Top tips for living with dementia

“When you’re looking after your loved one who has dementia and is dying, sometimes the things you take for granted are the things you don’t think of."

Hazel is a Marie Curie Clinical Nurse Specialist for Dementia, based in West Norfolk.She visits people living with dementia at home and uses her expertise to provide support and education for her patients and the people looking after them.

Hazel (right) and Angela, one of the people Hazel has supported as a Clinical Nurse Specialist

Having helped many families deal with a dementia diagnosis through her work, Hazel has some practical tips and ideas for helping people living with dementia.

1. Capturing a strong sense of self

“Part of what I work on with my patients and their families is promoting the essential being of that person. We make memory books with photos, so as they go through the stages of dementia they can reconnect with their thoughts and feelings through pictures.

"Sense memory is also a great tool for helping the person connect to previous memories. If they’re someone who likes the countryside, we might use the sound of recorded birdsong to create a sense of relaxation. Smell can also be an effective way of communicating, so we could use a special perfume or familiar aroma to stimulate memory.”

2. Use colours to make mealtimes easier

“When a person with dementia is unable to eat, there may not always be a physical reason. They may be struggling with their visual perception and no longer able to recognise the food on their plate.

"Research has shown that red is the last colour we are able to see when our eyes and brains deteriorate. So at mealtimes, if we introduce an empty red plate and add food in small quantities, the person may be able to identify that food more easily as it sits on a coloured plate.”

3. Communicating clearly

“A person with dementia will find it easier to understand conversation if the other person is in front of them and speaking towards them.

"Rather than giving someone with dementia a command or speaking to them in long sentences, an initial touch on their shoulder can help them understand that information is coming to them. Depending on the type of dementia, using touch can reduce any anxiety they might feel.”

4. Helping through mimicry

“The things that everyone takes for granted – like brushing your teeth – are tasks that someone living with dementia is going to eventually struggle with. If the person isn’t brushing their teeth so well, carers or loved ones can mimic that action beside them, giving the person with dementia an opportunity to copy along.

5. Pet therapy

“Pets are part of the family and can be very therapeutic. For a person living with dementia, their connection with a pet is just as strong and their presence can give you comfort and help you relax. When I’m helping to care for a person who loves a pet, I bring that pet to them.”

6. Research and reach out

If the person is diagnosed in the early stages and can be given information, it’s a good idea to look with their family at websites like the Alzheimer’s Society or Dementia UK.

"With the families I work with at Marie Curie we talk about the ways you can live well with dementia and I signpost people to day centres, lunch clubs, and dementia cafes in local communities."

Services like Marie Curie can help with this, and the support line is a good resource for those living with terminal illness and dementia.