Living well with Dementia

It is quite likely that you know of someone who has dementia, or, like me, you could have a close friend or family member who is living with dementia. As time goes on, with an ageing population, more and more of us are likely to be in this situation. This thought may fill you with dread and hopelessness, but it does not have to be like that.

Since dementia came into my life, I have found the best way to deal with it is to embrace it, learn as much as possible about it and try and actively do the very best that I can for my relative. It has been a steep learning curve, with lots of twists, turns and bumps in the road. I have been helped most by the Contented Dementia Trust in Burford, from whom I have learned an enormous amount. I have done a great deal of studying and also volunteering with them and have been able to put what I have learned into practice, finding that it really works.

There is not space in this article to go into much detail, but I can pull out the things that have helped me most. The first is the belief that someone can have a ‘good’ dementia, without losing their dignity and their quality of life. This might seem counter-intuitive to despairing carers at the end of their tether, but it is possible. With the gradual onset and later diagnosis of dementia, a person’s sense of well-being (defined by personal worth, autonomy, social ease and trust that all will be well) is eroded and needs to be restored. Doing all that you can to boost and re-establish their sense of well-being is really effective. This could range from a compliment on how they look to treating them as an expert on something they know much more about than you do.

A person with dementia may feel isolated and that it is they against the rest of the world. Getting alongside them and making them feel that you are in it together, that they have an ally in life, can counteract this. Try to avoid asking direct questions, as the facts needed to answer these may not have been stored. It can be more productive to make a statement such as, “I don’t know about you, but I fancy a cup of tea.” It is important not to contradict a person with dementia. They may be trying to make sense of the present by looking to past experiences and feelings, which are very real to them. It also damages their self-esteem. Finally, listen carefully to the person with dementia. What they say and the questions they ask can reveal a great deal about how they are feeling and what might be concerning them.

It has not been perfect, but by following these considerations, I worry less and feel much more confident that my relative is having a far better dementia than would otherwise have been the case.
01993 822129

Clare Iley

February – March 2019