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Conducting a Visit with a Loved One Who Has Dementia

People are getting older and living longer than at any time in previous history. Dementia has become a growing problem for many of these individuals. Although elders may be in relative good health, they may experience lapses in memory and cognitive function that require more intensive monitoring and care. These individuals often move into assisted living facilities, move in with family or have caregivers to keep an eye on them for all or part of the day. Here are some ways to enrich the life of a loved one with dementia, so that you can interact with them in meaningful ways when visiting:

Understanding Different Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer's disease is not the only cause of dementia. Other forms include vascular dementia from small strokes in the brain and dementia with Lewy bodies, small deposits of proteins in the nerve cells. Each type may have different symptoms, with problems of speech, movement and memory. In many cases, individuals may have severe memory impairment but seems to function well in normal conversation in the "here and now." You can provide mental stimulation to increase this ability to keep them interested and engaged in the current time.

Maintain Positive Interactions

Some forms of dementia can cause aggressive behavior, suspicion or paranoia because the individual is unable to sort through experiences and compare them to past occasions. You can help by interacting in a positive way and keeping these tips in mind:

• Individuals with dementia may become physically uncomfortable and are unable to articulate the problem. You will have to be aware of their physical needs and provide additional care when needed.

• Dementia patients can become overstimulated and react negatively. Keep interactions short to avoid fatigue.

• Focus on feelings, rather than facts, to help the individuals feel secure.

• Reduce the individual's stress by helping them to stay organized in small ways, without being obtrusive or overbearing.

• Always be encouraging and understanding. Avoid making them feel embarrassed by the lapses.

• Maintain eye contact and smile to maintain a positive connection with the individual.

Encourage Mental Activity

• Watch TV with the loved one and discuss an aspect of the news or a show.

• Take the individual out for a shopping excursion, and stop for coffee or ice cream to allow some people-watching.

• Spend some time in a local park enjoying the fresh air and the sights and sounds of nature.

• Provide simple activities, such as crafts that use weaving or tying knots, to provide motor and mental stimulation. Adult coloring books offer another simple activity to enjoy.

• Be patient with repetitions or accusations. Distract the individual to another subject, when necessary.

Dementia can cause increasing problems with cognition, but you can make the most of every experience and help loved ones enjoy life to the best of their ability with these simple tips.

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