My partner is a paramedic and often in the course of his working shift will treat many patients with dementia, a condition that is not treatable but is manageable. Many of the patients that my partner has seen with dementia have been injured because they were afraid and confused, fallen out of their once familiar bed or walked across a busy road without a glance at the oncoming traffic.
The impact of this is not isolated to the patient of course, as the whole family feel the chain reaction of dementia, and this is often when people turn to an organisation like Alzheimer’s Society where you can get the much needed help and support for the whole family who are affected by their loved ones developing dementia.
Although there seems to be a great emphasis on the negative aspects of the condition of dementia, there are some wonderfully positive aspects to the treatment of dementia patients, which have had an enormously positive effect on their lives.
Many dementia sufferers live independently in their own homes and with the love and support from friends and family can do so for years. It’s a misconception that dementia is reserved for the elderly as early onset dementia can strike in the early 40’s, although the term “early onset dementia” relates to people under 65.
If dementia has meant that the family have had to turn to a care home for practical care giving in an understanding environment, it has become increasingly less daunting for the loved ones of the patient by tailoring a bespoke wing or room to the needs of dementia sufferers.
Using calming colours, limited mirrors and reflective surfaces ( to avoid the fear of an unknown face within the mirror) mood lighting and large print signs were introduced and shown to have made a big difference. Followed by nostalgic themes to replicate the sounds and smells of the past, which many dementia sufferers regress to. My partner has been in many of these facilities and seen the comfort that nostalgic surroundings, songs, films even pictures on the wall can do to help dementia patients respond with a positive familiarity and warmth.
This compassionate treatment gives dementia patients the dignity to feel safe and more in control of their environment, as they often feel confused and upset in unfamiliar places, even if these places were known to them such as their familial homes.
Making memory boxes is another very useful tool to helping a dementia sufferer to feel more in control and less confused when they struggle to recall a memory. Photographs of family and friends, pictures and beloved objects or scents can trigger memories hidden from their grasp, that would have continued to lie dormant otherwise.
Another method to ease the anxiety of dementia sufferers is that of doll therapy. Predominantly in female cases , (although my partner has attended many men who use this therapy) the dolls have eased the stress of confusion within dementia, and given a focus of care and attention that has often caused reminiscence and reflection on either their own childhood or that of their children. In many cases the patients children, who would usually be unknown to them, in name and in person, becomes the doll. This brings comfort and stability to a stressful and confusing time, and far from being patronising these dolls have their place in calming and soothing dementia patients in a very positive way.
Doll therapy gives focus to the day, and quite often the dolls can provide a loving and caring outlet that without the doll, may not happen at all. Having seen the life-like dolls (each doll is very life-like and quite often hand crafted) my partner has seen first hand how doll therapy can help, and bring much needed calmness and even a clearer communication for the patient to be able to express themselves without fear.
Talking is wonderful therapy too, overcoming the fear of dementia is half the battle and when you realise that the condition doesn’t define the person, that is a key step to moving forward to help support and understand them.
I have become a Dementia Friend as have over 1 million people in the UK, take the step to learn more about dementia and how we can all support dementia sufferers in all our communities.
By spending a few minutes to sign up and become a Dementia Friend you can join for free and learn a little more about how you can help support people living with dementia. If you go the the Dementia Friends website you can watch a short video which will give an insight into how it feels to have the condition. Once you have watched the video there is a short form you can fill out to receive your pack in the post.
It is so important that we educate not only ourselves but also our children too, if you are interested in teaching your child a little more about how dementia can affect a person, have a look at the detailed information and resources for young children and young adults (and also schools) on the Alzheimer’s Society Website and let’s get the positive message out there, that being diagnosed with dementia doesn’t mean that you are losing your identity, with the love and support of friends and family you can live well and find ways to cope with any confusion and anxiety and prove the disease does not define you.