My father was diagnosed with early onset dementia when he was just 52. As a young teenager, I spent a lot of time helping to care for him which was tough but seeking advice on the best ways to interact with him was incredibly helpful.
The number of people living with dementia is on the rise with over 850,000 people across the UK currently on their dementia journey. Yet, at the same time, innovations in technology, world-class research and a passion for sharing and helping in the community is starting to help encourage people to think more creatively in their approach to dementia care.
People shouldn’t be defined by their dementia, and each person has a unique journey. These tips below should help guide you to find the best way to experience ‘moments of happiness’ every time you see your loved one.
The right environment
When people are on their dementia journey, creating the right environment is the most important factor for a high standard of living. They should be feeling relaxed and calm, rather than tired and agitated. Research has shown that there are nine strategies to stimulate people on their dementia journey. These include: humour, optimism, awareness, a sense of safety, personal attention, a sense of community, relaxation and reminiscence.
There are many forms of dementia each affecting different parts of the brain. Therefore, a ‘one size fits all’ methodology rarely works when creating the right environment for spending time with your loved one. Create an environment that encourages interaction, collaboration and motivation. Establish an atmosphere of positivity and happiness whether you’re playing games, having a cup of tea or discussing your favourite memories.
A typical characteristic of dementia is the lack of clarity between short and long-term memory. This can be seen to most people as a loss of short-term memory. I like to illustrate it through the bookshelf analogy created by The Alzheimer’s Society. A bookshelf is filled with books that contain skills and memories that have been collected over a lifetime. The short-term memory books are at the top and the long-term memories at the bottom. Imagine this bookshelf then gets hit with dementia; it shakes, and the top books start to topple off. This is how the confusion can begin, as someone with dementia mixes all the books together, causing them to think that their most recent memory could in fact be from their childhood.
Learning this analogy helped me to understand how dementia affects people and their memory when they’re hit with dementia.
Instead of getting frustrated that your loved one doesn’t remember what they had for supper last night, use this as an opportunity to bond over old memories or learn something new about their life. My dad used to love watching the rugby, so we continued to watch it. And when we didn’t watch it, we would discuss his favourite matches he’d remember when he was a young boy. It was such a wonderful experience to see him relive the joy he felt when he was younger which in turn, also bought me and my family joy.
Research from Dutch innovator, Hester Le Riche, has proven the wondrous effects playing games can have on stimulating people with dementia. Dementia can cause people to become very withdrawn and passive for most of the day so getting creative and playing a game can stimulate your loved one and subsequently improve their quality of life.
The different stages of dementia dictate the experiences and conditions that are suitable for creating games that ensures everyone has fun. For example, experiences that are suitable for people with early stage dementia include upheaval, challenge, fellowship and humour. When creating a game, make sure to encourage participation, keep motivation and morale high and keep to a pace that’ll give players sufficient time to react. Care homes, libraries and hospitals are starting to bring technological innovations to their games by installing the Tovertafel, which translates to the ‘Magic Table.’
The Tovertafel is an interactive light game for those living with mid-to-late stage dementia. It is based on six years of research from the Netherlands. It works by projecting images that are bright and enticing but also spark reminiscence with games such as sweeping of leaves or popping bubbles.
The technology has now been installed in almost 300 care services in the UK. It also benefits those with learning disabilities as well as adults and children living with autism.
Games are wonderful for bringing the family together, so if you’re visiting a loved one in a care home or at their own home this weekend, bring your family and play and laugh together.
Explore your community
You’ll be surprised at what your local community has to offer when it comes to helping you and your loved one on their dementia journey. If your loved one is still at home, visit a dementia friendly community hub, such as a Memory Cafe or a library. There you can get some quality time together in a safe, welcoming environment.
This is also a great opportunity for you to talk with like-minded people who are going through the same experiences as you. Dementia is an incredibly daunting, emotional and at times an isolating condition and can leave you at a loss on what to do. Sharing your experiences will help guide others when they’re with their loved ones, just as their experience will guide you.
The more I spent time with my dad, the more I could understand the characteristics and traits that he had developed since his diagnosis. This helped me decide the best way to interact with him on any particular day. I was then able to match my emotions and interaction levels with him. Some days he would be incredibly active, so we’d play games and go to church. Yet, on other days, he would just want to sit quietly with a cup of tea and his favourite show, Friends, on in the background. Dementia can cause a whole wave of emotions, so matching the mood in the room and avoiding putting any pressure on my Dad, we could experience moments of happiness together, whatever we were doing.
To find out more about the Tovertafel, visit: www.tovertafel.co.uk/