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Loss of co-ordination and manual skills

Medical and physical issues


My father finds it difficult to manipulate objects, but he is so determined. When he takes his time, he usually manages, unless he feels that people are waiting or watching him. I sometimes give him encouragement or distract him to do something else if it seems obvious that the task is too difficult.

You may have noticed how difficult it can be for the person with dementia to fasten a button, switch on a light or pick something up. They might even have difficulty walking. This problem is sometimes referred to as “apraxia”. Such problems with co-ordination and manipulation have repercussions on daily life, causing difficulties dressing and washing. In certain cases, a person with dementia completely loses the ability to stand or walk, even though there is no physical disability. This is because, although there is nothing wrong with the arms, hands and legs, the brain can no longer transmit the appropriate message to the limbs. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether this is the problem or whether it is due to memory loss or confusion. Even if you are unsure of the cause of the difficulty, you can still offer assistance and possibly prevent further problems from occurring.

How to cope with loss of co-ordination and manual skills

Try to provide assistance without making the person with dementia dependent

Sometimes the person with dementia might appreciate help. You might be able to offer physical assistance such as splitting the task into stages or doing part of the task yourself. You should be careful not to take over, as this might lead to a loss of motivation. Some things that people do have become automatic over the years. In such cases, it might be sufficient to guide the person’s hand or set them off. If the person seems to have lost the ability to walk and stand up, your physical assistance may be required. (Please see chapter on lifting and moving the person with dementia.) But, be careful not to strain yourself physically or risk having an accident. You might find that a wheelchair is the best solution to the problem.

Provide a relaxed atmosphere and give the person enough time

Sometimes you might see that the person is struggling to do something and want to help. It may be that a little more time is all that is needed. Feeling pressurised to accomplish something quickly is likely to make the person feel stressed and more likely to fail.

Provide reassurance and be sensitive to their feelings of incompetence and clumsiness

People with dementia are often aware of the difficulties they are experiencing. Apart from the frustration of not being able to accomplish a task, they are likely to be embarrassed about their failure and feel incompetent and clumsy. If there are other people present the embarrassment may be even greater. Consequently, they may try to conceal difficulties by no longer doing the activity or task. It is therefore a good idea to try to play down mistakes and unsuccessful attempts. You could also try to avoid creating situations in which failure is likely or where failure might be particularly embarrassing.



Last Updated: Monday 10 August 2009