Getting older: it’s something many people fear. Often perceived as a lonely, painful, and vulnerable time in the human lifespan, the realities of aging are unpleasant, and the fact of the matter is that dignity can be difficult to maintain. Luckily, a handful of world-class dementia care services are changing that. While nobody can stop the aging process, care professionals who understand that dignity can and must be maintained during dementia care are going a long way toward improving the face of dementia care for everyone who accesses it. Read on to learn more.
Why Maintaining Dignity is Crucial to Clients and Patients Alike Dementia is a challenging disease, and when a friend or loved one is suffering from dementia, many people find that they have an incredibly hard time accepting the change in the person they used to know so well. In many cases, dementia causes a woman who has been gentle and soft-spoken all of her life to lash out in angry outbursts or a man who has always treasured his family as his most valuable asset to forget his son or daughter’s face. These things can be heartbreaking for family members. While there is no real way to alleviate the difficulties of dementia, or to make the disease simply “go away,” friends and relatives of affected people often find the condition easier to deal with if a level of dignity is maintained throughout. In addition to helping loved ones remember that even a person with severe Alzheimer’s is an adult, maintaining dignity can also assist in overall acceptance and coping. While maintaining dignity is essential for friends and family members, it’s critical for the senior suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. While many people mistakenly believe that people suffering from dementia are not “in there,” many are very sensitive and can easily have their feelings hurt by being undermined, condescended, or talked over. Because of this, organizations that want to streamline a more manageable dementia experience do everything in their power to maintain dignity for both the senior and his or her family members and friends.
How to Help a Senior Maintain his or her Dignity While there are many ways to help a person affected by dementia maintain his or her dignity, the following approaches are commonly used by dementia care facilities for whom dignity is paramount:
Avoid condescension: Again, seniors affected by dementia are adults, and they are very sensitive to being treated as anything less than such. Because of this, it’s critical for all caregivers to understand how damaging condescension can be, and how best to avoid it. This typically involves referring to things like diapers and toilets by more dignified names (underwear rather than diaper, for instance). Avoiding condescension with seniors can also mean avoiding the adoption of a parental tone and ensuring that, as much as is possible, you’re speaking to the senior the way you would have talked to him or her before dementia took hold.
Help the senior succeed: People affected by dementia often know that they’re not the same as they used to be. They may struggle for words, work to remember a familiar person’s name or face, or lose their train of thought in the middle of a story or sentence. In these situations, one of the best and most humane things you can do is help the senior succeed by asking leading questions and ensuring that you’re prepared to fill in important details that the senior may miss. An example may include saying something like, “Mom, say hi to Linda, Charlie’s wife. You met her at the family reunion last year,” when company arrives rather than, “Mom, Linda is here.”
Don’t be afraid to tell white lies: While we’re told all of our lives that we shouldn’t lie, sometimes dementia and Alzheimer’s necessitate the occasional use of a half-truth or a white lie. In some situations, it is vastly better (for both the senior and the caregiver) to tell a half-truth than it is to tell the truth and wound the senior’s feelings or sense of dignity.
Treat the senior as normally as possible: In many cases, a senior who is affected by dementia quickly becomes a shut-in because friends and family are no longer sure how to deal with the person’s new way of being without making themselves or others uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this only wounds the senior in the long run and makes it harder to deal with the dementia adequately. With this in mind, caregivers must be sure to continue efforts to get the senior out and about and enjoy occasional get-togethers. Keep in mind that, while seniors affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s do have special needs and requirements (Take care to ensure any outing you attend will not overwhelm the senior, for example, and that all other parties on the outing are prepared for the increased needs of the senior), people who plan accordingly for social outings and gatherings can help the affected senior maintain a sense of dignity and engagement despite a dementia diagnosis.
How a Lack of Dignity Affects Seniors While it’s understandable that many people are confused about how best to deal with dementia and its related symptoms, caregivers who miss the mark and cost a senior his or her dignity are ultimately harming the senior’s health and well-being. While pride may seem like a surface-level thing, it has profound and lasting repercussions on a senior’s health, wellbeing, and happiness. In many cases, a senior who has lost his or her sense of dignity and autonomy will also suffer from decreased self-esteem and confidence, and declining relationships with loved ones. In some cases, this may lead to deep periods of depression, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Because of this, it’s essential that caregivers do everything in their power to help seniors maintain their dignity in the face of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In addition to benefiting the senior in the short-term, this approach also helps to ensure that the senior will remain happy, healthy, and fulfilled as he or she navigates the complicated waters of dementia.
Dignity is Possible in Dementia Care While many people assume that dementia necessitates a loss of dignity, this does not have to be the case. In many situations, people affected by dementia find that the upkeep of dignity is possible, just so long as they have skilled caregivers to help facilitate it. As an adult ages and slips into the grips of dementia, figuring out how to maintain that person’s dignity can be difficult. Luckily, though, it’s far from impossible. By ensuring family and professional caregivers never condescend the person, that charitable white lies are used generously, that the senior is set up for success as much as possible, and that outings and social gatherings don’t stop just because of a dementia diagnosis, it’s easy for caregivers to help their loved ones survive and thrive in the midst of a dementia diagnosis.