People with dementia have few inhibitions and can suffer from outbursts of rage, attacks of extreme fear, and even incontinence. The unpredictability of the disease can make trips out feel intimidating. Reactions from the general public can range from kind and supportive, to ignorant and unhelpful.
Here are some small steps you can take to ease the pressure of public trips for your loved one and for yourself.
Some carers find it much simpler to run their errands while someone else is looking after their patient. Leaving your loved one at home or in familiar and safe surroundings can be a relief for both the patient and the carer. However, in the early stages of dementia, it is often encouraged that they are given the chance to enjoy the stimulation offered by a shopping trip, a meal out, or even a leisurely walk in town. Specialist facilities such as the dementia carehomes in Somerset often practice with role play to prepare their residents for outdoor trips.
Instead of leaving them at home, why not take your loved one out and about when you know it will be much quieter. A very early lunch or dinner will ensure that you are able to manage your environment more easily – and you will probably be served quicker, too! Sticking to shops that offer reduced-sensory hours for people with conditions like autism also work well for patients with dementia. Often, there will be a till or two for people who need a little more time to navigate their shopping, with trained staff who are patient and kind to all the customers who use their lane. These ideas are perfect ways to ensure that your loved one still gets to enjoy an excursion without becoming overly stressed or upset.
If you are unable to avoid busy times, it helps to be aware of factors that might trigger a meltdown in your dementia patient. You could suggest that they use the toilet before you set out, and perhaps even make sure that they are wearing incontinence pants, just in case of accidents. You can also reassure them by gently holding their hand or arm to guide them, and by constantly reassuring them of where they are, and what you will be doing. Pay attention to them as well as be aware of your surroundings, so that you can tell immediately if they begin to get anxious, so you can act quickly to keep them calm.
You may want to have some small cards or stickers printed saying something like: ‘I have Dementia, please be patient with me,’ and hand them out as needed. These can make a huge difference in your experience.
It can be heartbreaking to see people responding negatively to your loved one’s behaviours. Try to take comfort in knowing that the nature of dementia means that your loved one won’t take any unkind comments on board – they will be quickly forgotten. Try to remember that any comments come from a place of ignorance and that you are in a place of knowledge and understanding. Take time for yourself too, and ensure that you are taking care of your own mental health – this way you will be better prepared to handle any potential backlash.