How your home can help a loved one with dementia

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People caring for a loved one with dementia are being encouraged to view their homes in a new way as experts in Care UK’s dementia team explain how everyday objects can be used to keep up people’s life skills.

Bridget Penney, Care UK’s head of dementia, and her team have produced a new Creating Enabling Environments guide for colleagues across Care UK’s 114 homes nationwide.

Those teams will be sharing their ideas with residents and relatives as well as with carers in the community who come to support sessions at the homes and day clubs.

Bridget explained: “For people living with dementia a therapeutic environment – that is, surroundings that are peaceful, cosy and pleasing to the eye, where they feel confident to be themselves – is very important. But just as important is feeling involved in the life of the home. Being a part of what’s going on is how all of us derive a sense of value and self-worth and it’s important to keep that up.

Taking that premise as her starting point, Bridget has come up with a range of tips to help families with a loved one living at home to create a more rewarding and interactive environment.

She added: “Let the person know that you need them and ask them to assist you with a task if they have time. Sometimes it’s so much easier to do something yourself but, if you can find the time, getting someone to help not only keeps them active but it also gives you both time to chat. Talking about how they used to do the task can often unlock memories from the past that can help you to understand how they see the present.”

Bridget’s top tips room by room

Kitchen

  • Encourage people to help with chopping vegetables or peeling potatoes.
  • Ask people to help wash or dry up small items of crockery and cutlery and encourage them to put things away in the cupboards. Not only does this help to maintain their eye-hand co-ordination but it creates time when you can chat uninterrupted about the day.
  • Look on the internet to find old adverts for food and household items and hunt around fetes and jumble sales for old fashioned kitchen utensils that you can have on show to talk about.

Utility room/conservatory

  • Encourage people to help you peg out or take in washing, even if it’s just holding the peg bag.
  • Sit down together to fold the laundry and ball socks.
  • Encourage people to do small amounts of their own hand washing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t get too clean - you can always slip it in to the next wash.
  • Talk about wash days of the past and how different it is now.

Living room

  • Encourage people to do some light dusting and tidying. It may be an idea to move any precious objects beforehand to eliminate any anxieties about potential damage. This is also a great time to play music they’ve loved, as it’ll help them to recapture the feeling they had when doing this before.
  • Encourage people to help lay the table before meals. Often people with dementia have little sense of the time and forget to eat. This gives them the cue food is coming and it also prompts discussion about their food-related memories and interests. Putting on a pot of coffee or using baking smells can also engage someone in the idea that it is meal time.

Garden

  • Planting seeds or small plants is a quick and rewarding activity.
  • Use of planted herbs can start a discussion about aromas.
  • Growing tomatoes in a pot or grow-bag can be done indoors as well as outdoors and you have the enjoyment of the end product.
  • Leave watering cans on hand to encourage people to water and take a turn around the garden.

The new guide also includes advice on making reminiscence baskets that can remind people of their past occupations.

Bridget said: “These can sit by the person’s bed or chair so they can access them as they like. They’re particularly good for men who may perhaps never have taken part in the housework and so may have limited interest in activity chores around the home.”

Shoe cleaning reminiscence baskets can include traditional brands of tinned shoe polish, an apron for protecting clothes and newspaper to protect surfaces, shoe brushes and buffing cloths as well as shoe laces, shoe trees, and shoes for cleaning. Tool kit reminiscence baskets can include a wrench, screwdrivers, piping, wire, tape measure, spirit level and screws, nuts and nails.

For those involved in office work, Bridget suggests setting aside a corner of a room for a traditional style desk with lots of drawers and cubby holes, a banker’s style lamp, letter rack or in/out tray, a manual typewriter, a framed family photo, a filing cabinet with manila files and stationery items such as pens, paper, ledger books, ruler, rubber, and paper clips.

For more ideas on how to engage a loved one living with dementia in fulfilling activities, download Care UK’s free As Easy as ABC and Listen, Talk, Connect guides.

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