Despite its challenges, dementia doesn’t mean that life can no longer bring happiness or that patients can’t make the most of every day.
Coping strategies can help people with dementia stay as independent as possible for as long as possible and make it easier for caregivers to do what they need to do.
While scientists search for a cure, researchers are working to figure out which factors matter most in helping people with dementia have the best possible quality of life.
An overview of work in this area, published in the journal Lancet Neurology in 2017, reported on an ongoing UK-based study called IDEAL (Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life).
Researchers are collecting detailed and extensive data about study subjects that evaluates social participation and social networks; analyzes the various ways that people adjust to a diagnosis of dementia; and measures multiple indices of living well.
The investigators hope their findings will shape public policy and clarify best practices for anyone who interacts with dementia patients — individuals, community members, health and social-care practitioners, and care providers.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers numerous recommendations on how to live well with dementia, based on existing research and the shared wisdom of patients. Their advice focuses on people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease but applies to other types of dementia as well, particularly vascular dementia and mixed dementia.
- Care for your physical health. Exercise (check with a doctor first); eat a healthy diet; take part in mentally stimulating activities such as classes or hobbies.
- Care for your emotional and psychological health: Allow yourself to experience a range of emotions without labeling any good or bad; join a support group; maintain close relationships with people you can confide in; establish a social network of people with a similar diagnosis, either in person or online.
- Care for your spiritual health. Some people gravitate to religion, others to nature; some prefer solitary moments and calming activities like yoga, others find meaning through connecting with family and friends.
Handling the stress that comes with dementia can also make it easier to concentrate and can enhance quality of life.
- Know what causes stress in your life and remove yourself from those situations or minimize triggers.
- Establish boundaries and make sure others know where you draw the line.
- Talk to someone you trust who can let you express your feelings openly.
- Change your environment if you’re feeling stressed. If you’re in a loud, chaotic, or otherwise overwhelming setting, find a quiet place where you can calm down and refocus.
- Take breaks or a long breather if a task seems too difficult.
- Incorporate relaxing activities into your life, like listening to music, gardening, or keeping a journal.
If you can accept changes in your abilities and come up with new ways to tackle the difficulties of daily living, you may experience a greater feeling of control.
- Set realistic goals and focus on what you can accomplish, asking for help if necessary.
- Create a daily schedule to reduce the stress of planning and make it easier to meet your goals.
- Approach tasks one at a time; if you get stuck, come back to it later.
- If one strategy doesn’t work, try a different one.
Caregivers of people with dementia play a pivotal role in keeping patients healthy and preserving their quality of life.
However, given the complicated nature of progressive brain diseases, caregiving can be both physically and emotionally taxing. It can also be financially draining: The estimated economic value of care provided by family and other unpaid caregivers across the United States was $230.1 billion in 2016.
Different types of dementia present their own challenges and opportunities for caregivers.
Patients with Lewy body dementia, for instance, experience fluctuations in their cognitive abilities from day to day or even hour to hour. This can be frustrating, but it also means that caregivers can pause an activity or conversation if necessary and try again at a more opportune time.
- Keep the mood positive. Convey feelings of affection with facial expressions, tone of voice, and touch.
- Before speaking, get the patient’s attention — try to eliminate distractions like TV, then address the patient by name, identify yourself by name, and use nonverbal cues and touch to maintain his or her focus.
- Keep your message clear. Speak slowly and reassuringly. If the patient doesn’t understand, repeat the statement or question with the same wording. If the patient still doesn’t comprehend, wait a short while and rephrase.
- Make questions easy to answer. Ask one at a time, aiming for “yes” or “no” responses. Avoid asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices. Visual prompts can help.
- Give the patient ample time to reply to a question. Suggest words if the person seems unable to. Look for nonverbal clues and body language that indicate what the person is trying to say or that reveal unspoken feelings.
- Break down activities into their individual steps to help the patient accomplish them one at a time.
- If the patient becomes agitated or upset, acknowledge those feelings, then change the topic or suggest a distraction like going for a walk.
- Instead of arguing, aim to be affectionate and reassuring even when the patient insists something is true that is not.
- When dementia causes short-term memory loss, focus conversations on events from the distant past.
- Keep a sense of humor and find things that you and the patient can both laugh about.
Article from EverydayHealth.com