In the early stages of dementia many people will still function independently. For example, they will likely still be able to drive, socialise, and perhaps even work. At this stage of dementia, the role of the caregiver is to provide companionship and support to the person, as well as to help them with future planning.
It can be difficult to know how to properly care for someone in the early stages of dementia. The following are some of the main things to consider.
1. Find a New Normal
One of the most difficult things for caregivers at this early stage is to know how much assistance to give the person, and when to encourage independence. The caregiving role at this stage involves assisting with everyday tasks to help the person with dementia develop new coping strategies that will encourage their independence.
To determine the most appropriate level of support and care for someone living in the early stage of dementia, consider the following:
- Safety: Consider the safety risks involved with the person carrying out a task. If there is no immediate risk of injury or harm, encourage the person to perform the task independently and oversee where necessary.
- Communication: The most effective way to work out the type and amount of support a person with dementia needs is simple: ask them. Discuss their needs and any frustrations they have with daily tasks, then you can make a plan on how to move forward.
- Limit Stress: If you know that a task will cause frustration for the person with dementia, try to take the task on or look for a workaround that limits unnecessary stress.
- Enjoy Time Together: Don’t just focus on the mundane tasks that need to be done; instead, find activities that you can both do together. This gives opportunities for bonding and talking about the level of assistance that they are comfortable with.
2. Assist with Memory-Based Tasks
The early stages of dementia are different for everyone; however, it is common for a person in this stage to require cues and reminders to assist their memory. For example, the person in your care may need assistance with:
- Arranging, keeping, and going to appointments
- Recalling certain words or names of people they know
- Remembering familiar places or people
- Managing finances
- Organising medications
- Planning and organising appointments and activities
- Transportation to and from appointments and social events
Communicate with the person about where they require the most help. Focus on their strengths and assist them so that they can keep doing things independently as much as possible. For example, if they are still able to organise their finances, instead of doing them on their behalf, offer to review them once they have been completed.
3. Understand their Emotions
Supporting a person living with dementia often includes more than helping with practical tasks. Providing dementia care can often involve being there for the person emotionally. The person’s emotions will likely be impacted by how their diagnosis will affect their life, and anticipating the challenges they will face in the future. It’s important to recognise their emotions so that you can help them cope with their feelings and move forward to live a satisfying life.
A person who has recently received a dementia diagnosis may experience some of the following emotions:
- Denial: In many cases, a dementia diagnosis can be difficult to accept. As such, denial can become a healthy coping mechanism in the short term. Denial gives the person time to adjust to their new life. However, if they are in denial for too long, this may hinder the decision-making process in terms of how they will move forward and live a quality life.
- Anger: Feelings of anger are a common response to a dementia diagnosis, as the person may feel a loss of control over their future.
- Anxiety & Fear: A person who has just received a dementia diagnosis will typically be uncertain about how the disease will progress and what to expect in the future.
- Depression: A sense of loss over their previous life before diagnosis can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
There are a number of things that caregivers can do to help the person in their care to work through their emotions, such as:
- Encourage the person to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings
- Take time out to do activities together that both of you enjoy
- Talk together about any expectations, questions or concerns both parties have
- Go to a support group for people living in the early stages of dementia
If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care. Get in touch with us to find out more.