For those caring for a loved one with dementia, it can be a challenging and stressful time. But with the right support and understanding, it can be significantly more manageable.

In this post, we will be looking at what dementia is, and offer a few tips for alternative care and activities. You’ll find coping solutions for yourself and your loved one to help you better plan and manage your care. We hope that some of these tips will help their condition and, in some cases, even improve it.

Table of Contents:


What is dementia

Contrary to popular belief, dementia itself is not a disease. It is the word that is used to describe the dying brain cells, which result in a group of symptoms. These symptoms are a decline in cognitive function that results in mental impairment. Such impairments can affect thinking, memory and communication abilities.

Causes of Dementia

There are diseases and infections like HIV and Prion disease that can cause dementia, but the two most common causes of dementia are due to:

Vascular dementia

This is where brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain has caused certain conditions affecting cognitive function.

Injury

Some traumatic or repetitive brain injuries can cause brain damage, which is referred to as post-traumatic dementia.

Types of Dementia

There are many types of dementia. Some you will have heard of and some may be new to you.

Alzheimer’s

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer disease accounting for about 60-80% of dementia cases.

It is much more common in elderly people, with it affecting memory, speech, walking, mood changes including depression and causing confusion as the disease progresses.

Vascular Dementia

This is the second most common type of dementia accounting for about 20% of cases.

It is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain from fatty deposits or dead cells causing the blockages in the arteries.

It can be caused by a stroke that blocks the brain artery or even develop through damage to the brain blood vessels. This condition can happen naturally through ageing, it is often linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and a brain haemorrhage.

Vascular dementia can cause confusion and disorientation as early signs to look out for. When the condition is more serious it can cause problems with vision and even hallucinations.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia is when two types of dementia are present at the same time. This counts for up to 45% of dementia cases. Most people don’t realise they have two forms of dementia because they are both so common in older people they may show at the same time. DLB and Alzheimer’s can also present mixed dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

This is the third most common type of dementia. It accounts for around 10% of dementia cases.

DLB can also show up with Alzheimer’s too, adding to another case of mixed dementia. DLB is protein clumps in the brains’ nerve cells that built up and damage the nerve cells preventing communication between cells. That’s why with DLB many people won’t be able to control their movement, memory and thinking abilities. You’ll often see them with trembling hands and problems walking, similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s Disease

Advanced Parkinson’s disease usually leads to dementia. People with Parkinson’s are found to have a build-up of DLB, where the hands begin to tremor and inability to walk worsens. Parkinson’s is caused by dying neurons in the brain which produce less dopamine. Dopamine is what your brain uses to send messages.

Your genes could have a part in developing Parkinson’s or even environmental triggers such as exposure to toxins.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or Pick’s Disease

This is a rare type of dementia which is used to refer to types of dementia that affect language and behaviour (the front and sides of the brain). People living with Picks disease will lose their motivation and inhibitions, they even may develop compulsive behaviour which can be inappropriate in social circumstances.

It is not known what the causes are, but there has been a pattern of it running in families. It can even be present in cases of people as young as 45 years old.

Posterior cortical atrophy or Benson’s Syndrome

This is a very rare type of dementia that affects the vision. The brain is damaged at the back which controls one’s ability to recognise faces and objects in pictures. It can often develop into Alzheimer’s.

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA)

PPA affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain which controls personality, language, emotions and behaviour. It can affect younger people and it most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 45- 65 years old.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

This a very rare type of dementia affecting only 1 in a million each year. It’s a very rapid type of dementia with people often dying within 1 year of being diagnosed. CJD affects the body where twitching and muscle stiffness can be seen. It also can cause agitation or depression, confusion and memory loss.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)

NPH is one of the types of dementia that can be cured with surgery if treatment is established early enough.  NPH occurs when excessive fluid build-up in the brain increases and the pressure causes dementia. NPH causes patients to suffer from poor balance and falling, loss of bowel and bladder control, changes in mood and depression.

Huntington’s disease

Huntington’s disease is a genetic condition which causes an early breakdown in the brains nerve cells. It is one of the rare types of dementia that can occur in childhood and adolescence. It can cause symptoms of inability to focus, communication problems, difficulty learning new things and impulse control problems.

How to notice early signs of dementia

If you are noticing a change in the behaviour of a loved one, some early signs of dementia can be:

      • Changes in mood
      • Changes in short-term memory
      • Confusion
      • Repeating tasks
      • Loose ability to focus
      • Loose ability to perform everyday tasks
      • Finding it difficult when changes occur
      • A lack of empathy
      • Trouble finding the right words

Diagnosing dementia early

Healthline state that dementia is diagnosed when at least two of the following brain functions are affected:

      • Memory
      • Thinking ability and concentration
      • Communication and language
      • Reasoning and Judgment
      • Behaviour
      • Visual Perception

The earlier dementia can be diagnosed the better. The Alzheimer’s Association lists these following benefits to early diagnosis:

      • Early treatment can provide more benefits
      • Gives plenty of time for families to plan for the future before dementia worsens
      • Early diagnosis of irreversible dementia can be better managed
      • Opportunity to participate in research
      • Preventing risky activities such as driving
      • Preparing legal documents
      • Designating a trusted person to handle finances

dementia careHow dementia affects families and friends

Living with dementia has a huge knock-on effect not just on the individual, but on close people in their lives too.

One of the first questions people may have is, “can we still have a normal life together?”

The reality is your lives will change. But while your life is impacted, it is important to learn to adapt to living with dementia early on. With the right activities and routines, relationships can still be positive and life can be enjoyable.

Learning how to cope will increase happiness, reduce stress, relieve pressure, and provide coping mechanism skills for adapting to everyday life.

What can you do to help support and care for a loved one with dementia?

The relationships in a person’s life while living with dementia can play a huge role and shape their entire experience.

Creating positive memories are crucial, regardless of physical and mental ability. Alzheimers.org promote personal relationship building by treating them as an individual and focus on promoting their well-being and meeting their needs.

Alternative therapies and activities

There is a range of tried and tested therapies and lifestyle changes that help manage dementia. These result in the ease of life for all affected.

      • Adapting to a healthier lifestyle: more sleep, better diet, exercise, quitting smoking
      • Avoiding confrontation and limiting confusion
      • Active social life
      • Virtual reality
      • Cognitive training exercises
      • Reminiscence therapy

Let’s look at some of these in more detail:

Virtual Reality (VR)

What is Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that is three- dimensional. While experiencing VR a person becomes immersed in the virtual world where they can interact and manipulate objects and perform actions.

How VR helps dementia

It has been proven by Dr. Chee Siang (Jim) Ang, at the University of Kent that VR can help even the most advanced cases of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.

The study showed that VR helped the participants recall old memories. The patients all living with dementia had a choice of 5 different virtual environments to explore. More often than not, the environments that the patients selected seemed to represent either an old memory or it just made the patient feel calm.

“VR can clearly have positive benefits for patients with dementia, their families, and caregivers. It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes,” – Dr. Chee Siang (Jim) Ang

VR technology was also tested in day care centres and residential care settings. It is exciting to see where further development using VR technologies can take care of dementia.

Reminiscence therapy

What is Reminiscence therapy (RT)

Reminiscence therapy involves accessing memories seeded through positive experiences in the past. RT can involve discussing and sharing those nostalgic moments, but the focus is more on re-capturing the wonderful and positive emotions and feelings that they evoke.

Although the memory capacity in most dementia cases is severely impacted, the part of the brain that stores the happy and positive memories is still intact. The problem lies with the pathways that gain access to that part of the brain.

Senior Comfort Guide gives a fantastic analogy to better describe this:

“The analogy would be to a having a laptop computer which won’t turn on but it’s hard drive still hosts all the pc files. Without a power source there is no way to access the information stored on that device.”

Types of RT

RT can be categorised in these three main types.

      • Simple reminiscence. To reflect on the past for enjoyment.
      • Evaluative reminiscence. A therapy method to review life and conflict- reviewing.
      • Offensive-defensive reminiscence. Coming to terms with unpleasant memories and learning how to find closure.

Benefits of RT

While used in therapeutic sessions, anyone can reminisce old memories with a loved one. It can bring a whole range of positive benefits that increase a sense of belonging, value, importance, pride and peace. Drastically reducing stress and opening up the person to feel more comfortable and confident.

Sharing in this special moment will help strengthen relationships and it can even teach loved ones about who they were and what they did. This powerful connection can help both the individual and the family and friends.

Reminiscence therapy has even been proven to enhance cognitive capacity in people with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It can also improve their ability in daily activities and improve quality of life and communication.

It is important to stimulate and try to include all the senses in reminiscence therapy to increase the ability to remember memories.

Mediums of reminiscence therapy

Visual
  • Photographs
  • Creating memory Books
  • Videos
  • Memory cafe / Nostalgic Spaces
Taste and smell
  • Recipes and foods from different cultures
 Aural
  • Music
  • Certain instruments
  • Conversational- talking about past events
Tactile
  • Clothing
  • Painting or pottery

reminiscence therapy Photographs

Looking at old photos can help both early stage and late stage dementia stimulate their precious memories. Reminiscing over old photographs can transport a person living with dementia to a time when they were confident and happy. More importantly, it can ignite memories of loved ones in their lives.

While day-to-day memories are easily forgotten, old photos can trigger moments from long- ago strengthening the pathways to where the brain stores your long-term memory. It can evoke more memories and get the person to open up about a forgotten time in their lives.

Listening to music

Listening to music or singing can be enjoyed by someone in any stage of dementia. In very late stages, music may be one of the best ways for them to express their feelings. We tend to remember life best between the ages of 10- 30 years, especially the late teens and early twenties. So finding music from this time in their life is an effective way to get those feelings of nostalgia. You can play repetitive games such as ‘name that tune’ to strengthen those memory connections.

Voice recording

It’s also beneficial sometimes to record them singing, especially if they enjoyed singing in past times. Re-playing the recording can induce happy feelings, pride and laughter. But do be careful with this as it could also embarrass them if they are insecure about their voice.

Talking about past events

Talking about the past can be very powerful for reminiscence therapy.  Giving the opportunity to recall their precious and favourite memories can give them confidence.  You should make notes as they speak and tell you about their life events. This is important as you’ll have a list of information to ask about next time. It’s also a wonderful way to begin creating a biography of their life.

Memory Books

Creating a memory book is the best way to relook over certain photos. You can organise the photos in order of their life or events. It can be used throughout the process as dementia progresses. The familiarity can help the person greatly.

Memory books can include more than just pictures, they can include important documents and certificates to evoke memories. A memory book can be used by different carers, friends and family when spending time with the individual.

Digital Memory Books

Having cloud-based digital memory storage has a huge range of benefits.

  • Accessed at any time and any place
  • Can add music and video – (using more senses increases access to memories)
  • Can make an adaptable scrapbook where you can add or remove images, videos, voice recordings or documents
  • Can create a playlist of music
  • Can track and make notes on life events and past stories.

Memory Cafés

Socialising is an important step in dementia care. For many, being in social situations can be intimidating and they can feel insecure about their condition. That’s why memory Cafés are growing in popularity for dementia patients.

A memory café is a social place where people with dementia can gather and meet in a relaxed and friendly environment. Attendees can share common interests, chat and feel secure within a group of people in a similar situation as them.

Memory cafes are run on a regular basis, weekly, fortnightly or monthly and offer activities that are stimulating and fun. Some cafes have live music, sing-alongs, quizzes, painting, memory box work, massage and reflexology.

There are refreshments and they are always set up in a relaxed and informal setting. It can be a beneficial experience for all affected by dementia, as you meet people in similar situations where you can discuss and share experiences.

Tracking progress and journaling

Another alternative therapy to help patients with dementia is to track daily care planning.

Many people living with dementia experience sundowning. A symptom of Alzheimer’s that cause “late-day confusion”. This is where their symptoms of dementia all worsen later in the afternoon or evening.

It is important to track the triggers that may cause the sundowning, such as diet, sleep, daily activities, and environments. Using a journal is a great way to track patterns and see abnormalities to reduce the effects of sundowning and to try to prevent it altogether.

Daily care planning

Journaling and creating daily planning can help dementia in many more ways. A daily routine can make living with it much easier for you both.

Benefits of daily care planning and journaling:

      • Track patterns and reduce sundowning
      • Creating simple structures with useful activities
      • Checking they have all their basic needs taken care of
      • They get lots of stimulation and pleasure from each day
      • Enables a routine and something to look forward to daily
      • It keeps everyone informed and they can see what’s coming up in the day ahead
      • Routine, allows patients to have control
      • They can have a say in creating their daily care plan for a feeling of independence
      • A personal Journal can give them a place to write down their daily thoughts and feelings

About Reliving Product and App

Reliving is a digital app with a mission to provide everyone with the ability to save their true legacy, digitally. We’re passionate about preserving the legacy and precious memories for people struggling to hold on to them. That’s why we’ve partnered with Swansea University to research and fight against dementia.

Reliving lets you tell your unique story made up of your personal life, with family, friends and your community. Recording your life digitally ensures it stays alive through the passing on of generations to come. Reliving supports:

      • Digital media
      • Digital Inheritance
      • Journaling and daily tracking
      • Biography

Digital Media

When looking at alternative activities for dementia, Reliving provides a perfect solution to creating a wonderful memory book for reminiscence therapy.

Reliving is a cloud-based app that allows you to store a range of digital files. You can save photos, videos, voice recordings and music.

You can create a very personal memory book that includes a variety of mediums to strengthen the memory recollection. Add your pictures with their favourite music. You can upload old videos, maybe of a wedding day, or their baby’s first steps?

With an unlimited amount of storage space, you can continue to add to the photo collection as part of the ongoing reminiscence therapy.

Reliving is entirely on the cloud, which means you can upload photos, videos, music and voice recordings at any time or place through mobile or desktop. So wherever you are with your loved one, you can practice your reminiscence therapy, even when in a new environment. This is especially important as changes to routine can have negative effects on dementia. The sense of familiarity from the memory book can restore peace and reduce stress.

Be rest assured that your personal digital files are all safely secured and stored in a private database, that can only be accessed through the Reliving app.

Digital Inheritance

The Reliving app also allows the family to be able to inherit the app and keep all the memories of photos, videos, music and recordings safe while continuing to add to it with new photos. This can serve as a precious time capsule for you and your family to enjoy over the generations.

Journaling

The journaling aspect of Reliving is an important feature when managing dementia care.

It can be an important part of therapy for the patient to write down and express their thoughts and feelings while they are able. This encourages a sense of independence and can be a useful method of coping.

If they aren’t in a position to write themselves, you can make notes and keep a track of their stories when they reminisce over the past. As mentioned previously, writing down their stories is beneficial to the progression of their dementia. It is especially handy if you are planning on using the app to write a biography of their life.

Journaling

 

Daily Tracking

Writing your daily care and routines for dementia is very important. The app provides an easy and clear way to access and see what is planned for days, weeks or months ahead.

For early onset dementia, it is a great way for them to mark down important dates and use the daily diary as their memory loss progresses. It is very accessible and easy to do with the mobile app.

Biography

With all of the information stored on the app about your loved one, you may feel inspired to write a biography on their behalf. The Reliving app is built with biography creation in mind. You can create the whole thing right there on the app, with full access already to photos and life stories.

 

 

Being able to give extra support and comfort to a loved one living with dementia will have a huge impact on their daily lives. You may see improvements in their physical and emotional well-being, which in turn will make coping for you easier too.

Alongside professional medical care, you can make a difference by introducing alternative therapies that can be practiced at home. From memory-based activities to journaling and care plans, you’ll find something that works for you.

With advancements in technology, we are excited to see where this can lead the future care for dementia and the positive results it will bring to lives.

If you would like to register for a pre-launch access of the Reliving app click here.