Dementia Care in Australia: How to Care for Your Loved One Suffering From Dementia

Taking care of someone with dementia? Here are some useful tips that will help you provide better holistic care for your loved one.

by Emma Hall

Dementia affects thousands of people around the country, and these people living with dementia will often require the support and caregiving services of others.

Dementia care can be challenging as people with dementia often find it hard to manage many aspects of daily life, like food, hygiene, money and medication. 

If you need help to care for someone with dementia, we have put together tips in 7 key areas that people with dementia may find more difficult.

Effective Communication

Caring for a person with dementia can be a demanding and sometimes stressful task. However, it can be made easier when you know how to effectively communicate with a person with dementia. Improving your communication skills will enhance your relationship and allow you to provide the best possible care to a person with dementia.

People with dementia are very sensitive to mood, body language and facial expressions. Sometimes, these things can be more important than the words you are saying. Make sure you express yourself in a calm, positive and caring way.

Remember that movement and touch can help to convey your message. Being close to the person and maintaining eye contact also helps to keep their attention and form an understanding between the two of you.

Similarly, people with dementia may struggle to express themselves using words. Watch their body language and try to understand what they’re saying by asking simple, yes or no questions or suggesting words that the person with dementia may find it difficult to find themselves.

Sometimes people with dementia can become upset or agitated, and this can make communication more problematic. A good way to deal with this is to change the topic, such as suggesting you have a meal, go for a walk, or listen to some music.

Reminiscing on the past can also be a relaxing and pleasant activity for people with dementia. Although they may suffer from short term memory loss, they will often remember their youth well. Asking questions about this time will help to put the person with dementia in a positive mood and soothe them when they’re feeling stressed. 

Care at Home

People with dementia can sometimes find it difficult to navigate the home. Dementia symptoms can include disorientation, confusion and problems with mobility. Even a space that they knew well before their dementia diagnosis may feel unfamiliar.

Caregivers should ensure that any dangerous hazards around the house are kept safely away from the person with dementia. This can include installing safety switches throughout the home, replacing dangerous forms of heating such as bar radiators with safer options, removing tripping hazards like loose rugs, and storing any cleaning chemicals or other substances out of reach.

Make sure that there is plenty of lighting around the house and that furniture is arranged simply to avoid clutter. Don’t move things around oftenthis adds to a person’s confusion. Aids such as handrails, non-slip mats in bathrooms, and other at-home equipment can keep the person with dementia safe and help them to maintain some independence.

To ensure that your home is dementia-proofed, you can book a free care consultation with Homage. Our trained support workers and nurses will assess your home to ensure that it has the necessary equipment for it to be safe for your loved ones with dementia.

Hygiene and Toileting

People with dementia can often forget hygiene activities such as bathing and brushing their teeth. They can also have difficulty with toileting. These behaviours are typically personal, and many caregivers will find it hard to help a person with dementia in these activities, especially if the person feels embarrassed and humiliated about needing help.

 Caregivers should try and make the bathing experience as comfortable as possible for the person with dementia. Try to mimic the routine of their previous life, such as bathing only in the evenings or using a favourite shampoo. Maintain their privacy as much as possible using bathrobes and towels. Check the temperature of both the water and the room.

If the person has mobility issues, they will often be afraid of falling. Offer plenty of guidance and use safety features like grab bars, shower seats, and non-slip mats.

Sometimes baths and showers are frightening or unpleasant for a person with dementia. If this is the case, you can explore alternative options like a ‘towel bath’massaging warm, dampened towels and no-rinse soap over a person’s body. Remember, it is not necessary to bathe every day. A couple of times a week is sufficient to keep the person clean and healthy.

Toileting is another area that can be challenging and incontinence can occur in people with dementia. Always be kind and understanding when a person has an accident. It’s important to maintain their dignity and trust in you.

You can help people with toileting by assisting a person with dementia to use the bathroom and doing it regularly. Help them to wear clothes that are easy to remove and avoid complicated belts and buttons on pants. Sometimes people forget where the bathroom is, but a sign on the door can help to remind them. Incontinence pads are also a good option to avoid accidents.

Medication

Medications are important to keep older people healthy, but they can pose a problem for people with dementia. Taking medication can cause distress or uncomfortable side effects and some people with dementia can become resistant about medicine. Additionally, people with dementia often find it hard to remember when and what pills to take.

For people with dementia who are managing their own medicine intake, it can help to arrange their medications in properly labelled boxes. This helps them know what to take and the frequency. It also prevents any dosage problems if pills are distributed ahead of time.  

If the caregiver is managing medication, it can help to establish an easy medication routine. This may include sitting in a relaxing spot, arranging for a nice snack directly afterwards, or even playing some soothing music. 

When a person is resistant to a medicine, try to find out why. It could be that it is causing them to feel sick or uncomfortable. It could be that they have a sore throat or they are finding large pills hard to swallow. A person with dementia will not always be able to communicate these problems, so asking simple questions and making the process as easy as possible is important. You can try crushing pills, swapping to a liquid formula, or speaking to their doctor about alternatives with less side effects. 

If a person with dementia is distressed or angry, don’t try to force them to take their medication. Leave it for a while and do something else, then come back to the medication later when they feel calmer.

Eating and Nutrition

 Food and eating can become difficult for people with dementia. They can forget to eat, not know how to choose nutritional meal options, and find mealtimes stressful. Maintaining proper nutrition is important to keep the body healthy, and poor nutrition can cause behavioural problems for people with dementia. Caregivers can help to provide a healthy, balanced diet and make eating easier. 

People with dementia have the same nutritional needs as anyone. A varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein will keep their bodies strong. Avoid foods with lots of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Refined sugar should also be avoided, but treats are okay to encourage eating when people are suffering from appetite loss. Supplements can be a good way to top up nutrition when a person finds eating difficult or doesn’t want to eat.

Mealtimes can be problematic for people with dementia. Some ways to make the process smoother are to limit choices and options by only offering one item of food at a time. Remove distractions like television or loud environments and keep the space simple and uncluttered. Plain white crockery is best, with no patterned tablecloths or placemats. These can make it difficult for a person with dementia to see their food. 

Try to find creative ways to keep the person healthy, such as turning fruit into tasty and easy to drink smoothies. Check food temperatures before serving, as a person with dementia may not realise if food is too hot to eat. People with dementia often develop preferences for foods and suddenly reject old favourites, so be flexible and prepared to make something different when needed.

Eating with a person with dementia can make them feel more comfortable. Take your time: they will often eat slowly and should not be rushed. After eating, they may not remember that they have eaten and ask for a meal again. If this happens, it can be helpful to serve several small meals, such as a yogurt for breakfast, then a slice of toast, then a bowl of cereal.

Finances

Dementia can affect a person’s ability to stay in control of their money. They can find things like paying bills and checking bank statements difficult, and it’s important to ensure that their finances are safely managed by someone they trust.

 When caregivers take over financial management for a person with dementia, it is vital that expectations are clearly stated from the outset. It’s best if older people put a plan in place before developing dementia symptoms, so they have agency over who takes care of their finances when they can no longer do it themselves. Appointing a legal Power of Attorney ensures that big financial decisions, such as managing investments or selling property, are taken care of by someone they trust.

For day-to-day money management, such as paying household bills, caregivers can assist people with dementia by making processes easy for them. This may be keeping bills in easy to remember places, like on the fridge. Setting up direct debits for monthly expenses prevents people with dementia from needing to remember them.

A person with dementia may become uninhibited with money. If a person is spending a lot through online shopping or making extravagant spontaneous purchases, it may be a good idea to place limits on their spending capacity, so they don’t find themselves in debt.

Interpersonal Relationships

People with dementia don’t stop wanting relationshipsthey just find them more difficult to create and maintain. Developing a meaningful relationship with a person with dementia is possible, but it requires some initiative on the part of the other person.

 Caregivers can help the person with dementia to maintain friendships and other relationships. As the person who spends the most time with them, a caregiver is more attuned to the person with dementia’s style of communication and can better recognise their non-verbal cues. Caregivers can help by ‘interpreting’ on behalf of the person with dementia, so that others can better understand them.

Relationships can be worked into a person with dementia’s schedule, such as having a visitor at a certain time in the afternoon. This helps the person with dementia to remember that this person is coming to see them and promotes positive interactions.

Support Available for People with Dementia 

 If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, there is support available. A little bit of help at home can take away some of the burden of caregiving and make it a more rewarding and enjoyable experience. You can access assistance for home care services , nursing and medical escort services, whenever the need arises. This allows you to access quality care and reduce the stress of caregiving.

Caregiving can be a big commitment. When you need a break to rest and recharge, short term care options can be a good way to ensure that your loved one with dementia continues to receive a high level of care and support while you’re away. 

Short term care can occur in the person with dementia’s home, keeping them in a safe and familiar environment to avoid any disorientation or confusion. Support workers can maintain the same routines you have set up with the person with dementia, so that on your return you can continue to provide care as usual.

Sometimes, people with dementia can have complicated and hard-to-manage needs. An aged care home may be a viable option for them to access the care they need. An aged care home provides accommodation and care services for your loved one. Remember, you can still have a caring relationship with a loved one in aged care, and they will always appreciate it if you visit and spend time with them frequently. 

Caring for a loved one with dementia is no easy feat. From hygiene and toileting to learning how to handle your loved one’s interpersonal relationships, there is a lot to consider for a caregiver of someone with dementia. While it may be a daunting task especially if you’re new to it, there are plenty of resources and support groups out there to help you with your caregiving needs. 

References

11 Ways to Get Someone with Dementia to Take Medication (2021) DailyCaring. Retrieved 23 July 2021, https://dailycaring.com/11-ways-to-get-someone-with-dementia-to-take-medication/

Ericsson, I., Kjellström, S., & Hellström, I. (2011). Creating relationships with persons with moderate to severe dementia. Dementia, 12(1), 63–79. https://doi.org/10.1177/1471301211418161

Food and Eating. (2021). Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/food-eating

Memory loss, dementia and your money (2021). Moneysmart. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://moneysmart.gov.au/memory-loss-dementia-and-your-money

Organise your finances so another person can help. (2021). Dementia Australia. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://www.dementia.org.au/planning-ahead/my-plans/start-planning/financial-issues/organise

Safety in and around the home. (2021). Dementia Australia. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://www.dementia.org.au/national/support-and-services/carers/safety-in-and-around-the-home

What is dementia? (2021). Dementia Australia. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/what-is-dementia

 Why nutrition is important in dementia. (2020). Social Care Institute for Excellence. Retrieved 23 July 2021, from https://www.scie.org.uk/dementia/living-with-dementia/eating-well/importance-of-nutrition.asp

About the Writer
Emma Hall
Emma Hall is a professional writer with experience in healthcare and wellness. She loves to write clear and helpful articles about health, fitness and more. Emma lives in Melbourne and loves coffee, running, and her pet dog Bernie.
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