

It is all too easy to treat a loved one with dementia like a child. Their increased dependence on us can make us feel like we are in the parent-role now. Their confusion can be difficult to deal with and cause us to change our tone of voice as we speak to them. Being aware of this tendency is half the battle. As much as possible, treat your parent like an adult. Don’t use baby talk or talk to them in a condescending manner. Being treated respectfully and as an equal goes a long way to helping someone with dementia retain their dignity.

Avoid correcting them.

People with dementia commonly confuse events and people. Allow them their dignity and don’t overcorrect them. Say you are talking with Mom about a childhood vacation and she insists is was just last week. If you get out the photo album to prove her wrong, you will likely only confuse her further. Instead, gently steer the conversation away from when things happened. Reminisce about that great shelling beach you found instead. If she calls you by the wrong name, just proceed with your original conversation as though it never happened. In the early stages of dementia, Mom may wish you to acknowledge her slip-ups to help her keep things straight. Just ask what she prefers and be on the lookout for signs that being corrected causes her anxiety.

Keep some details to yourself.

Of course, anyone who participates in active caregiving will need to know that Dad is having bladder troubles. But his friends and neighbors probably don’t need to know. It is tempting to vent about all the work that goes into caregiving, but keep personal details between Dad’s closest caregivers. It will make it easier for him to feel that he is not just a patient, but a person.

Be encouraging.

Compliment Mom on her new robe. Bring her a matching shade of nail polish and suggest you do manicures one afternoon. Tell her often how much she means to you. Try to be specific and let her give you advice when possible. “Mom you always did such a great job planning the holidays, can you give me some tips this year?”. Everyone likes to feel needed.

Allow for privacy and honor their opinions.

If your parent asks to be alone or to skip visiting hours one day, take them seriously. Honor their requests whenever it is reasonable to do so. If they don’t want to participate in a certain activity, don’t force it. Knock when you visit, and call first if you can. Ask if they want help with something, rather than just taking over. If Dad wants to do something that you don’t feel good about, help him retain his sense of dignity when you respond. Say he wants to drive himself to the store, but you don’t feel that it would be safe. Tell him that you were going anyway and that you’d love the company.

With practice and a little dedication, you will get better and better at helping your loved one retain their dignity after a dementia diagnosis.

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