Regional Director Kate Race is a dementia care education trainer certified in Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach® to Care (PAC). Every month she offers a free session for family caregivers – click here to learn more and join her on the third Thursday of every month. We asked Kate to share her insights about the sensory changes those living with dementia experience.
As we all know, most people have access to five senses: Visual, Verbal, Touch, Smell, Taste. Each of these senses change as Alzheimer’s and other dementias progress:
Vision – Safety awareness is diminished; cannot fully take in data because they literally cannot take in the “whole picture” of their surroundings. Also effects driving, reading, watching TV, cooking, and other skills that require visual acuity.
Ability to Communicate – “I have something to say but I can’t say it!” This lack of ability to communicate can result in extreme frustration, less conversation, and the inability to share an opinion or express appropriate emotions.
Hand and Body Function – Loss of dexterity and movement slows down; more difficulty going out with friends and family or going up and down stairs. Activities they loved before, such as golfing, become difficult or impossible.
Smell – Cannot distinguish protective smells such as smoke, gas or chemicals, spoiled food, body odor, urine or feces. May not put on fresh clothes or toss out old food. May not realize their incontinence needs to be managed.
Taste – Good food provides comfort and stimulation. Poor nutrition turns into weight loss and weakness. Will often only eat unhealthy foods and may also stop drinking enough fluids.
With all of these changes occurring, what can family members do to be more supportive? First, try this exercise – close your eyes and picture all of the changes noted above. Add in a broken brain… memory loss… poor decision making… repetitiveness… anxiousness… unawareness.
Remember that dementia is progressive – it cannot be fixed, so the only option is to accept and adapt. As friends, family, and caregivers, we need to change OUR behaviors and our way of thinking, with willingness and understanding. Remember that the entire world of your loved one is changing, against their will and beyond their ability to understand.
One of the first things that happens to a person diagnosed with dementia is they gradually become excluded from activities. This happens either by self-exclusion or by friends, family, and community.
Our loved ones living with dementia need opportunities to be with friends and family in order to feel comfortable. An example might be going grocery shopping. Families will often “take their loved one” with them to the store on the weekend, but this is typically the most crowded – and most overwhelming – time for someone with dementia. And when the task feels overwhelming for the caregiver, it’s easier to just exclude the person. “I’ll grab your groceries for you when I’m out.”
Here are some “Inclusion Solutions” you might consider:
Can the time of the activity be altered to one less crowded and overwhelming?
Can you go to a smaller store?
If going to a restaurant, can you go to one that is small and has a simple menu?
Sit by a window, away from the kitchen, where the lighting is better.
Order necessities and groceries to be picked up and your loved one can join you on the ride.
If they enjoy watching grandkids play ball but can’t sit in the bleachers, take them to a practice where they can sit at the side of the field.
When people talk about dementia, it’s usually about what their loved one CAN’T do anymore. We need to shift our thinking to concentrate on what they CAN do – and how we can make it possible! When we do not allow them to do the things they can, we completely rob them of independence. Even if they can’t complete tasks alone, with patience they can often do tasks with us – rather than us doing the tasks for them. Instead of doing for your loved, ask for help – “show me” “help me” “how do I” are all loving ways to engage.
Most of all, always remember, dementia is brain failure. Think of the word DIM when you are feeling frustrated: Does It Matter? Give up the need to be right. Do not correct. Less talking, and more thoughtful offering is what is needed. Let your loved ones talk and be heard – even if it isn’t right and makes no sense. When you approach with love and understanding, you will find joy even during this difficult time.
Assisting Hands Home Care serving Columbus, OH has caregivers especially trained to work with dementia patients. Give us a call to find out how you can get the help you need to relieve the stress of family caregiving.