All of us would, at some point in our lives, have difficulty in remembering things, such as the name of someone or where we parked the car.
"This is different from the memory loss that we see in patients with dementia," said Dr Chew Aik Phon, an associate consultant at the cognition and memory disorders service at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's department of geriatric medicine.
These people have a progressive brain disorder and the memory loss affects their daily lives. For example, they may find familiar tasks like following a recipe difficult, said Dr Chew. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.
"Dementia is not a disease in itself, but is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms, including impairment in memory, attention, orientation, judgment, problem- solving ability and other thinking skills," said Dr Chew.
If you are a caregiver of someone with dementia, tell yourself that "their behaviour, no matter how unreasonable it may seem, is due to the underlying disease and the changes that it effects on the brain", he said.
He shares some tips on coping for some common situations:
WHEN THEY KEEP REPEATING WORDS OR QUESTIONS
• Avoid saying they have asked the same questions many times.
• Distract and redirect them to a snack or a recreational activity.
• Reassure and provide comfort, both verbally and physically.
WHEN THEY REPEATEDLY SEARCH FOR THINGS THEY MAY HAVE MISPLACED, HIDDEN OR THAT DO NOT EXIST
• Prompt them to describe where or how they last used the item.
• Use visual cues such as pictorial labels on drawers and cabinets to remind them of what is inside.
• Help them to create and keep to a regular regimen.
• Keep household items in the same places and avoid clutter.
• Have duplicates or spares of common items such as keys or toothbrushes and keep valuable items in a secure location.
• Distract and redirect them to other activities. For example, give them their favourite snack.
WHEN THEY MUST STOP DRIVING
• Be honest and pragmatic about their abilities. Driving is complex and driving performance can be affected even in the mild stages of dementia.
• Ask if they have any concerns about their driving and whether there were any near misses.
• Encourage them to undergo the functional driving assessment by an occupational therapist.
• Help them to give up driving gradually. Note that this can be a traumatic transition and they may see it as a loss of freedom, mobility or independence.
• Help them adapt to travelling without a car so they can continue their social activities.
WHEN THEY HOARD THINGS
• Try to reason with them. For instance, tell them the items are a fire hazard or may cause them to suffer a bad fall.
• Distract and redirect them to other activities.
• Locate their favourite hiding places and check these regularly.
• Limit their hiding places by locking unused cabinets.
This article was first published on September 15, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.