Health professionals predict that the number of people developing dementia will continue to rise in the coming years. So, as well as conducting medical research, it’s essential that we spend some time focusing on ways we can make our communities more dementia friendly.
Dementia patients and their caregivers are entitled to have active, fulfilled lives, but often the environment around them doesn’t do all it can to support this goal. Shops, businesses, offices, places of worship, and even our own individual homes could often do much more to become dementia friendly. These eight simple tips could enrich the lives of dementia patients and caregivers, and perhaps improve your own as well.
1. Get trained
This is especially important for public organizations who may find dementia patients visiting them without warning. Dementia organizations can often offer training to staff so they can learn to recognize the signs of dementia and develop positive strategies for helping patients. This could include knowing the symptoms, having a quiet place where confused people can sit peacefully with a cup of tea, and being clear about what to do if someone is lost due to dementia.
2. Consider what your group can do
Many organizations (such as churches, synagogues and friendship clubs) might arrange activities such as a weekly dementia cafe for patients. Even something as simple as providing coffee, cookies and someone to chat to can lighten someone’s whole day and give a caregiver some much-needed relief. Singing old songs is usually a great hit with those who have memory problems, or you could try some craft activities.
3. Offer support to patients
Even if your organization doesn’t have the capacity to arrange a formal meeting place for dementia sufferers, you can still help to make life easier for these people and their carers. Perhaps you could set up a rota to visit people, either to talk with them or look at an old photo album? In addition, you may feel able to take them for an outing—caregivers may not feel confident to go out alone with their relative and would find an extra pair of hands useful.
4. Volunteer at a local centre
You can also help on an individual basis by volunteering at a local dementia center. Staff work hard to stimulate and entertain their clients in these places, but additional help is always welcome. You’ll often receive training as a volunteer, and you may find yourself chatting with clients, reading to them, helping them join in with activities and more. It’s a great way to get started as you slowly build your confidence at relating to people with dementia.
5. Give support to a caregiver
Sometimes, the hardest part of being a caregiver is getting some time to yourself. By ‘sitting’ with a dementia patient. you can provide some valuable free time for a caregiver to shop for groceries, visit the salon, or meet with friends. What you offer could even be as simple as allowing the carer a leisurely bath or an hour to read a book uninterrupted. As a bonus, you’ll be building a friendship with the patient as well.
6. Visit those living alone
In the early stages of dementia, patients may be living on their own, and this can be lonely or even frightening. They may find some tasks—such as taking out the trash or tending the yard—beyond them. Seeing a friendly face or getting help with chores can make all the difference to how they feel.
7. Residential care homes
Again, residential care homes go to great efforts to ensure their residents live fulfilling lives, but it’s often hard to do this with limited staff. Volunteering for an afternoon a week—perhaps by sharing a skill or running some gentle exercise sessions—may be a welcome addition to their weekly program. Serving coffee, taking someone for a walk outside, or just sitting watching TV together are also valued ways to help.
8. Offer your skills
Finally, you may have a professional skill that you could put to use to help others. Maybe you could help a family navigate the issues of dealing with health insurers, or perhaps you could advise on useful living aids that can make life easier. Alternatively, you might offer to cook a meal once a week to give the caregiver a break, or agree to do some household cleaning to lift the burden.