According to the CDC, dementia isn’t a specific disease. Rather it’s a general term for a diminished ability to think, remember or make decisions. This diminished ability interferes with normal, everyday activities. More and more aging adults are diagnosed every year.
Currently, there are 6.2 million people living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Adults with dementia need caregivers. More than one caregiver is vital for those who require round-the-clock supervision. Family members, friends, health care workers and death doulas will need to work together as a team. This must include quality training and awareness so our loved ones can get the appropriate loving care they require. Creating Meaningful Moments with a Person with Dementia by Stacy Gad and Jennifer Hernan-Costello can help.
Helping the helpers
The guidebook is a quick read, filled with great tips. Their suggestions minimize anxiety for both the person with dementia and caregiver. Doulas, as well as others, need as much information as possible to do this job effectively.
Both Gad and Hernan-Costello have years of experience as therapist and nurse, respectively, in the geriatric field. They combined to form Aging Advocates which helps to serve and educate in the Tampa Bay area. They are also involved with the Dementia Cure and Care Initiative (DCCI) for Florida’s Hillsborough County Task Force.
If you’d like to read the full guidebook, click here to purchase a copy from Amazon. Gad and Hernan-Costello provide 10 steps, and other suggestions, toward successfully caring for patients with dementia.
As a death doula, with clients facing these issues, here’s what I learned that will help me with my work:
Step 1: Verbal communication
For someone with dementia to hear what you’re saying and process the information can sometimes take well over a full minute. Doulas know to expect and be comfortable with silent moments. This added awareness of what’s happening after we speak is another reason why we must practice patience with all our clients.
Step 2: Non-verbal communication
Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are important. They help convey messages. Different cultures interpret those messages in a variety of ways. Conveying calm reassurance when communicating, both verbally and non-verbally, helps all clients feel less stress.
Step 3: The reality of the person with dementia
Don’t argue with someone who is experiencing a different reality. Rather, try to understand it. Living with that confusion and fear is hard enough. They certainly don’t need doulas or caregivers telling them “No, you’re not going to work because you retired 10 years ago.”
Or “That didn’t happen last Tuesday, it was Monday.”
Challenging a client with dementia can build resentment. It’s unnecessary. Simply walk with them and understand.
Step 4: Environment
Gad and Hernan-Costello had me at “a cluttered room creates a cluttered mind.”
Part of a death doula’s job is to help facilitate a peaceful death. Our surroundings matter. That means the room or area must be safe. The home should be comfortable for visitors as well as clients.
A cluttered, overstuffed room with hazards can contribute to agitation or confusion for someone with dementia.
Step 5: Routine
Establishing a routine early on is important. Forming new memories (and thus, new routines) will be more challenging as time goes on.
As a mom and former high school teacher, I remember several learning and personality styles respond better when we “cue before we do.” For example, we would say, “In five minutes, we’re going to clean up and get ready to leave.” That allowed them to prepare for a change.
These tips also apply when providing care or service to those with memory loss.
Step 6: Strategies
This step reminded me of something I used to hear when I was younger, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Organizing strategies actually make life more manageable for people who are losing the ability to remember where they last put something. Creating a strategy for where things belong, using labels or other ways to aid memory, will prevent unneeded confusion.
Step 7: Cognitive (brain) activity
Many tend to focus on what those with limited memory function can’t do. Many activities can be adjusted for someone with dementia.
Such activities can even be slightly challenging in the beginning and then modified as the disease progresses. Like anything, encourage your client or loved one to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
Creating Meaningful Moments with a Person with Dementia has many project ideas you can enjoy together.
Step 8: Physical activity
No matter our age, or medical condition, staying physically fit is vital. It makes everything easier. Of course, the specifics will naturally depend on a person’s age and abilities.
Above all, we must move ourselves in some way every day. This helps our clients stay healthy and improves brain function as well.
Step 9: Nutrition and hydration
Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water are also important routines no matter our age.
According to Gad and Hernan-Costello, dementia eventually makes eating difficult. Therefore, they recommend preparing small snacks and finger foods to encourage easy eating.
Step 10: Caregiver stress relief
This is the most important part of the book. Caregivers feel stressed out and oftentimes don’t want to talk about what they need. As doulas, we must help them understand that they cannot effectively care for others if they aren’t caring for themselves first.
Let’s be sure to model that behavior too.
In addition to helpful hints, Creating Meaningful Moments with a Person with Dementia also includes a section for people considering memory care or assisted living for their loved one. It’s an agonizing decision including both practical and emotional concerns.
Caregivers need effective support from doulas and the whole team just as much as a patient with dementia.
Filled with valuable information, let this guidebook be the beginning.