31 Jul 2017

Dignity For Those With Dementia

Dignity For Those With Dementia

For anyone who acts as a carer for a person living with dementia, either in a care home or a private home environment, it’s a constant battle to ensure that the person’s dignity is central to everything.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of dignity is ‘the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.' What this means for carers is ensuring that every person living with dementia is given the respect that they deserve and is treated like any other person, and not made to feel under valued in any way.

At times, working to protect the dignity of people living with dementia can be a struggle. One carer described the time that she took her mother to the jewellers to have a ring resized. Her mother made an inappropriate and embarrassing remark to the sales clerk - a young male clerk. The carer was tempted to mouth an apology saying that her mother had dementia. However, she stopped herself and simply ignored the remark. Why? Because defending her mother’s actions would have been just as inappropriate as the remark and would have hurt her mother’s feelings had she seen.

The problem is that as a carer - whether that’s a professional carer or a family member - it can be difficult to know how to protect a person’s dignity. Naturally, you want them to receive all the support that they need, but does this mean telling the entire local community about their dementia? Is it your right as a carer to make decisions for the person you are looking after or not? The role as a carer for someone living with dementia can, at times, be a hard road to walk. There’s a fine line between advocating for a person with dementia and simply taking over - this is a line it’s important not to cross.

The good news is that there is advice about the best ways of supporting someone with dementia, which can make the process of keeping their dignity intact a little easier. The question is, how can carers do that?

Don’t treat them like a child
People with dementia can sometimes become childlike in their behaviour and actions. A person who has dementia might seem like they have regressed to their childhood, but even so, that is no reason to treat them like a child. Always ensure that you treat someone with dementia like an adult and with dignity. Don’t use pet names for them, call them by their own name. Help and support them but ensure that you are allowing them to make their own decisions.

Don’t take over
A mistake that you do not want to make is taking over. You want to be there to support them, but that doesn’t mean taking over. For example, say you are at the shops with them, and they are struggling to remember their pin number or count their change, don’t quickly count it for them or apologise for their behaviour to the cashier. Instead, quietly explain that they have dementia and may need a little more time to make payment than other customers do.

Keep them occupied
A person with dementia can get bored just like anyone else. Don’t sit them down with nothing to do for hours - this is insulting and upsetting for them, and shows that their dignity isn’t valued. They may not be able to do the things that they used to, but they still deserve to be kept occupied. Some of the best methods for doing so include setting them up with a colouring book and pencils or art materials, putting on their favourite TV show or movie, playing music for them, giving them a busy blanket to use, or helping them to bake.

Don’t neglect their wellbeing
As a carer for someone living with dementia, it’s your job to ensure that their wellbeing isn’t overlooked. This means ensuring that hygiene is a priority and that they are able to wear clean clothes every day and go out looking presentable. It also means taking their mental and physical health into account, and ensuring that they are eating well, staying as active as possible, and are happy and content.

Remember, there are three things to consider with patient care and providing dignity:

  1. Maintaining Privacy
  2. Communicating
  3. Giving Choice

The fact is that dignity covers a wide range of different factors, from knowing how to effectively support someone living with dementia when out and about to ensuring that their mental wellness is being taken care of. Being a carer for someone living with dementia isn't always easy, especially when it comes to preserving their dignity.  

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