Zoe Kelly, Activities Co-ordinator at Gracewell of Fareham, highlights some of the key steps homes can take to support those living with dementia.
Though dementia can impact on people’s quality of life by causing symptoms including memory loss, confusion, language difficulties and mood fluctuations, there is much we can do to ensure homes are as dementia-friendly as possible, and enable those with the condition to live active and fulfilling lives. In creating this welcoming and comforting environment, it is important to pay attention to a wide range of factors, including food and drink, stimulating activities, and the support provided to carers.
Food and drink
There are steps that homes can take to make mealtimes as easy as possible for those with dementia. Kitchen items which are used on a regular basis should be immediately accessible, with things like towels, kitchen roll and coloured cloths being contrasted with surfaces and other appliances. In addition, cutlery should be a different colour to the food being eaten, as well as the table and tablecloth being eaten on. This ensures food can be eaten without complication.
The kinds of food chosen for meals should also be tailored towards helping those with dementia. Certain dishes bring back memories of tastes and smells from the past - for example, roast chicken on a Sunday, and oranges and mince pies around Christmas time. The positive memories spurred by these foods encourages people to get into a routine, and increases their appetite. Foods should be chosen according to their texture, too, so that those with the late-state symptom of dementia called dysphagia are able to swallow easily. This can be done by providing softer foods or puree.
Activities to stimulate memory
One of the most effective ways to enhance the memory of those with dementia is to organise regular activities which encourage people to connect with their past personalities and interests. Whether it be taking an individual on a trip to see their favourite football team, or encouraging them to put together a memory box which reflects their most poignant life moments, such activities enable people to think back, and discuss with others those things they have most cherished.
It is also important to note the growing role that technology has to play in these activities. Virtual reality tools are currently being developed which can transport individuals to an array of locations around the world, sparking memories from previous trips abroad, and promoting discussion about the experiences that people have had in different countries. Something already available to homes are the numerous websites which allow people to research their family tree, and learn more about the professions and interests of those who came before them. As well as engaging their cognitive capacities via investigation, these sites also enable individuals to remember the happy times that they spent with their parents and grandparents.
Supporting dementia carers
People who care for those with dementia are extremely compassionate and dedicated to their role, and deserve great praise for what they do. But, like everybody else, they need time to relax and unwind. That is why initiatives such as ‘memory cafes’ have such an important place within homes, providing carers with the opportunity to socialise and share experiences in a friendly, welcoming environment.
As well as enabling carers to provide one another with emotional support, the cafes feature delicious food and drink, and live entertainment, providing a true break from the duties that come with care. If we want individuals with dementia to enjoy the most fulfilling lives possible, then we must support carers as much as possible, and ‘memory cafes’ are a great way of achieving this.
So, while dementia undoubtedly poses challenges both to those with the condition as well as those who care for them, there are a range of things that can be done to ensure your home is dementia-friendly, all of which play their part in raising quality of life and ensuring happiness.