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Respecting an Elder Who Has Dementia
Respecting a loved one throughout the dementia journey can be a struggle for family members. The fact that a loved one's memory, judgment and ability to carry out day-to-day tasks continues to deteriorate, can make maintaining respect difficult.
If you can keep in mind the essence of who your loved one is while you're engaging with them, it may become easier to maintain the level of respect you have always shown them.
What makes your loved one who they are?
For example, mother, father, daughter, son, engineer, teacher, friend, artist, writer, singer, husband, wife, etc. Keeping the role of who they are to you at forefront of your mind each day as you engage with them is the key to showing your loved one the respect they deserve.
No matter how far along in the caregiving journey you are, there are a few things you can keep in mind to help ensure that you're always giving your loved one the RESPECT they deserve:
- Remember to leave your reality and enter their reality. Wherever they are, allow them to lead the dance and enjoy each step. Try to understand what the person with Alzheimer's (or other dementia) is feeling.
- Enjoy the process of doing everyday activities. Focusing on the process (rather than the outcome) takes away the frustration and stress you might otherwise put on yourself to expect a normal and perfect outcome. For example, if your loved one enjoys gardening, but has forgotten that they already watered the plants today, enjoy watering the plants again with them. The quality time spent doing something they enjoy is far more important than the outcome of the plants being slightly over-watered.
- Simplify all tasks. Do not overwhelm your loved one by giving them too many instructions all at once. When doing this, be careful not to reduce things to the point that it sounds as though you are speaking to a child. Remember, they are adults.
- Practice makes perfect. Don't beat yourself up when you do slip up and do something that you view as disrespectful. Trial and error is the best way to learn. If you allow yourself to make mistakes, then you will grow quicker and learn more ways to uphold your loved one's dignity on a daily basis.
- Encourage your loved one to do what they can for themselves. At the beginning of their journey, your loved one may be able to prepare fruit salad with minimal supervision. Further into the journey, you may need to cut the fruit up and then allow them to mix the fruit into a bowl. As they progress even more, you may need to prepare the fruit salad as they browse through a book that you put together with images of all the different types of fruit. While they look, you can involve them in a conversation about the process of preparing the salad.
- Create a failure free environment for your loved one. Evaluate their living space to ensure that it is not over stimulating (i.e. too cold, too hot, too loud, too quiet, etc.).
- Treat your loved one as an adult at all times. Do not argue. Always make eye contact--these are two of the common tips for talking to someone with Alzheimer's. Speak in a respectful, non-demeaning tone, while avoiding child-like instructions and inflections.
Utilize these tips in addition to ones you develop on your own to help ensure that your loved one is always treated with RESPECT by you and the rest of the family.
Taking care of yourself is another key component of ensuring that respect is given to your loved one.
Neglecting yourself breeds unintentional frustration and anger. Allowing yourself to maintain a healthy demeanor will enable you to show respect more easily, even in the most frustrating situations.
Wishing you strength, courage and happiness with those in their days gone by.