Help At Your Fingertips

Tips for caregivers of those with dementia

Dementia patients may have some likes and dislikes that may seem irrational or illogical to the everyday person. It is important to not adopt a confrontational manner.
Dementia patients may have some likes and dislikes that may seem irrational or illogical to the everyday person. It is important to not adopt a confrontational manner.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

One idea: Transform what patient has to do into something enjoyable

People with dementia, a progressive disorder of the brain, do not react to the stimuli in their environment in the way that those without dementia do.

They may have some likes and dislikes that may seem irrational or illogical to the everyday person, said Ms Yorelle Kalika, chief executive of Active Global Specialised Caregivers, an agency that brings in foreign home nurses.

Here, she offers some tips on how to deal with three typical difficulties faced by caregivers of dementia patients.

HE DOESN'T WANT TO TAKE A BATH

This is very common. One thing to do is to transform bath time into an enjoyable experience.

If he used to go for massages, you can try saying: "It's time for your spa treatment and after that we will go to your favourite place for tea."

Ms Kalika said one of the caregivers in her agency used to coax her charge to take a bath by asking him to take the "spa treatment offered at the business class lounge of the airline".

It worked because he used to be a frequent traveller.

To make the bath experience less scary, you should describe what you are doing, for example "I am going to unbutton your shirt first".

As much as possible, get the patient to participate in the task. If he hits you during bathtime, give him a toothbrush, a hairbrush or a soap bar so that he has something to do.

HE IS HAVING A HALLUCINATION

Dementia patients may wake up in the middle of the night and claim to see things that are not really there.

These false perceptions usually occur in the later stages of dementia.

For instance, they may claim that there is an evil man in the room when they are actually looking at the shadow cast by a coat hanger .

Try to find the source of the hallucination and then remove it from the patient's room.

Gently reassure the patient that the threat is now gone, and stay with him until he falls asleep.

HE WANTS TO GO OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

They have a reason for doing so.

If you ask him why, he might say: "I want to go home."

It is important to not adopt a confrontational manner.

Instead of stopping him from leaving the house in a harsh manner, try to approach him in a calm and reassuring way. Ask him where he is going or what he needs. Then, distract him with a new activity.

For instance, you can show him a family picture and suggest that he call a family member.

Caregivers can also:

•Keep triggers usually associated with leaving the house, like keys and purse, out of the patient's sight.

•Mask the front door with a curtain.

•Reassure the patient that he is at home and point out familiar things in the house.

Then, distract him with a pleasant activity.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'Tips for caregivers of those with dementia'. Print Edition | Subscribe