Last week I tried to tackle the difficult topic of emotional changes that people with dementia often experience. In this blog I will discuss the impact that changes in emotional experiences can have on daily life and share a few strategies that can help you cope with these changes.
Having dementia can often make people feel insecure. This can be because they feel that they are losing control and can no longer trust their own judgements. At the same time they may experience the effects of stigma and changes in their social status, as family and friends start to treat them differently. Feeling less confident can make people with dementia more dependent on the people around them, and can lead to low mood and even depression.
Tip: To increase someone’s confidence offer lots of praise and encouragement, celebrate successes and focus on positives. Avoid harsh criticism and when someone makes a mistake try to be supportive. Help people with dementia do the activities they enjoy. You can also help them to maintain and form relationships with family and friends.
People with dementia may not have the same emotional reaction to a certain situation, event or conversation as they used to.The caring, affectionate and loving person they may be can start to fade away. This happens because people with dementia can find it more difficult to understand emotions. Because they are unsure of how you are feeling, they are less able to empathise with you. The extent to which their ability to be empathetic is affected depends on the type of dementia. In general, people with Frontotemporal dementia have significantly more difficulties identifying emotions and experiences by others.
Rather than appreciating the effort you as a carer may have been putting in looking after them, they may behave inappropriately, at times saying hurtful things. Remember that they are not doing this on purpose.
Tip: Keep in mind that there is an organic reason for the changes you are seeing in the person you care for. There is a change happening in the brain, not in who they are as a person, their values and believes. You can help them by reinforcing an emotion by plainly stating it. Don’t assume that the person with dementia can accurately detect how you are feeling from your facial expressions and body language.
Behavioural changes are perhaps one of the most challenging aspects carers face when caring for someone with dementia. It is important to remember that strange behaviours are caused by the illness of dementia, not the person. People with dementia continue to need loving, safe relationships and caring touch even if they may not be acting like they do.
Tip: Discuss what is going on with an understanding person or perhaps a support group. Remember that you are not alone and professional help is also available.
Every person with dementia will be different. However, understanding how someone with dementia is experiencing the world around them, can bring us one step closer to providing them with the best support possible.
This article is based on research publications and information from well-known organisations in the dementia space. Sources include:
Betterhealth article: Dementia- emotional changes
Alzheimer’s Society guide: The psychological and emotional impact of dementia
Alzheimers.net blog: Why is there a lack of empathy in people with dementia
Harvard Health letter: The emotional side of Alzheimer’s disease