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Developing coping strategies

Taking care of yourself

"I always used to lay the table at mealtimes but I started to get mixed up with the cutlery. So now I clear the table after the meal instead. I think it helps a bit." (Hector)

"My friends say that I have developed a very philosophical attitude towards life. I think that it was necessary for me in order to cope." (Janice)

Once people with dementia and carers have got over the initial shock of learning the diagnosis and started to organise help, they will probably find that they have already started to develop coping strategies. People use a variety of strategies, but as different things work for different people, it is up to each person to find out what works best for them. On the whole, worrying or blaming yourself doesn’t help as much as confronting the problem or seeking information and social support

Some strategies involve trying to manipulate the situation in order to reduce the problem or prevent it from happening in the first place. This might include organising practical help, rearranging the home, creating routines or changing the way you do things. If this involves leaving notes all over the house or making other visible changes, try not to be too house proud. Above all, it is important to set yourself realistic targets, acknowledge what you have achieved and try different solutions until you find one that works. As the disease progresses, carers will gradually learn how to handle different situations, sometimes by trial and error. This may involve changing or adapting their technique.

Another coping strategy is to change how you think about yourself and others, the problem and the consequences it has on you. Making a conscious decision to see something in a particular way can really help e.g. trying to see the funny side of a situation or looking for something positive in the situation. Some people tell themselves that there is always someone worse off than themselves. People with philosophical or religious beliefs may find some support in their religion or philosophy of life. Basically, you should try to find out what works best for you and then take one day at a time.

For the person with dementia

Adopt a positive attitude and approach

  • Keep a sense of humour.
  • Try to make the best of things and get on with your life.
  • Maintain contact with people.
  • Accept practical and emotional support from others.
  • Think about joining a support group.
  • Try something new.
  • If you can, find a good book or watch something interesting on television.
  • Be prepared for changes to occur over time. When this happens, try to adapt to the new situation/state of affairs.
  • Try to adapt your targets and standards of achievement to your current abilities. If necessary, lower your expectations a little.
  • Remember that dementia is a disease. It is the effects of the disease which interfere with your ability to do things not your intelligence or skills.

Devise a coping strategy

  • “Use it or lose it” i.e. exercise your brain with reading, puzzles or crosswords etc.
  • Decide what you can still do safely.
  • If necessary, ask someone to do a risk assessment on what you can safely do.
  • If you cannot do something you used to be able to do, don’t despair. You may find that there are other things or parts of tasks that you can manage.
  • Give yourself more time.
  • Take things in stages.
  • Develop a routine in your life.
  • Take frequent breaks as you may have to concentrate hard to do something and this can be tiring.
  • Make use of calendars, lists, notes, labels, “post-it” stickers, colour codes, alarms and images etc. if you need to.

For the carer

Devise a problem solving strategy:

  • Define the problem, explore possible causes and think about ways to overcome/deal with it.
  • Use your own knowledge/experience and ask other people for advice.
  • Collect as much information as you can and then set realistic goals.
  • Try different solutions in order to find the one that works best for you.
  • Try to prevent the problem from occurring by planning ahead.
  • Do a risk assessment on what the person with dementia can safely do (if necessary consult someone qualified).

Be supportive:

  • Try to adapt to the changing needs of the person with dementia.
  • Assist when needed and discuss things together if you can.
  • Be calm and patient when handling problems.
  • Stimulate and encourage the person with dementia to remain active.
  • Take them out for a drive or encourage them to accompany you to different places e.g. a walk, a visit to the gym or the local library.

Develop a positive outlook:

  • Avoid catastrophic thinking (e.g. I lost my wife in the supermarket for five minutes so I am totally useless or I should never take her out of the house again).
  • Remember the good times you had together.
  • Remember that the disease is the problem and not the person with dementia.
  • Remind yourself of things you do well (particularly when something goes wrong!).
  • Remember that nobody is perfect and don’t be too hard on yourself.

 

 
 

Last Updated: Friday 11 September 2009

 

 
 

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