How to Support a Friend With Dementia and Their Family

Published: Sep 03, 2020

 With more than a half-million people in Canada living with Alzheimer’s disease, most of us either know someone who has been diagnosed or are acquainted with a caregiver. When you hear that a friend has been diagnosed with dementia, your initial response might be pity; however, persons living with dementia and their caregivers do not need pity. Instead they need understanding and support.

We have often heard someone say that that they would like to help, but they do not know how they can help.

Imagine yourself in a similar situation. What response would be appropriate to address your feelings? The correct response may be to just be there, be present for your friend and family. Respond with a listening ear when your friend needs to vent.

You could also think of practical ways to get involved to help heal a friend’s heartache.

Here are some ideas to support a friend living with dementia or come up with a plan that is unique to your friend’s experience and act on it.

Loss of friends and connections

A loss of good friends is one of the issues faced by people with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia makes the person feel disconnected with events and people around them.

The changes brought on by dementia affect friendships as dementia begins to take its toll on the brain. The person affected may have days when they don’t remember you. Shared experiences become one-sided memories, as the person with dementia loses more and more of those recent memories. However, you could always reminiscence some old memories.

It is also Important to remember that the person would have good days- when they are in a good mood and chatty, and bad days- when the person is in a bad mood, and may be short-tempered and abrupt with you. Knowing ahead of time would help you get prepared for short temper and mood swings.

Speak with your friend as a peer because that’s who they are.

Though your friend’s memory is failing, you can still hold on to the good times, and even relay them during visits, forging a new friendship with an old friend. Do not let your friend travel the journey of dementia alone. Be there for them. It will be a great comfort in the early stages of dementia and during the initial diagnosis. It is also a blessing for caregivers when a loved one’s friend is there for backup and moral support.

Engage the person in activities

As a friend, you have the advantage of knowing your friend’s preferred activities and topics. You can make your visits more beneficial and impactful for your friend by engaging them in activities or games of their choice. This way you would be giving them opportunities for social and cognitive stimulation.

Offer tangible help with tasks

Caregivers have lot of laundry to deal with every week. Laundry is a caregiver’s bane. Many caregivers wash bedding, bathroom towels, and washcloths daily.

You could lighten that task by offering to take your friend’s laundry home and return the clean laundry. Alternatively, you could arrange laundry service to help with your friend’s laundry. It does not have to be a long-term commitment, but a load here or there will give the caregiver the break he or she needs.

Offering to run errands for the family such as getting groceries, medications, shoveling their driveway, or mowing the lawn would also be very helpful for the caregiver and give them more quality time with the person living with dementia.

Forgive shortcomings

Caregiving is a full-time job. It is easy for other responsibilities to fall by the wayside. Caregivers juggle a lot of tasks and every once in a while one gets dropped. Please give caregiving families a break when they fall short of expectations, especially in the early days when grappling with a sudden diagnosis.

You can give the luxury of forgiveness to a caregiver who is beating themselves up over shortcomings.

No act of kindness, understanding, or empathy is too small

You may not be able to imagine the magnitude of the support you provide to a friend living with dementia, their caregiver, or their family. It impossible to grasp the gravity of a dementia diagnosis until it strikes home. Although you may feel that you are not doing much for your friend, even an occasional call, or a video chat or visit makes a big difference in the experience of your friend and their family.