Research shows that if one focuses on the 5 senses and movement, then you have a great starting point that will help one understand what happens with people living with Dementia.
Considering that according to the World Health Organisation, the 50million + people living with Dementia worldwide can triple by 2050, this is a disease that should not be taken lightly. Dementia is an umbrella term that has various forms of Dementia under it. Understanding them all is quite a daunting task but thankfully there are quite simple and easy ways to relieve the effects of this disease, taking into account which one you are dealing with. Dementia is progressive and irreversible, but the good news is that there are various non-medical interventions and activities that can be utilised. Research shows that if one focuses on the 5 senses and movement, then you have a great starting point that will help one understand what happens to people living with Dementia.
Starting off with Sight, untreated, poor vision is associated with a higher risk of developing Dementia and it could speed up the process of cognitive decline. A person with Dementia might not be able to distinguish between colours anymore and they might not recognise family and friends anymore. They can lose their depth perception and this could also be a fall risk so stairs should be clearly marked with reflective tape. Walls and floors should have different colours for them to distinguish where the one starts and the other stops. Keep in mind that the person with Dementia might still have good eyes but the brain’s ability to process the stimuli is what is deteriorating.
Moving to Touch, a person with Dementia might lose their sense of touch and might thus not be able to feel if water or food is very warm or if a stove plate is hot. The inability to identify the different sensations of touch may cause them to not want to be touched. Agnosia is a condition that affects all the senses and makes it impossible for the Dementia patient to identify things for what they are. This could also cause them to resist bathing or washing.
Moving to Taste, a person with Dementia may lose their sense of taste and could not be aware that they are consuming spoilt food. Sensitivity to taste can diminish and they could put scented items in their mouths, so put the shampoo and perfume away. The loss of taste and the loss of smell go hand in hand affecting each other. When the Dementia patient can no longer process the senses of taste and smell, they could stop enjoying eating and drinking and this could lead to malnourishment.
Moving to Smell, when this sense starts to diminish, smelling smoke (or if something is burning) might disappear and with this comes various red flags. Again the nose can still smell, but the ability of the brain to process what they are smelling diminishes. As with taste, eating could become less pleasurable.
Moving to Hearing, a Dementia patient’s ears might still be very good but the brain cannot process the sounds. This can lead to confusion and anxiety and if they cannot identify sounds around them, this could also cause agitation or even over stimulation. A calm, relaxing environment where you speak to the Dementia patient slowly and calmly is ideal. If Dementia patients withdraw from conversations and become isolated, it could be that the loss of hearing already progressive.
Movement is also very important for people of all ages but also for Dementia patients. They might have reduced control of their muscles and this can result in slower movement, which also increases the risk of falling. Difficulty with movement after sitting or standing still is common. Dementia affects coordination and balance and this can cause jerky movements which can cause them to fall or stumble. When a Dementia patient moves around restlessly, this usually is a sign of a need that has not been met; don’t ask them to sit down, rather explore what the need is which is unmet. It is very important that a person living with Dementia is assisted to keep muscles working and as flexible as possible. Physiotherapy can also be a good idea for specialised exercises to build muscle tone.
If we all educate ourselves about Dementia, we might not be able to cure it, but we can surely make life a bit more bearable for our loved ones living with Dementia. Hopefully then this will become the norm and when you maybe get Dementia, there will be a circle of knowledge and support waiting for you.
Medwell SA developed their own Dementia Programme containing various practical activities that can be done with a person living with Dementia. Medwell SA also offers home care for Dementia patients and manage various Dementia Care Units across South Africa.
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