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Tuesday, 29 August 2017 00:00

What does the world look like to someone with dementia?

Regardless of whether your loved one or patient is in the early or later stages of dementia, they are still the same person they always were. There is one exception thought – they are ill – and the way they see and interpret the world around them has become vastly different.

Cognitive dissonance

Alzheimer’s and dementia changes the way your loved one or patient sees the world, it also changes the way they talk, act and behave and can ultimately change their character. Meanness is one of the most common effects of suffering with either of these diseases, and it is manifested from a frustration and inability to cope with their surroundings.

As a carer it’s important to understand the cognitive dissonance your patient or loved one deals with throughout each waking day – a constant state of confusion of the mind, inconsistent thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. This cognitive dissonance causes internal conflict, leading them to act out with behaviours that appear irrational and out-of-character – this is merely a symptom of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and not who they really are.

Living with cognitive dissonance

The world to an Alzheimer’s and dementia patient has been likened to living in a ‘dream’, an experience of watching yourself from ‘outside your body’, while constantly having to organise your mind. This daily ‘reality’ often leads to feelings of insecurity, fear, anger and hostility – essentially living a life wanting to ‘wake up’ from a dream-like state.

Alzheimer’s and dementia patients suffer from a disease of the brain and an inability to sort out stimuli – leading to their constant state of confusion.

Tips on helping them to ‘stay present’

Anyone living with moderate to advanced dementia will struggle to stay ‘present’ throughout the day – often jumping between completely lucid moments. These moments become more and more fleeting with time, and memories that may take them back to previous decades and periods in their lives.

While constantly correcting your patient or loved one as to what is ‘reality’ is not encouraged, there are tactful ways you can help to keep them ‘present’ and in a calmer state throughout their day:

  • One-on-one reading
  • Pet therapy- actively caring for a pet
  • Vegetable gardening, where your patient’s community reaps the reward of fresh produce
  • Helping to prepare a meal, cleaning house, arranging furniture
  • Singing or playing music as part of a group
  • Laughter yoga – a new form of exercise based on in-your-face interaction
  • One-on-one sessions with flash cards, games and puzzles that require participation

As carers it is vital to understand their world as it changes, daily. In this way it can help you to come to terms with their changes in behaviour and developing appropriate coping strategies. Seeing the world through their lens will help to make real progress in working with them to live their best lives!

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