Dementia – Early signs and compassionate care:
We all misplace our keys now and again or walk into a room and forget what we came for. But as we get older, many of us start worrying that these lapses of memory and attention could be the
early signs of dementia.
Normal age-related changes or dementia?
Occasional slip-ups, like taking longer to remember someone’s name, or forgetting to pay a monthly account, are nothing to worry about. But if you’re having difficulty remembering recent events,
repeating the same question or story over and over, getting lost while driving home from the shops, or putting things away in strange places, it’s time to consult a professional.
The fear of a dementia diagnosis, however, puts many people off seeing their doctor. But a number of other conditions can cause dementia-like symptoms, for example, post-operative delirium, thyroid issues, depression, infections, drug side-effects and vitamin deficiencies. A thorough check-up is essential to exclude other causes of confusion, forgetfulness and mood changes.
Caring for a loved one with dementia
In the early years of my mother’s dementia journey, I did most things wrong! I hope that by sharing some of my mistakes and what I learnt from experience, others may avoid some of my worst
For a long time, I didn’t want to face what was happening to Mum, so I avoided finding out about her condition. This made things worse as I didn’t understand why she was behaving so differently.
Instead of realising that a part of her brain was no longer working properly, making it hard for her to form new memories, I became irritated by her constant repetitions and confusion. And the more
frustrated I became, the more confused she became, and the more she withdrew.
My resistance to Mum’s dementia increased my stress levels. I felt resentful visiting her each week as we could no longer communicate as we had before, and I was embarrassed taking her out in case she said or did inappropriate things!
Eventually I realised that I needed help. A coach taught me some simple but powerful calming techniques, which completely changed my experience of Mum’s dementia journey. I started
taking responsibility for my emotions when I was with her, and found myself becoming more patient and present, and really enjoying our times together.
I came to accept Mum’s dementia (which was a huge step) and started researching more about the condition. I learnt that the best thing I could do for Mum was to step into her world and meet her
where she was. Instead of trying to bring her back into my reality, or focusing on the things she could no longer do, I started to appreciate the older memories she could still share, the times in the garden that we both enjoyed, and the affection she started to express after years of not showing her feelings.
Fortunately, by the time Mum started calling me her mother, I had learnt enough about dementia to realise that most of her remaining memories were from her childhood. With my grey hair, I couldn’t
possibly be her daughter! But I could provide her with what she would have received from her mother – love, encouragement and a sense of fun.
We are all doing the best we can…
Many of us have very high expectations of ourselves and others. We expect to ‘get it right’ every time! Dementia invites us to inhabit a very different world – a compassionate world in which we deeply
appreciate that we are all doing the best we can. Someone living with dementia – with their compromised brain – is doing the best she or he can. And we, as care partners – with our fears, stress
and lack of knowledge – are doing the best we can.
My hope is that, as we learn more about dementia, and find ways to calm our fears so that we can step into our loved one’s world, ‘our best’ will change.
Every day will be different. As the dementia progresses, what a person is able to do and how we communicate with them will change. But if we can slow down, observe closely, and create an
environment in which the person feels safe, calm and loved, we may discover a closeness and a sweetness in our relationship that we never knew before.
May your journey be blessed.
Alice Ashwell, Dementia Educator & Coach
082 720 7444
Facebook: Dementia Connections SA
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