Friends Finding It Hard

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If Only I Can Remember By Regina Posvar

FRIENDS have a hard time seeing friends living with dementia.

Q: Hi Regina, a few of my friends and I recently saw a dear friend at a gathering and it just surprised us to see her deteriorate so fast. We were all glad to see her get out and at the same time it was difficult to see. We want to support her and just find it a challenge on what we can do. Will you suggest a few things?

A: The reason it is difficult to see someone deteriorate is because you love and care for her. It is difficult. It is challenging to try and talk to someone that may or may not respond to your greeting or recognize you. To watch someone you have known for many years who seemed fine the last time you gathered together and the next event a drastic change has occurred would be heartbreaking for most people.

Friends are the closest thing to family. To answer your question, first accept what is happening to your friend and find peace. She will have good days and not so good days. Next: Ask yourself before you offer help: what are you able and willing to do? Caregiving even for a short time is not for everyone and do not feel guilty.

We all have our comfort areas that we can help. Each part is very important and very helpful. I will give you a few things to choose from and from that you make a list of all possibilities; eliminate the ones that you personally cannot do (but keep in mind you may be able to ask someone else to take that part on).

It is always a good idea to ask the care partner and other family involved with care on what you can do to help. Understand the care partner may be beyond stress and not ask for help or seem distant. Each situation is unique to the experiences the care partner is dealing with as well as your friend. Sometimes support efforts can go smoothly and other times it can be very frustrating. Usually when a care partner is agitated themselves, the number one cause is no relief for themselves. Getting extra care help is so important and, of course, this is the most expensive part.

So here is a small list that can really help:

Spending time with your friend so her care partner can go do something else even if it is to take a nap. Two hours once a week can significantly help the care partner. Of course, the more you can relieve them, the better, or help them find someone who can.

If you are able and willing to stay with your friend, here are some things you can do with her:

Play her favourite music and reminisce with her. If she is not able to verbalize, play anyways and she will still enjoy. Read her favourite books if she has any or even the paper if she used to read it. Look at old photos together, maybe even scrapbooks. If she liked to cook, modify a recipe that she can somehow participate with. Comb her hair — it can be very relaxing. Do her nails if she likes that kind of grooming. Watch a movie together. Even if she falls asleep, your presence with her is assuring her she is around people that make her feel safe. She can sense that you care. Sometimes she will surprise you with sparky funny comments or moments of clarity. You yourself will start to enjoy the new behaviours of your friend knowing she is still your friend. You may find a new relationship with her that works and you both enjoy.

Once the care partner gets a break that they can depend on, they will be able to think better and see more of what is needed.

Cook or bring them a meal for a whole day so they do not have to think about it that day. Ask what texture of food your friend can eat in case she cannot chew or swallow regular food.

Inviting her to public outings when she has a care partner or even a volunteer if she is still able to will help keep some “normalcy” and connection to the community and the type of person she is before the disease took over. There is no reason why someone with dementia has to do all activities at home. Isolation and stigma cause deterioration of the disease faster for non-use of brain functions along with wrong and over-medicating.

Because you know your friend, you can make a list of things she likes and doesn’t like, then understand what she is still able to do and then modify. Sometimes an evaluation of what she is still able to do will help with how to modify and help her enjoy some of her favourite activities. There are many other ideas and ways that you as friends can help. Learning more about dementia can also help you help her and her care partner.

I hope this gets you started.
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