Can loved ones living with dementia enjoy the freedom of independence?

2019-10-02 06:02

FOLLOWING a diagnosis of dementia, it is not unusual for family members to try and protect their loved ones by taking responsibilities away from them. Although well intended, taking responsibility and independence away from their loved one will not only affect their confidence and self-esteem, but mental stimulation as well. It is crucial for people living with dementia to still enjoy meaningful lives, where they have purpose and feel valued.

It is important that our loved ones remain independent for as long as possible, within the boundaries of what is safe. They need to be treated with dignity and respect, be listened to and have a voice. Being occupied is healthy and improves quality of life. Whilst one is not expected to live independently, it is important for one to feel independence in everyday life. This can be achieved by participating in daily activities and even household chores. Sure, the potatoes may not be peeled or laundry folded to your standard, but try not allow this to become a barrier.

HERE ARE A FEW POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN PROMOTING INDEPENDENCE:

• Instead of open ended questions, such as “What would you like to do today?”, offer up suggestions, such as “Would you like to go for a walk or read the newspaper?”. The person living with dementia still experiences independence, but is not overwhelmed by choice.

• Help your loved one maintain their independence by making notes on a calendar, making use of routine, and labelling items and even certain rooms in the home. This will assist them in finding their way around and having more control over their movements.

• Try to do things with the person rather than for them.

• Focus on things the person can do, rather than things they can’t.

• Make sure the person is included in conversations. Try not to speak on their behalf, complete sentences for them or allow others to exclude them.

• Break down tasks into what is manageable for your loved one. If a task is too difficult or complex for them to complete, they may end up becoming frustrated and lose confidence in their ability. For instance, if they are able to put on their shoes but cannot tie the laces, consider changing to slip-on shoes or ones with Velcro. If preparing a meal becomes too challenging, ask the person to help with a part of the task, such as washing vegetables or setting the table.

We must remember that dementia is a disease of the brain, and that our loved ones are not trying to frustrate us by repeating the same story, or asking the same questions. A person living with dementia genuinely cannot remember having asked that question or telling us that story. Try to remain patient and remember that it is their way of trying to connect with you. If we are continually saying to them, “you have already told me that,” they will lose confidence and soon start retreating from social interaction for fear of embarrassment or being judged.

This September, in honour of PADCA’s #GoBlue Campaign, let us remember the theme for World Alzheimer’s Month, “Let’s talk about dementia: End the stigma.” Let us all begin having these important conversations and not shy away from talking about dementia. — Supplied

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