Dementia and quality of life: improving wellbeing in care homes

850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. By 2025, this is set to increase to over one million, rising to two million by 2051.

Every three minutes, someone will develop dementia in the UK; and despite one in six people over the age of 80 having dementia, 42,000 people under 65 have it.

While there is no cure for dementia, the same research by the Alzheimer’s Society has shown that delaying the onset of dementia by five years can halve the number of deaths – equating to 30,000 lives.

70% of care home residents are living with dementia, or another severe memory problem; and it’s one of the biggest challenges faced within the care industry. As people continue to live longer lives, it’s anticipated that dementia will affect every single one of us at some point – whether it’s directly, or through a loved one.

That’s why it’s crucial we take the time to truly understand dementia, and the ways in which we can improve the quality of life for dementia patients.


Communication with dementia residents is key

Living with dementia can be lonely and confusing. Regular interaction – whether that’s with a loved one or carer – is crucial for providing residents with dementia with mental stimulation, whilst monitoring their overall health and wellbeing.

Good levels of communication don’t just benefit residents, but it can benefit employees too, making caregiving far less stressful – especially when dealing with challenging behaviour, which we’ll discuss in more depth later on in this post.

It’s not uncommon for people living with dementia to easily become upset or feel frustrated – especially if they are being asked to recall conversations or incidents that they can’t remember. That’s why it’s so important to have regular communication with dementia residents.

If this happens, then change the subject to something the resident is more comfortable talking about, and then revisit it once they’re less agitated. Alternatively you could change the environment by asking them to help you out with a small task, or ask them to go out for a walk to get some fresh air instead.

People living with dementia often feel confused, anxious and unsure of themselves, and they may sometimes refer to situations that have never even happened. In this situation, don’t try to convince them that they’re wrong – what they need is reassurance, comfort and support.


Is laughter the best form of medicine?

A recent study found that laughter really could be the best medicine for residents living with dementia. While antipsychotic medications can be prescribed to help with anxiety, nothing can cure dementia or Alzheimers.

This Australian study was undertaken over the course of three years, and involved humour therapists being tasked with getting 400 dementia suffers to laugh more often. The results? A 20% reduction in anxiety – the same result as an antipsychotic medication.

With that in mind, anxiety and agitation are usually at the root of outbursts in dementia residents, so by taking the time to sit with your patients, and crack a few jokes to lighten the mood (but never at their expense), you can make a huge difference to your patients’ wellbeing.

However, just be aware that as it progresses, the patient is less capable of understanding complex jokes – so keep it light, and introduce humour gradually, as part of your communication with dementia residents.


Accommodate – but don’t control – troubling behaviour

60-80% of dementia sufferers are reported to have Alzheimer’s disease, but there are actually as many as 50 other causes of dementia.

Dementia damages parts of the brain that are used for learning, problem-solving, language and decision-making aspects, which is why a person living with dementia has their thinking, memory and reasoning compromised. The result, is it’s not uncommon for residents living with the condition to experience personality and behaviour changes; and it’s these changes that can lead to troubling behaviour.

When this happens, rather than trying to control their behaviour, accommodate it instead. For example, if a resident were to insist on sleeping in a new place, don’t argue with them. Instead, try to them as comfortable as possible.

The issues often lie in the fact that people living with dementia can find it quite difficult to explicitly explain what it is they need. So, whilst they may decide to reorganise everything that’s in their room every day, they can’t explain the purpose of it to others – but to them, it’s important.

Changing behaviour means that solutions that may work one day, may not work the next. Where possible, make sure you continue to communicate with your resident and other employees, to work out solutions. By remaining flexible and patient, you’re helping with improving quality of life for dementia patients.

This type of behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg: agitation, repetitive sleep and actions, incontinence, paranoia and sleeplessness are just some of the other challenges that are faced, which you can find out more about in the links above.


Introduce memory aids and activity provisions

Therapy dolls have grown in popularity amongst care homes, to aid dementia residents. These lifelike dolls have proven to help calm agitated dementia sufferers, making them feel happy and safe in their environment.

Additionally, multi-sensory equipment and tactile stimulation tools including life-like animals have recently been appearing in care homes across the country, aiding dementia sufferers with recollection, whilst helping them to feel safer.

Encourage residents living with dementia to keep a diary or a calendar where they can write down their thoughts or upcoming events, to help them feel that sense of independence, or give them newspapers so they will always know what the date is.

Let them personalise their room with familiar furniture, and pictures of loved ones to help trigger memories. Even activities like bringing in pets, or playing games of cards can help too.


The future of dementia and quality of life

Dementia has been referred to as a tsunami, with one in three people predicted to suffer from dementia once they’re over the age of 65.

The good news, is that the awareness of challenges posed by dementia is high amongst care professions, in addition to those working in the public health, community, business and technology sectors, all of which will play a part in delivering solutions to this very real problem.

Better prevention and better diagnosis early on will help, as will continual improved caregiving support across care homes, to help improve residents’ wellbeing, and make them feel safe. However, it’s important to remember that none of these initiatives can simply resolve issues overnight.

Whilst dementia is a progressive disease, it doesn’t mean a patient’s quality of life has to suffer. As care home providers, we play a major role in improving the wellbeing of our residents, and by taking into account each of these points above, we can help to ensure residents living with dementia feel comfortable, safe and happy. You can find out more information about understanding dementia behaviours here,

If you have any questions about improving quality of life for dementia patients in your care home, either get in touch with us, or find out how we helped one care home to meet their residents’ needs. Alternatively, you can browse our range of dementia products, or head on over to our blog for the latest industry news.

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