Dementia: Enjoying life and staying safe

Today, we continue our series to mark World Alzheimer Month, in association with the HSE’s Dementia: Understanding Together campaign, as EMMA O’BRIEN, HSE Occupational Therapist, writes about the importance of quality of life for sufferers
Dementia: Enjoying life and staying safe

Listening to old records, creating life-story books and rummage boxes reduce anxiety and uncertainty by stirring fond memories and can help us to retain our sense of who we are.

THE Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect our day-to-day living, health and wellbeing. Many of us are spending more time at home, have reduced contact with others and are participating in fewer social activities.

For people with dementia and their families, the impact has been particularly challenging.

Recent research by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland shows that some people with dementia have been struggling with loneliness, isolation, boredom and that their condition may be progressing due to a lack of stimulation and activity.

Some have found it hard to understand why friends may not have been calling in, or why they cannot attend some of their regular services such as day care or support groups.

Being Engaged

Like everyone else, engaging socially and participating in activities provides purpose and value for people with dementia, as well as an opportunity for achievement and pleasure.

Staying connected to loved ones and enjoying pastimes can help a person with dementia retain a sense of self and independence.

Emma O'Brien, HSE Occupational Therapist
Emma O'Brien, HSE Occupational Therapist

However, as the condition progresses, it can become difficult for a person with dementia to communicate their needs. This may come across through an action or gesture, or be observed in physical pain, disorientation, or hunger.

Family members, carers and friends can help by looking out for these signs and trying to understand the reason for the behaviour. Has something changed in the environment or the person’s daily routine? Does it occur at a certain time of the day? Understanding behaviours will help you to support them in the things that they would like to do, and provide them with a feeling of safety and security.

Being Creative

In recent months, families, carers and people with dementia have tried to establish new routines. Some family members have moved home to support a loved one. Others have learned how to use technology to reach out. New activities have been taken up such as exercises and games, or routines such as cooking and cleaning used as an opportunity for connection.

At the same time, many dementia services have had to re-imagine how they engage with people. They have adapted and created online supports such as Virtual Dementia Cafés and online choirs. The Dementia: Understand Together campaign has recently released an updated At Home Activities booklet with ideas for stimulation, reminiscence, movement and sensory engagement. Here are just some of its suggestions:

Household activities: maintaining involvement around the home is important for our self-esteem. From baking to laundry to gardening, the possibilities are endless!

Stimulating activities: puzzles and jigsaws with bigger pieces can be a great workout for the brain, while other activities such as cards and board games are enjoyable and social too.

Reminiscent activities: listening to old records, creating life-story books and rummage boxes reduce anxiety and uncertainty by stirring fond memories and can help us to retain our sense of who we are.

Art and craft activities: from knitting to painting, there are so many activities to choose from that are sensory, creative and fun.

App activities: there is a range of apps now available to help occupy our minds and take us down memory lane. From brain games like Tetris and Solitaire, to Google Street View for a visit to our childhood home, to the Irish Film Institute for a browse of old newsreels, there’s something for everyone.

Being Supportive

Since August 18, people over 70 and people who are medically vulnerable are advised to limit their interactions to a small network, avoid public transport and shop during designated hours. If you are supporting a person with dementia, here are some suggestions to help them to stay safe and well:

Have a routine. This is essential to well-being for someone living with dementia.

Predictable patterns in the day provide familiarity and structure, helping to support orientation and reducing anxiety. Why not identify the best times to participate in an activity and create a schedule accordingly?

Plan ahead. If going out, try to identify where issues may arise and how these might be overcome. Have you a checklist for what you will need? Do you know the designated shopping hours? Have you brought a face covering? It’s a good idea to practice this routine to support familiarity and help the person’s recall for the next time.

Consider helpful prompts to stay safe. Simple signs throughout the home may remind the person of how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, e.g. regularly washing hands. Why not place a reminder at the front door highlighting key advice in visuals or words about not standing close to people, wearing a face covering and using alcohol-based hand gel?

The Dementia: Understand Together campaign is led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Age Friendly Ireland. For information on supports such as weekly Virtual Dementia Cafés for people living with dementia and carers, as well as information on how to be a dementia champion in your community, visit www.understandtogether.ie or Freefone 1800 341 341 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm).

* You can catch up on the feature series running in The Echo, on the article links below.

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