Getting told that you or a loved one has dementia can be overwhelming, let alone thinking about the road ahead and what life might look like from now on.
I remember going to a talk by dementia GURU and the amazing Dr Faizal Ibrahim, Consultant Geriatrician several years ago and his words still stick out to me today... "Let's make dementia sexy!!" Now, this is by no means meant to minimise the distress and feelings of overwhelm that you may experience before/after diagnosis, but rather, it's a way to look at dementia as something to not be afraid of. Because when we are afraid or fear something, we try and avoid it right? Our brain naturally goes into survival mode and we RUN as fast as we can (so to speak)!
If you read my previous post, you will know that the rate of dementia is growing and it is likely that you or someone you know has been affected by dementia in some way. Whilst there is no cure yet, there are MANY things that we can do to make life easier and support you with your dementia journey.
Occupational therapists (OTs) are concerned with how people function, meaning what can they do and what can't they do... and what they wan't to do but can't because of a certain road block (AKA dementia). Dementia can affect many aspects of a persons daily life (not just their memory); after all, their brain is not working like it used to. If our brain, the control room of our body, is no longer as efficient, we are going to have glitches in the system whereby we don't do things the way we used to because that part of our brain (or control room) no longer works.
We might find people no longer being able to dress themselves, they may try and put pants on over their head, they might get confused with money or have difficulty paying bills, they may put a tea bag AND coffee in the same cup, they may get lost in Coles or Woolworths, they may put their slippers in the fridge or try and clean their teeth with a hairbrush. The CONTROL ROOM is not working properly and the part of the brain that used to say right "that is a hairbrush to brush your hair and that is a toothbrush to brush your teeth" is NOT WORKING. Now many people with dementia will not experience these things but other difficulties - everyone is different, a persons experience of dementia is unique to them.
So what do we do to help.. that is the burning question!
Well, a thorough assessment is always important. As an OT, I will look at what it is that the carer or person with dementia is concerned with... Why are they looking for support in the first place? This is different for everyone and it will depend on what supports the person already has and well, a range of things really!
I will look at a persons current functioning; how their brain is functioning (a cognitive screening assessment) and how their body is functioning. What can they do? What can't they do? What do THEY WANT TO DO? What do they NEED to do? I will look at their interests and roles and what they find meaningful. For many people with dementia, it is often thought that they lose interest in what they once enjoyed, which can be the case due to many potential reasons like apathy and depression, however, this is still so important to consider as it can help us to better connect with the person with dementia and assist with improving their future care and quality of life. I will also look at the persons environment (physical and social) - where do they live, what environmental barriers are there stopping them from doing what they want and need to do, do they have supports in place (either formal or other supports), is it easy to locate items in their home or do they lose things, how do they get around?
As OTs, we look at the person, their environment and the tasks they need and want to do. From there, we work with the person and their supports/carers to develop strategies that aim to help the person be able to do the things that they want and need to do and improve their quality of life.
Things we as OTs might recommend may include:
ADAPT ENVIRONMENT (Examples):
- Apply labels to cupboards to make it easier for the person to find things
- Recommend GPS trackers so that the carer can have peace of mind should the person get lost (a GPS tracker tracks their location).
- Remove clutter on benches and around the home
- Reduce noise as noise can be an unnecessary and confusing stimulus (like installing acoustic tiles or curtains)
- Reduce glare and risk of falling (40% of people with Alzheimer's have vision loss, Hammond Centre, 2015).
- Provide advice to carers/family on how to communicate with someone with dementia
- Working with carers to find ways to reduce the persons agitation and distress (changes in their personality)
- Only having winter clothes in the wardrobe in winter so that the person with dementia does not get confused and wear pants and jumpers in 40degree heat
- Have the persons outfit laying on the bed so that when they get out of the shower, you take away the sometimes confusing task of having to "choose" what to wear (this can be VERY overwhelming)
ADAPT TASKS (Examples):
- Breakdown the task (e.g. have all of the ingredients out on the bench prior to cooking to reduce confusion when trying to find it all in the cupboards)
- Buy frozen/pre-packed meals instead of having to cook
- Get a gardener once a fortnight to do the big jobs (mowing, pruning), and still support the person with dementia to do the smaller jobs like weeding, watering, planting seeds.
- Have a carer support with the complex aspects of tasks like showering (ensuring that they are not taking away independence and only doing "with" and not totally "for" the person)
- Organising direct debit bill paying, rather than having to do it at the post-office or by cash
- Medication reminders and webster packs
SUPPORT PERSON (Examples):
- Linking them with a community support service (like Dementia Australia link worker, help at home services, groups, GPs/specialists, social workers)
- Introducing them to a social group where they can meet others and have fun in a safe way
- Provide counselling support
- Giving them simple strategies to manage stress/anxiety (and providing them with reminders if short-term memory is a difficulty)
- Giving advice on a healthy lifestyle choices as a preventative strategy
- Using meaningful MUSIC as a way to help calm them and manage their mood/emotions
AND THEY ARE JUST A FEW!! YES - There are many more ways that we can help but as I said, the dementia experience is unique to every individual and a thorough OT assessment is recommended to develop a tailored plan with the person/their carer to work out ways to help!
So.... it is time to WRAP things up and touch on local supports here in Port Lincoln and on the Eyre Peninsula.
Firstly, I would like to mention that I am offering you a FREE "discovery call", whereby we will chat over the phone and you can discuss with me some of your concerns. I will then provide you with some strategies in moving forward and we can team up to work out 'where to next' in your dementia journey! Please contact me on 0488 257 861 and we can schedule a time!
Other places to go for support:
- Your local GP
- Dementia Australia Link Worker (referral through My Aged Care - Phone: 1800 200 422)
- My Aged Care - Phone: 1800 200 422
- Carers SA (1/18 King Street Port Lincoln - Phone: 8683 4477)
- Uniting Communities (41 Edinburgh Street Port Lincoln - 1800 615 677)
I hope this information helps you with your dementia journey and I want to sincerely thank you for reading.
Until next time, Brooke :)
Occupational Therapist, Holistic Occupational Therapy
Image 1 source: uq.edu.au
Brooke George, Occupational Therapist