People living with dementia often feel isolated and anxious about what is happening around them. This can be due to memory failure to recognise family members or carers, finding difficulty in sequencing events in the right order and heightened sensitivity to surroundings. If you are in a care home, you may be having to wear a face mask, gown and gloves to protect yourself and those you care for. This could seem frightening to anyone – especially for those with mid-late stage dementia. Try to calmly explain that it is to keep clean due to a flu virus. Keep to short, simple sentences and keep repeating this regularly.
Staff in care homes may be in short supply due to some having to stay at home to self-isolate. The care may fall to just a few people who are unable to keep to the normal daily routine. People with dementia may sense that things are ‘not right’ and become more agitated than usual. They may become moody and even aggressive when changes are made. Try to keep their contact to just one or two members of staff, where possible and preferably someone who has assisted with the person previously. Find a comfort soft pet or blanket that will help to calm the situation and this will hopefully allow you to continue in your other duties.
One of the best ways is to keep everyone’s hands scrupulously clean. People with dementia may forget to wash them before meals and after using the toilet. Remind them to do so regularly and ensure they do so properly for at least 20 seconds. Singing a well-known song can help such as the chorus of ‘Daisy, Daisy’ and makes it less of a chore too. Position bold notices around to remind them too.
Make sure they stay indoors and away from any callers such as people delivering goods. Wash or wipe any packaging with sanitising fluid and allow to dry naturally before using. Research shows the virus can live for up to 3 days on plastic and metal. If space allows, position chairs at least two metres apart from others and keep rooms well ventilated.
The loss of visits may be very upsetting for many people, not just those with dementia. For those living at home, they will maybe have a family member caring for them but anyone living in a care home may find it difficult to understand why they are not getting visitors. A great way to still ‘see’ loved ones is through sites like ‘Skype’, ‘Zoom’ or ‘WhatsApp’. These are free to use and simple to set up. All you need is a smartphone, laptop or tablet (the latter are best due to the larger screen). Carers just need to access the email addresses of family members wishing to take part and then ‘invite’ them to your device – you can even set up a group meetup.
There are a great many ways to keep people in all stages of dementia active and engaged. It is often easier in a care home as there will be other residents to take part in group activities, even if everyone is sitting apart. Many enjoy singing and this is simple to set up and will appeal to most residents, whatever their ability. There are some great popular song compilations that often provide reminiscence too and the accompanying song books are in large, bold print. Those at home can also enjoy listening to the radio, which provides ever-changing music and discussion. Easy-grip large piece Jigsaw puzzles in a variety of scenes can be obtained for all ability levels, from 4 – 500 pieces and can help relax and concentrate the mind. Plastic puzzles are also available in large pieces - these can be sanitised too.
For those that are in mid-late stage dementia water-based painting can be a great way to spend a peaceful hour or so. These just use water to bring alive a beautiful image and after a few minutes, they dry up and can be done all over again. For someone with a very short memory span, these are the perfect art hobby. Others wanting more challenging experiences can choose from a wide range of art materials, Paint by Numbers are ideal as they come with their own images, paints and brush so can be kept separate from others.
It is difficult to actually stop this habit, many people with dementia will often button/unbutton a cardigan or pull out threads from a jumper. This repetitive action is usually done involuntarily and can get worse when the person is agitated. Try and provide something else to do with their hands and fingers instead? Many will enjoy threading games like beads or lacing. For someone in the later stages of dementia, an activity apron is ideal as it can be worn and has an assortment of attachments to fiddle with. Some people find stroking can help too, why not invest in a Precious Pet? These are furry cats, dogs or rabbits that ‘breathe’ rhythmically and will sit peacefully on a lap without shedding hair or needing to be fed. There are even robotic pets that move and purr/meow just like the real thing. During social distancing, a pet must only be used by one individual for safe hygiene reasons.
Try to make exercise something they look forward to. Mid-late morning is the ideal time to organise some dance or a game that will provide some gentle stretching. Balloon Swatters are a fun way to give upper body stretching without overdoing it. Give each a balloon swatter and a balloon and see how long they can keep it up in the air for? Each person must only touch their own balloon – alternatively, a slower game could be done with a chiffon scarf.
An oversized beach ball can be bounced against the wall or on the ground to get some bending too. Start with one bounce and build up to ten. For groups or single people, Julie Robinson’s Move it or Lose it series of exercise DVDs provide expert gentle stretches to music that can be enjoyed by all abilities and can be done sitting at the required distance. Yoga for Dementia is a book with easy to follow routines that help to relax and create a sense of calm for all.
Many older people living with dementia can also have other health issues, ensure that their medication is taken regularly and that you have ample supplies where possible. Good knowledge of their general health is essential in order to identify if there are any unusual symptoms shown. Many people with dementia find it difficult to communicate how they are feeling and this may only be shown by changes in appetite or extra irritability. Monitor them closely and look for any high temperature, dry cough and extra tiredness. If you are worried, call their GP or dial 111 as normal. You can also call an Admiral Nurse on 0800 8886678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on anything.
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