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Changing roles

Taking care of yourself

"I gave up my job as a primary school teacher a year ago. For the children I pass in the street though, I’m still a teacher. That helps because it’s part of what I am." (Jean)

"Mary was an accountant for over 30 years. She has over a hundred cacti some of which are very rare. She is an excellent pianist. She also has dementia." (Bruno)

Everyone has a sense of who and what they are. This tends to be fairly stable but may change slightly over time as people make new acquaintances and have different experiences in life. Part of knowing who and what you are involves recognising how people react to you and what kind of verbal and non-verbal signals they are sending. Dementia can challenge the way a person sees themselves as difficulty remembering, engaging in conversations, concentrating and thinking clearly makes social interaction problematic.

Most people have several different roles in life. For example, a woman might be somebody’s sister, mother or wife, a charity worker, a driver and a chemistry teacher. The roles that people occupy contribute towards their sense of personal identity. Having dementia can make it difficult or eventually impossible for a person to maintain certain roles.

Carers may find themselves thrust into a new role which they had not planned and for which they do not feel prepared. They may also find that their other roles change. For example, a wife may start to feel that her role has changed into one which is more like a mother in many respects. Someone who never did any household chores may suddenly find themselves in charge of cooking, cleaning and shopping. A person with no experience of cars may be left with the responsibility of sorting out maintenance, insurance and even deciding on a new car. Apart from such changes requiring the acquisition of new skills, they may also affect the way people see themselves.

For the person with dementia

  • Maintain your existing roles for as long as you can.
  • Try to come to terms with the changes that you are experiencing.
  • Avoid letting others “position” you (put you in a role which is not yours).
  • Let others help you to maintain your social roles for as long as possible.
  • Try to maintain social contact with others even though it may be difficult.
  • Challenge your own stereotypical ideas about dementia.
  • Dementia is a devastating disease. It is something that you have but you are much more than that.

For the carer

  • Try to take the time to adapt to new roles without being too demanding on yourself.
  • As time passes, you may find that you have learnt new skills, adopted new roles and developed different aspects of your character. This can be a positive experience but may by accompanied by sadness over the loss of former roles and interaction with the person with dementia.
  • Allow yourself to grieve over your losses.
  • Help the person with dementia to maintain existing roles for as long as possible.
  • Try to take the time to adapt to new roles without being too demanding on yourself.
  • As time passes, you may find that you have learnt new skills, adopted new roles and developed different aspects of your character. This can be a positive experience but may by accompanied by sadness over the loss of former roles and interaction with the person with dementia.
  • Allow yourself to grieve over your losses.
  • Help the person with dementia to maintain existing roles for as long as possible.
  • If the person with dementia mixes up their current identity or that of other people (e.g. thinking that a spouse is a parent), avoid unnecessarily correcting them. It may sometimes be preferable to respond to the need or emotion being expressed e.g. for reassurance or contact.
  • Avoid treating the person with dementia on the basis of stereotypes about dementia. Everyone is different and stereotypes tend to be restrictive.

 

 
 

Last Updated: Friday 11 September 2009

 

 
 

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