This article was originally posted on TeepaSnow.com, written by Valerie Feurich. Read the original article here >
As you go through life, you may tend to take for granted the amazing feats and abilities of your brain. Remembering where you parked the car, how to make your favorite pasta dish, or being able to dial the phone number of your best friend without looking at your address book are just a few of the tasks your brain assists you with.
When a person begins to notice repeated memory problems in themselves, such as getting lost on the way to their favorite mall or writing seven sticky notes for the same task, feelings of anxiety, frustration, or sadness can set in. As a loved one or friend, this can be very hard to watch. So, what can you do to help?
1. Help them find out what’s going on
If the person has not been diagnosed with anything, you may offer to go with them for a medical evaluation. While finding out what’s going on and diagnosing a potential dementia is not a straightforward path, having you by their side for support can significantly help reduce anxiety (which in turn helps the brain, as it cannot function to its fullest while in an anxious state).
2. Give them time to process
If the person does indeed receive a dementia diagnosis, give them time to process the news and work through their emotions. While for some, receiving a formal diagnosis can be devastating, for others getting an answer for what is happening can almost be a sense of relief. Just as we are all different, every person’s response to a dementia diagnosis will differ. Give them time and space to process their emotions, and be there for them when they want to talk and need a friend.
3. Help them build a support network
You may want to encourage them to be open with family and friends about their diagnosis. Many people are willing to help, but they can’t if they don’t know what is going on. (PAC Core Team Member Mark Roberts once told the story of a gas station attendant happily helping him pick out the appropriate change after he let him know he’s living with dementia and has trouble telling coins apart.)
The more people know and are willing to help, the stronger the support network becomes. And the stronger the support network, the less anxiety and frustration the person will experience.
4. Help them realize that dementia does not define them
While the condition may be part of them, it is not who they are as a person. By continuing or building a life that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose, you’re actively helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and sadness. Can you help them stay engaged in activities they previously enjoyed? Can you talk about what brings meaning to their life, and help them realize it? Are there activities you can do together?
5. Show them that they’re needed
When a person is getting older or losing some abilities, we tend to want to help out and do everything for them. While this is likely a well-intended act of love, you may want to consider that people have an innate need to feel valued and want to contribute.
So next time you’re about to set the table because you’re faster at it than your parent, let that go and instead say something like “Hey dad, I could really use your help right now. I still need to peel the potatoes and dress the salad. I don’t think I can do this without your help. Could you set the table for us? That would be awesome!”
Think about the different ways in which you can safely involve and engage the person in your home. Maybe consider taking a step back from activities you usually do and allow them to help you. Will it be perfect? Maybe not. Does that matter? Likely not.
6. Help them get connected
Connecting with other people living with dementia not only helps form social bonds, but your person may be interested in learning what others in similar situations do to live an engaged and active life. While it can be difficult to connect with others during a pandemic, such as we’re currently experiencing, there are a lot of online meetings and events your person may enjoy attending. (If your person has trouble with technology, setting up a comfortable space with a laptop and helping them get connected may be an activity you both enjoy.)
7. Help them fight feelings of helplessness
For many people, the more they know about their condition, the more the feeling of helplessness will dissipate. By learning more, both of you will be able to have better conversations with physicians and allow for better planning. To help you get started, PAC put together a page exclusively for people living with dementia (www.teepasnow.info/plwd), where you can learn about symptoms of dementia, events, videos, and more.