Dementia is the second leading cause of death among Australians, contributing to 5.4 per cent of all male deaths and 10.6 of all female deaths each year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Each week, more than 1,800 new cases of dementia are diagnosed in Australia.
Dementia Awareness Month is Dementia Australia’s national awareness-raising campaign held annually throughout September to encourage Australians to become more aware of the disease and have a better understanding of how to support people living with dementia.
Home Instead Senior Care, a specialist national provider of high quality in-home care for older Australians, created Dementia: A resource guide for carers and families.
The guide supports families and carers, providing them with information about dementia, the various types, stages and progression of the disease. It provides a range of practical strategies, tools and activities to use when caring for a loved one living with dementia at home.
Co-Founder of Home Instead Senior Care Australia, Martin Warner, said non-verbal communication could be used to interact with people living with dementia.
Mr Warner said it was important to remember all behaviour was a form of communication. Alternative communication approaches would enable family and friends to build trust and provide support.
1. Body language
Be consistently aware of your body language and attitude. For example, agitated movements or a tense facial expression might upset or distress a person with dementia and can make subsequent communication more difficult.
2. Maintain eye contact
To gain a person’s attention, limit distractions and noise, and maintain eye contact with them. Always try to speak to them at their eye level so they can see your expression clearly.
3. Provide simple choices
Communication flowed better if you provide simple choices. Ask one question at a time - yes or no questions work best. Visual cues and prompts are a good way to increase understanding.
4. Never argue or raise your voice
Be careful not to shout or argue. It will only increase levels of frustration and agitation.
5. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart
Carers should always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie words. It was important to be patient and listen carefully to what was being communicated or shared with you.
“The key to providing quality care for someone with dementia is the relationship between the person and their carer,” Mr Warner said.
“When implementing communication therapies, it is crucial to know and understand the personality and life story of the person with dementia as this will make the communication strategies more effective.”
The three most common communication strategies were Reality Orientation, Validation Therapy and Reminiscence Therapy.
Reality Orientation aimed to gently bring someone who is disorientated back to their present reality by guiding them to the awareness of who they are, where they are and the present time and date.
A tool to assist Reality Orientation was a ‘reality board’ - a whiteboard or noticeboard that could easily be seen and detailed important information, including the day, appointments or visitors.
Validation Therapy was implemented by acknowledging the person’s view of reality and encouraging them by listening carefully and asking questions. This prevented behavioural symptoms of dementia and allowed the person to enjoy revisiting a time or place where they were happy and content.
Reminiscence Therapy was beneficial because it captured the life journey of someone with dementia, which helped build a deeper one-on-one relationship with them. Talking with people with dementia about their lives could create a positive emotional experience and reduce stress.
Mr Warner said reminiscing was about giving the person with dementia a sense of value, importance and belonging. It could take place at any time, either visually, through music, smell or taste, and feeling textures of familiar objects.
“Research has shown that people with dementia benefit significantly from remaining in the familiar surroundings of their home and community environment for as long as possible,” Mr Warner said.
“We hope our dementia guide helps loved ones and carers around Australia to learn more, have a better understanding of dementia and how to be a good support system.”
For a free copy of the Dementia Guide, click here.
For more information, click here.