I have been reading Nicci Gerrard’s book ‘The Last Ocean What Dementia Teaches Us about Love’ and marveling at her gentleness and understanding (her father had dementia). This book is well worth reading if you are caring for someone with dementia, as is ‘Somebody I used to know’ by Wendy Mitchell. Wendy is telling her own story of how she remained active and engaged despite her increasing confusion and disorientation. Both explain with compassion the challenges faced when living with dementia or with someone who is affected.
I can’t wait to read Nicci’s latest work The Last Ocean A journey through memory and forgetting, which is full of other people’s vices as well as her own.
Dementia is a very broad term, covering many situations and stages. If we are diagnosed with dementia there are many things that we can do to keep ourselves orientated and alert and much that we can do to help those living with this condition.
There are some basics to bear in mind…..
## Physical activity
Doing something that requires movement and co-ordination means that your heartbeat is raised and you are keeping your body strong and functional. Even people who are in advanced stages of dementia can enjoy exercise and it helps not only physically but also cognition.
Getting outside and going for a walk helps all of us and for those with dementia it is no different. It might be that they will need company to keep them safe, but it remains very important.
Walking also provides an opportunity to see things from nature, many of which will be old memories that might be more easily accessible. My mother could remember names of plants long
after she had forgotten who the prime minister or which day of the week it was.
## Keep your brain working
Sitting endlessly in front of the television doesn’t provide stimulation and can easily lead to stagnation. People with dementia can enjoy a wide range of activities, just as they have always been able to. It’s really important to encourage people to continue with their hobbies, even if they are not able to pursue them in the same way as before.
A few minutes with some knitting might be all they can manage but it could well be a meaningful activity for them.
What about games – something with some nostalgic element
## Keep to a routine
Keeping to a routine and building in familiar tasks can make the day flow and give a pattern and a purpose that is easy to follow. Many people do the crossword in their daily newspaper and it’s great to encourage that to continue (and to keep doing it yourself). However, if you are helping and find that the answers are wrong and don’t really fit – it doesn’t matter. It’s not useful to continually point out mistakes, simply sit with them and enjoy spending time together. Be where they are is my advice. None of us wants to be corrected multiple times!
Don’t forget – dementia is a progressive disease and in amongst that there are good days and bad days – it is important that we respond to that person as they are today.