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How to Support a Loved One With Dementia

10 ways to make the time together more meaningful

By Bev Betkowski

July 28, 2018 •

Visiting a loved one with dementia can feel frustrating, even hopeless, but there are ways to turn that precious time into a better experience, says a leading researcher.

"Human interaction is huge, whether it's just a touch or talking to that person," says Wendy Duggleby, '90 MN, who studies end-of-life care, including dementia, in the Faculty of Nursing.

Sharing memories can be a good way to connect, she says. "There's a misconception that the past will upset a dementia patient but, in fact, it can be very calming and reassuring." Even though they might be confused about the present, they still have some long-term memory. "Reminiscence - remembering good times - can be therapeutic. It brings endorphins to the brain and that physiological response is good for all of us," she says.

And if, while you're talking, they are confused about dates, events or people, don't correct them.

She recommends the websites My Tools 4 Care and the Alzheimer Society of Canada as information sources. "You can have a whole different feeling about visiting, a different relationship, and your expectations will be different."

10 other ways to connect
  • Talk about topics you know interest them.
  • Use props. It's easier for the person to talk about something they can see.
  • Create a memory box of pictures and other favourite items they can keep with them.
  • Ask questions that invite yes or no answers. Open-ended questions can be frustrating.
  • For those who can't speak, acknowledge their body language or facial expressions so they feel included.
  • Bring them their favourite foods.
  • Draw them into an activity that relates to their past interests. Someone who was an enthusiastic gardener, for instance, might enjoy caring for a plant.
  • Celebrate as many family occasions as possible.
  • Help them exercise their brain with puzzles, quizzes, reading and hands-on tasks like folding clothes together.
  • Sing, dance or listen to music together. A favourite song can remind a person of happy times.

Watch for more about dementia in the Autumn issue of New Trail.

A version of this article originally appeared in folio.

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