Just had a loved one diagnosed with dementia?

Expert Mary Jordan gives you some invaluable tips to help you cope.

Everyone dreads a diagnosis of dementia. It is the ‘D’ word no one wants to hear. If someone you love has just received this diagnosis you are likely to be worried – perhaps frightened – and unsure which way to turn for advice. It is important to remember that the diagnosis doesn’t change the person. They may be a little more confused, a bit slower to understand things but they still have the same likes and dislikes, the same hopes and wishes as they have always had. Most people with dementia would like to carry on doing the things they have always enjoyed and with a little bit of extra help they usually can. However it is important to remember that dementia is progressive – it will slowly get worse – so planning ahead is always helpful.

Some quick tips:
  1. Logical thought patterns are lost more quickly than emotional thoughts: this means that it may be difficult for someone with dementia to follow a reasoned argument or to understand logically why they should do something (such as, for example, giving power of attorney to someone close to them). Emotional thinking on the other hand remains intact for a very long time. It is helpful to try to understand how the person with dementia is feeling and to address that feeling rather than to try explaining and pointing out logically why something should or should not be done.
  2. Do not argue – if it isn’t important don’t correct someone with dementia if they get things slightly wrong. It can make someone with dementia feel very inadequate if you continually correct them and you should ask yourself why it is important to do so – does it only make you feel superior?
  3. Keep questions simple. People with dementia take time to process their thoughts and answering a question involves remembering what has been asked as well as deciding on an answer.
  4. Make choice easier – for the same reasons as simplifying questions. Don’t give someone with dementia too much to remember. “Would you like to wear your green sweater” not “Why don’t you get changed into something a bit warmer – maybe that sweater you got for Christmas from Uncle Fred?”
  5. Be patient. It can be frustrating repeating an answer to a question that has been asked several times or waiting a long time for someone to ready to go out. People with dementia need more time to process thought, to answer questions, and to carry out even simple actions. If you accept this and allow more time everyone will be less stressed.

Remember that you are not alone. There are many sources of help and support for you and your loved one. For a handy guide to keep by you and refer to as and when needed I suggest The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia (Hammersmith Health Books)

Mary Jordan has gained considerable first-hand experience of dementia, both through caring for friends and relatives and professionally in her work for a national dementia charity. She has many years of experience working for the National Health Service and in the field of medical publishing. In addition to articles and papers published in medical, nursing and social care journals and general magazines, Mary is also known for her books ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide’, ‘The Fundholder’s Handbook’, the award-winning ‘End of Life, The Essential Guide to Caring’ and ‘The Essential Guide to Avoiding Dementia’.