Shops and public spaces are becoming more dementia-friendly thank goodness, so managing dementia in public should be easier with quiet spaces, and staff trained to be more sympathetic. Great in theory, but it won’t make you feel better if your beloved elderly parent has yet another vocal meltdown at the checkout.
Mortifying certainly. Also alarming. But mostly incredibly sad that the person you love is disappearing.
The temptation perhaps is to not take them out any more, but this could make their situation even worse as they become increasingly isolated.
The importance of outings for Dementia patients
As a loved one’s cognitive abilities decline, changes in their personality, moods and behaviours are likely to come and go. The unpredictable nature of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia makes it nearly impossible to anticipate dementia outbursts and the onset of new symptoms.
While it may be tempting to keep your parent safe at home where they cannot offend people, this isn’t always the best option. Fresh air, sunshine, social interaction, increased activity and changes in environment are crucial for keeping a dementia patient mentally and physically active and engaged.
Hopefully, some carefully planned outings can be enjoyable, and minimize loneliness, restlessness, stress and agitation.
As your parents’ abilities continue to decline, it will probably become increasingly difficult for them to run errands, enjoy the outdoors, go to the pub or cinema.
Incontinence, wandering and changes in mobility often occur in the middle and late stages of the disease, so it’s important to continue trying to do as many “normal” things together while you still can.
Unfortunately you may need to “keep calm and carry on” in anticipation of an outing, but there are ways to hopefully diffuse some of the agitation and handle meltdowns with tact.
5 Tips for dealing with Dementia in public
1. Keep calm ....and try to carry on
Doubtless you have perfected having the patience of a saint, and know that keeping calm is the key to handling many of the diffrent types of dementia behaviour.
So hard to maintain your composure and manage a dementia outburst in public, when you’re flusttered, particularly in another endless queue at the till in a busy, hot shop……
2. Be prepared
As most of us discover, first with the kids, and then ourselves in middle-age, going out takes a bit more planning than it used to.
So – the same for your loved one – a bit of prep can go a long way to making an enjoyable outing: appropriate clothing, a drink and a snack perhaps, and a loo stop before you leave.
Explain the plans to your parent, and involve them as much as possible. Don’t make it confusing by expecting them to make the decisions about the outing – where, what, when etc – as that might start to raise the anxiety levels before you’ve left the house.
3. Go to familiar and friendly places
You may feel that you have to limit the places you go to those where your parent is known, and where their situation is understood should they have an outburst. This is as much for your good humour as for their safety and well-being.
You can also find places that are dementia friendly, including shops and shopping centres. Or you could also find specific film screenings or theatre shows that have dementia-friendly performances.
You don’t need to go out alone with your parent. There are local groups and organisations that can help; memory cafes, or groups that organise gardening sessions, trips and visits.
4. Finding what triggered the outburst
If it is possible try to pinpoint what may trigger extreme reactions whilst out and about. Sometimes the cause may be something as simple as hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain or the need to go to the loo.
A really busy shopping centre, large crowds or bright lights can be stressful for any of us, but might trigger particularly anxious or aggressive behaviour for someone with dementia. If you can pinpoint the cause of an outburst or the warning signs that led up to it, it may help you prevent future episodes.
If you find yourself in a difficult situation, try and find a more secluded spot where they can calm down and you can assess what’s wrong.
No doubt you will, but worth noting those environments which are not worth returning to together.
5. Focus on the positives
Easier said than done in some instances. But hopefully you will find them, even in some dark moments. Trying to keep the show on the road can seem impossible some days, but many aspects of every day activities can be very positive for your parent or relative.
Interaction with the outside world, practical tasks and the chance to feel involved in every day life are not to be under-estimated. The comfort of strangers can be almost overwhelming at moments of stress and anxiety, but don’t ignore them.
And, take comfort from the fact that you are doing absolutely all that you can for the person you love. Don’t despair.