This year's message is simple: dementia is not contagious. There is no reason to stop visiting a person living with dementia.
Sadly, Australians with dementia experience high rates of loneliness, with friendships and family relationships often falling away after diagnosis.
In a 2016 survey, Dementia Australia found that people with dementia, when compared with their carers and the general public, are:
- More than two times more likely not to see friends.
- More than three times as likely not to have a friend to confide in.
- Almost three times as likely not to have a friend to call on for help.
This year's campaign is about removing the stigma attached to the diagnosis. A person living with dementia can still make a valuable contribution to your life and the community. Straight up, one valuable lesson to learn from someone living with dementia is to live in the present, as they do.
Catching up with someone living with dementia
Your relative or friend wishes to receive the same respect and kindness that you have always shown.
When catching up, consider making slight changes to how you communicate. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk directly to the person. Make sure they know you are addressing them and you have their attention.
- Speak clearly, give eye contact, use short sentences, present one idea at a time and avoid jargon.
- Ask simple questions. It is easier to answer direct questions than open-ended questions.
- When conversing, help the person focus by reducing background noise and removing distractions. Turn off the radio or television.
- Be patient. It can take time for the person to process your words and respond.
When visiting, take a stimulating activity
When you visit, take some stimulating activities with you to keep everyone buoyant and help extend the visit. Avoid just turning up.
Here is a stash of possible stimulating activities suggested by my colleague and friend, Helen Alexander, an aged care consultant with a speciality in dementia care:
- Stir memories, as it will be comforting for them to travel down memory lane. Take along photo albums and newspaper clippings to reminisce about their lives. Short-term memory may be lost but long-term memory is present for quite some time.
- Go for a walk together. Exercise promotes natural tiredness as sleep patterns can change as dementia progresses. It can also help maintain a positive mood and lower the risk of depression.
- Share one of their favourite hobbies or activities, be it gardening, an art gallery visit or watching André Rieu concerts on DVD. Continue the life they led before the diagnosis for as long as possible.
- Listen to music together. Turn on ABC Radio Classic FM. Music has a calming and positive effect on people with dementia. Muru Music is a new innovation selecting appropriate play lists for a particular individual - particularly those living with dementia.
- Get out into the world and take a trip to the local coffee shop. Socialisation is an important way of improving quality of life.
- Bring your dog. Animals promote wellbeing. The tactile process of patting an animal and receiving unconditional, non-judgmental love works wonders.
- Share some chores around the house and set a task, no matter how small, to complete. They will feel a rewarding sense of achievement.
Take part in World Dementia Month and visit a friend, relative or neighbour living with dementia this September; take along an activity, and try to make a habit of visiting. It will help you live in the present!
For advice and assistance on how to set up the right care, support and assistance for your loved one, at the right time and in the right place, please feel free to contact me, Danielle Robertson, at DR Care Solutions, for an initial discussion.