Emotions run high for those with dementia and dementia carers alike. If we don’t understand their emotions, then we’ll struggle to help them effectively.
Everyone on the planet has basic needs, whether they are met or not For most of us, the following applies:
- Food and water
- Clothes to wear
- Shelter from the elements
If basic needs aren’t met, then the needs of the person is not being met. Without these, care is not in the best interests of the people we look after. If they miss out one of these basic needs, their quality of life diminishes, along with their will to live, and may alter their personalities and coping mechanisms.
To care for people dementia, these must be taken into account, along with the next level of needs, which include:
- Inclusiveness, or that feeling of belonging to a group, family or community.
- Attachment to our surroundings and life, without which, they may lose all hope.
- Comfort in the context of the basic needs of food, water, clothing, warmth and safety, which can include therapies including doll therapy, pet therapy, hobbies and interests.
- Self esteem where we are recognised as an individual who matters, and whose opinions are sought and acted on. To be allowed choices in food, clothes, activities and our free time.
- To be busy, whether in early stage and still working, or in helping others in our day to day lives. Even with dementia, people like to feel needed, and to feel like they are making a contribution to life. It could be as simple as helping stir vegetables for soup, holding yarn while we roll up a ball, eating with assistance to hold the spoon, and petting an animal.
- To love and be loved. In senior homes, relationships are common. Ageing or having dementia doesn’t mean their feelings are switched off. They are entitled to feel how they feel, and if they learn to enjoy the company of someone new, there is an argument for allowing that to happen. They may have forgotten all of their past life and have taken on new challenges and ideals. It can be painful for family members to see a loved one begin a new relationship, but if it brings them comfort and is safe, then with support, it can be a beautiful thing.
- Respect is paramount, even when their dignity is being challenged on a daily basis. At latter stages, where our charges are being fully supported with washing, dressing, incontinence and food challenges, they are entitled to be treated respectfully and with care. That means taking their clothes off sensitively, by positioning a towel or blanket over private parts, and not manhandling them like a piece of meat when they can’t move on their own. It means not waving your hands under your nose, wrinkling your nose, or saying things like ‘that smells,’ or ‘you’re smelly,’ or ‘are you dirty?. Those comments are hurtful and demeaning and say more about the caregiver than the person being cared for. Paralysed limbs should be moved slowly and gently, while talking them through each individual step. Those limbs may be incredibly painful due to nerve ending damage, and they won’t be able to tell you.
- Having carers who care. If you can’t treat a person with dementia with care, move on to another profession or allow someone else to take care of your loved one.
All in all, treat someone with dementia the way you would like to be treated yourself.