Posted by Beth Britton at 19/09/2012 10:19:24
One of the key aspects of dementia care is how you personalise your loved one’s journey with this disease. Creating an environment that they feel comfortable in is vital to giving them quality of life and reducing the symptoms of dementia. It also enables the professionals who support them to understand the person that they are caring for in a relaxed and engaging way, and tailor their input as a result.
During my father’s nine years in care homes we always strived to make his room a haven of happy memories, reminiscence aids and sensory stimulation. He had a memory box outside his door which introduced Dad, his passions, hobbies and occupations to everyone who walked past. Once inside his room, the theme continued with pictures on the walls and lots of family photos that could be picked up and given to Dad to hold, stimulating conversations between him and his carers.
With all the equipment needed to care for Dad, space was at a premium. Therefore, we always strived to find items that fulfilled every day needs whilst also having therapeutic benefits. Like, for example a lap tray and tactile cushions that depicted his favourite animals. Dad’s farming background, and the fact that he had always been an active person, meant that he often showed agitation through having idle hands. But we found the solution was cushions and miniature life-like soft toy animals that he could cuddle and stroke.
Another of my father’s great passions was reading. Although, as his dementia advanced he could no longer do this independently, his bookcase remained full of his favourite books – not just so that we could read to him, but to give his room character and familiarity. The books represented all of Dad’s interests, thus providing an instant appraisal of his life – much like his constantly playing music collection, which explained far more about Dad than if he’d had a TV in his room playing endless modern programmes. Music also engaged his mind, and he would sing song lyrics long after he had lost the ability to hold a conversation.
Our experiences showed how simple items like soft furnishings, pictures, books, CDs, and even an uplighter with the emblem of his hometown football team, personalised my dad’s environment effectively and inexpensively. You can also extend this philosophy to everyday items like toiletries by using a familiar scent to make bath times more tranquil, or through providing clothes of particular styles or colours to evoke memories.
When someone with dementia can no longer express themselves fully, a personalised environment can go a long way to doing the talking for them. Furthermore, by letting those who care for your loved one into “their life”, you have the chance to influence the way everyone who meets your relative behaves towards them. As the adage says, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.