Caring for Your Loved One with Dementia: Promoting Quality of Life

Published on December 20, 2023

Updated on December 20, 2023

Dementia is a condition that gets worse over time, and as caregivers, we want to support our loved ones through every stage. In the severe stages of dementia, a person's body may begin to fail in significant ways. Here are seven specific ways to promote their quality of life during this challenging time.

Living in the Present Moment

When someone has dementia, their memory gets worse over time. They may forget things that happened in the past, or what will happen in the future. But they can still enjoy the present moment, the time that is happening right now. You can help them by noticing the little things that make life good, like the smell of lunch cooking, the beauty of nature outside the window, and the feeling of their soft hands. You can say things like, “Mmm, that smells delicious!” or “Look at that pretty bird!” or “I love holding your hand!” This will make them feel happy and loved. You can also do things that they like, such as listening to their favorite music, playing a simple game, or giving them a hug. Try to make the present moment fun and pleasant for both of you.

Embracing Different Ways of Communication

Communication is how we talk and listen to each other. Sometimes, dementia can make communication hard, because your loved one may forget words or get confused. But you don't need to use only words to communicate with them. You can use other ways, such as music, pictures, and touch. Music can make them feel calm or cheerful, depending on what kind of music it is. You can sing along with them, or dance with them, or just enjoy the sound together. Pictures can help them remember things or people that they love. You can look at photo albums with them or make a collage of their favorite images. You can also talk about what you see in the pictures and ask them questions. Touch can show them that you care about them. You can hold their hand, stroke their hair, or give them a massage. You can also use a cozy blanket to wrap them up and make them feel safe and warm.

Anticipating Their Needs

Needs are things that we all need to live, such as food, water, and comfort. Sometimes, dementia can make it hard for your loved one to tell you what they need, or to get it themselves. They may not be able to say, “I'm hungry” or “I'm thirsty” or “I'm in pain”. But you can still figure out what they need by paying attention to their body language. Body language is how they move their face, eyes, and body. For example, if they are hungry, they may lick their lips, or point to their mouth, or make chewing sounds. If they are thirsty, they may smack their lips, or reach for a glass, or make swallowing sounds. If they are in pain, they may frown, or close their eyes, or make groaning sounds. You can also check their body for any signs of , such as bruises, cuts, or rashes. You can also make sure that their doctor knows about their medical history, so that they can treat any problems that they have.

Normalizing Dependence and Care

Dependence is when someone needs help from someone else to do things. Care is when someone helps someone else to do things. As dementia gets worse, your loved one may need more help from you or others to do things that they used to do by themselves, such as bathing, dressing, or going to the bathroom. This is normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. You can help them by being kind and patient with them. You can also make these tasks more enjoyable for them. For example, you can make bathing a relaxing experience, by using warm water, soft towels, and nice-smelling soap. You can also play some soothing music, or talk to them gently. You can also make toileting a funny experience, by making jokes, or using silly words, or laughing together. You can also take your time, and not rush them. You can also make each moment meaningful, by telling them that you love them, or thanking them for letting you help them, or complimenting them on how they look.

Exploring Nearby and Safe Activities

Activities are things that we do for fun, such as playing, reading, or gardening. Sometimes, dementia can make it hard for your loved one to do activities that they used to do, especially if they involve moving around a lot, or going to faraway places. But you can still do activities with them that are nearby and safe. For example, you can explore the garden with them, and look at the flowers, or smell the herbs, or touch the leaves. You can also explore a cozy room with them, and look at the pictures, or read the books, or touch the pillows. You can also engage their senses, which are how they see, hear, and smell things. For example, you can show them something colorful, or play them something noisy, or give them something fragrant. Doing these activities can make them feel curious and happy. It can also make you feel happy too.

Creating a Calm Environment

The environment is the place where we are, and the things that are around us. Sometimes, dementia can make your loved one feel upset or restless, because they don't understand what is happening, or they don't like what is happening. This can make them act in ways that are different from before, such as shouting, hitting, or wandering. This is not their fault, and they are not trying to be bad. They are just trying to tell you that something is wrong. You can help them by finding out what is causing them to feel this way and creating a calm environment for them. A calm environment is a place that is quiet, peaceful, and comfortable. You can create a calm environment by minimizing noise and stimulation, which are things that can make them feel overwhelmed, such as loud music, bright lights, or too many people. You can also redirect their attention to positive things, which are things that can make them feel happy, such as their favorite toy, song, or person. You can also offer reassurance with a calm voice and gentle touch, which are things that can make them feel safe, such as saying, “It's okay, I'm here with you” or “You're doing great” or “I love you” or giving them a hug or a kiss.

Addressing Bodily Function Issues

Bodily functions are things that our body does, such as breathing, eating, or going to the bathroom. Sometimes, dementia can make it hard for your loved one to do these things, or to do them well. For example, they may have trouble controlling their bladder or bowel, which can make them wet or soil themselves. Or they may have trouble swallowing their food or drink, which can make them choke or cough. These issues can be embarrassing or dangerous for them, and stressful or tiring for you. But you can help them by working with healthcare providers, who are people who know how to take care of people's health, such as doctors, nurses, or therapists. They can help you optimize their diet, which is the food and drink that they have, and make sure that they get enough nutrition and hydration, which are the things that they need to stay healthy and strong. They can also help you address their swallowing concerns, which are the problems that they have with eating or drinking, and give you tips on how to make it easier and safer for them. You can also help them by having patience with any accidents, which are the times when they wet or soil themselves, and not getting angry or frustrated with them. You can also help them by asking for help when needed, which is when you feel that you can't do it alone, or you need a break, or you have a question. You can ask for help from your family, friends, or professionals, who are people who can support you and your loved one.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can help your loved one with dementia stay physically and mentally well. You can help them by encouraging them to eat healthy foods, drink enough water, and avoid alcohol and tobacco. You can also help them by doing physical activities with them, such as walking, dancing, or gardening. Physical activities can improve their mood, memory, and balance. You can also help them by making sure they get enough sleep, which can help them feel rested and alert. You can also help them by managing their stress, which can make them feel anxious or depressed. You can help them cope with stress by doing relaxing activities with them, such as listening to soothing music, meditating, or breathing deeply.

Stimulating Their Mind and Memory

A stimulated mind and memory can help your loved one with dementia stay engaged and interested. You can help them by doing cognitive activities with them, such as puzzles, games, or crafts. Cognitive activities can challenge their brain, improve their thinking skills, and boost their self-esteem. You can also help them by doing reminiscent activities with them, such as talking about their past, sharing stories, or looking at old photos. Reminiscence activities can trigger their memory, preserve their identity, and strengthen your bond.

Respecting Their Preferences and Choices

A respected preference and choice can help your loved one with dementia feel valued and respected. You can help them by involving them in decisions that affect their life, such as what to wear, what to eat, or what to do. You can also help them by giving them options, such as asking them, “Would you like to watch TV or listen to the radio?” or “Would you like to have chicken or fish for dinner?” You can also help them by honoring their wishes, such as respecting their cultural or religious beliefs, or following their advance directives. Advance directives are documents that state what kind of medical care they want or don't want in the future.

Conclusion

Caring for someone with severe dementia requires resources and support. Make sure to take care of yourself too, so you can provide the best care possible. Focus on creating meaningful moments, engaging the senses, and offering love and patience in every interaction.

Resources

My Loved One with Dementia

Understanding Dementia (Alzheimer's & Vascular & Frontotemporal & Lewy Body Dementia) (Video)

How Do I Know Which Dementia I'm Looking At? (Video)

Dementia Training material (Free)

Promoting Meaningful Relationships with Dementia Patients through Validation Therapy

Unlocking the Power of Validation Therapy in Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Validation Therapy: A Valuable Tool for Families and Healthcare Teams

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

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How Do I Know You? Dementia at the End of Life

The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders (Guides to Caregiving)

Sundown Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia Explained

The Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Practical Advice for Caring for Yourself and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Care Companion: The Complete Handbook of Practical Care from Early to Late Stage

My name is Peter, yet the patient called me “Jack”

Detecting Infections in Terminally Ill Geriatric Patients with Dementia

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

The Dark Side of Physical Therapy for Geriatric Patients with Alzheimer's in the Terminal Stage

Caring for your Dementia Loved One: Tips from Professional Nurses

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The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias

Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Caregiving: A Self Help Book for Dementia Caregivers Offering Practical Coping Strategies and Support to Overcome Burnout, Increase Awareness, and Build Mental & Emotional Resilience

Navigating the Dementia Journey: A Compassionate Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Living With Dementia

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

Four Common Mistakes by Caregivers of loved ones with Dementia and what do differently (video)

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

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My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7 Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Providing Comfort During the Last Days of Life with Barbara Karnes RN (YouTube Video)

Preparing the patient, family, and caregivers for a “Good Death”

Velocity of Changes in Condition as an Indicator of Approaching Death (often helpful to answer how soon? or when?)

The Dying Process and the End of Life

The Last Hours of Life

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Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience

The Eleventh Hour: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death

By Your Side , A Guide for Caring for the Dying at Home

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