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Animal therapy

Living with dementia can be difficult, but there is research to suggest that animal therapies can help those with the condition. Here, Sean Whiting from pet and equestrian supplies specialist Houghton Country explains the benefits that animals can have for people with dementia.

Dementia can be a very lonely condition, with many patients suffering from emotional and communication difficulties. These symptoms often leave people with dementia feeling frustrated and down. But, with a study published by Clinical Nursing Research finding that animal-assisted therapies can have a positive effect on both the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, it may be time to incorporate time with animals into your patients' routine.

Here, I will be sharing some of the main benefits that animals can have for people living with dementia.

They offer companionship

Given the symptoms that patients with dementia experience, they can often feel characterised by their condition and isolate themselves as a result of their frustrations. This can significantly lower their quality of life, making them feel sad and lonely.

Animals offer unconditional love and attention, and can help to give a sense of purpose to those who may feel restricted and helpless because of their condition. They can also help to ease feelings of loneliness and are particularly useful for getting patients to work on their social skills without having to have a full-blown conversation that may feel overwhelming to them.

They can decrease behavioural problems

It isn't uncommon for patients with dementia to have behavioural problems like increased agitation and aggression. But, animal-assisted therapy has shown promising results for treating these types of behaviours in patients with dementia (The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry).

This is likely down to a number of reasons. For one, some animals have the ability to make us feel instantly better by boosting our happiness hormone (oxytocin) and lowering the stress hormone (cortisol) (Psychology Today). Similarly, allowing patients to care for an animal helps them to increase their social behaviours like touch and smiling — this, in turn, helps them to become more conscious about their actions towards others.

They can boost appetite and nutrition levels

A loss of appetite is one of the main symptoms in patients with dementia. This might be because they have poor memory and judgement, which can have an impact on their relationship with food and nutrition. Similarly, they may forget how to chew or swallow, or become more easily distracted by their environment. In some cases, a loss of appetite in these patients can be tied in with feeling depressed due to the symptoms of the condition.

However, animals have been found to improve the appetite of individuals with dementia. In one study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, nutritional intake significantly increased when aquariums were introduced to care institutions and continued to increase in the weekly follow-up period.

They increase physical activity

As dementia develops, the amount of muscle tone a patient has may decrease due to changes in brain volume and function. But, when you're caring for somebody with this condition, it's important that you still get them moving about to the best of their ability.

Giving them a pet to look after or introducing them to an animal will get them on their feet (if they're able to stand on their own or with mobility aids). Even just extending their hands and flexing their fingers to stroke a cat or throwing a ball for a dog to fetch will help to increase their strength without exhausting them.

They create a sense of routine

The days can often merge into one for those with dementia, who will be experiencing memory loss. But, having animals visit on specific days of the week can help patients to find a sense of routine and give them something to look forward to. This in itself can positively affect their social skills, as these weekly visits will be a conversation starter.

Dementia can create challenges in all aspects of a patient's life, but animal-assisted therapies can help to ease their symptoms and make them feel more content.

People living with dementia can sometimes exhibit behaviour in ways that can be aggressive. Whether that’s physical or verbal, the actions of the person can be distressing for them and those around them. The nature of the behaviour can lead to friends and family agreeing that their loved one would benefit from professional support such as home care or dementia care.

 

What is Aggressive Behaviour?

Aggressive behaviour includes:

  • Verbal - screaming, shouting, swearing and making threats.
  • Physical - biting, hitting, hair-pulling, pinching, scratching.

Dementia and anger outbursts can be linked to how the person behaves before the illness developed, however, it has been known for people to develop aggressive behaviour who have never shown such behaviour before in their life.

 

What Causes Aggressive Behaviour?

Dementia causes pain for the person going through it which brings a need from them to feel comfortable. They also want to talk to people around them, feel engaged and feel well. However, dementia can make it difficult for people to understand their needs and their way of expressing what they want is through violent actions. There are various needs they may have for their aggressive behaviour.

Physical Needs

  • They might be in pain, unwell or discomfort.
  • Side effects of medication - drowsiness can lead to communication issues.
  • The environment is too busy, overwhelming or too hot or cold.
  • Poor eyesight or hearing causes misconceptions.
  • Hallucinations lead to aggressive behaviour.
  • Dementia affects judgement and self control.
  • Lack of understanding for their behaviour.

Social Needs

  • The person may feel lonely and not included or valued.
  • They might be bored with not much to do.
  • The person might not like their care professional.
  • They could be hiding their condition from others.

Psychological Needs

  • A feeling of their needs and rights not being respected or are being ignored. This can be down to their own misperceptions, memory difficulties or problems.
  • A feeling of being stopped from doing what they want.
  • Frustration with being unable to complete simple tasks.
  • Depression or other mental health issues.
  • Misunderstanding of why they have a person caring for them. They could feel that the carer is invading their space.
  • Finding it difficult to accept that carers are helping them with intimate tasks such as washing, dressing and going to the toilet.
  • Feeling threatened by a strange or unfamiliar environment.
  • Lack of understanding of the world around them.

 

How to Deal with Aggressive Dementia Patients

It's difficult to respond to aggressive behaviour, but you must take time to think of your loved one and why they might be behaving aggressively. It’s likely they aren’t doing it on purpose and reasoning with them is unlikely to lead them to change their behaviour.

Here are tips for things you can do and avoid doing while the person is behaving aggressively.

During the Aggressive Episode

  • Don’t react straight away. Take a breath and give the person space and time. Leave the room until you’re both feeling calmer.
  • Stay calm. Meeting aggression with an angry response will make the situation worse.
  • Ensure your safety. Never tolerate violence against yourself.
  • If they are being physically violent, try not to show any fear, alarm or anxiety. Walk away from the situation and call for help.
  • Reassure the person and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Don’t take aggressive behaviour personally as this is likely their way of trying to communicate with you of an issue they may have. Listen to what they have to say and mirror their body language if possible.
  • Keep eye contact with the person to explain why you are there. Encourage the person to openly communicate with you.
  • Are you supporting the person with a task? Does it need to be completed now? It's good to stop, give them space and try again later when you’re both calmer.

After the Episode

It’s easy to blame the person for their aggressive behaviour but they are unlikely to have done it on purpose. If you treat your loved one differently, they will not understand why you are. Carry on as normal and be reassuring to them. You must remember to focus on the person and not their behaviour - they’re still the person you care about.

If you’re struggling with the emotions of dealing with an aggressive episode, talk to friends, family or even your GP or counsellor. The professional carers at Sova Healthcare are also happy to discuss your feelings with them if need be. Without this support network, you can focus on the behaviour and not the person you care for.

 

Managing Aggressive Behaviour

Aggressive behaviour can be prevented in those suffering with dementia by following a few steps:

  1. Identify the problem - Consider all factors for their behaviour from the environment to the situation you’re in.

  2. Analyse the situation - Where and when does the problem happen? Is it usual for them to act this way? Are visitors involved?

  3. Focus on how the person feels when behaving aggressively - Are they unwell, uncomfortable or in pain? Tired? Delusional? Bored?

  4. Identify what the person is reacting to - Are they reacting to a bad incident? Are they scared of something? Has something changed? Has a memory returned to them?

  5. Have a behaviour management strategy - Develop a range of techniques that will keep the behaviour down to a minimum. Try different things to work out what is best for you and them.

Aggressive behaviour shown by a loved one going through dementia is difficult to contend with emotionally, but with the right strategies and support around you it will be okay. Sova Healthcare can provide a fresh approach to home care services. With various options available for your loved one - including domiciliary care - we can help with taking care of your loved one with specialist dementia care services. For more information, get in touch with us today.

Elderly parent refusing help

It’s hard to take when an elderly parent refuses help. You love your parents very much and you would do anything for them. For many years they look after you, even when you move out from the family home. No matter where you are in the world, your parents will always look out for you but there comes a time when the situation turns.

As your parents get older and reach the elderly stage of their life, it can become apparent they need support with their everyday lives. While it might be obvious to you, it can sometimes not appear so for them. Your elderly Mum or Dad may resist having in-home carers as they don’t want to be waited on. However, if the signs are there you know something must be done.

Sova Healthcare are specialists in home care services and understand the difficulties in having this conversation. We’ve put together a list of advice for approaching your elderly parents when they refuse help they need.

1. Start Early

It is imperative you start a conversation with your parent early before any potential health issue could start. The talk doesn’t even have to directly mention “carers” or “care at home”, as these words are likely to trigger a reaction that ends the conversation. Ask questions such as “Where do you see yourself as you get older?” or “Have you thought about getting a housekeeper to help around the house?”. These lead in questions without the mentions of care would help strike a conversation that helps both parties early on. This can also help you understand why they refuse to consider support from health care services.

2. Getting Older Is Scary So Be Understanding

In Donna Cohen’s book, “The Loss of Self: A Family Resource for the Care of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders” she advised that understanding the fear of getting old is better than insisting they get help for themselves. Most elderly people know about the issues that they are potentially suffering from. However, anger could spring from believing their children aren’t capable of understanding their issues emotionally and physically. That connection is vital in having those difficult conversations about considering care options.

3. Stand By Your Parents No Matter What

When you reach a certain age, you are used to being okay on your own because it is what we must do as adults. However, it’s difficult to accept when this situation changes. If the situation is addressed there is a possibility of your ageing parent using a coping mechanism, such as shouting or storming out of rooms, like you would have done as a child to them. This can cause a lot of stress, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on getting the care that is best for them. Help them out where you can and let them enjoy that support from you before tackling domiciliary care or any other type of home care service.

4. Give Your Parents Option

Putting restrictions on your parents future will not help stop their refusal of help. Assisted living or in-home care can seem like their freedom is being taken from them. A feeling of having no independence or options to choose themselves will make them continue to refuse support. By giving your Mum or Dad options, it makes them realise that their opinion is still valued and they are still an independent person. If you are looking to set up an appointment for them, ask for their preferred date and time. They likely have hobbies which they enjoy and don’t want to feel restricted in continuing them. Explain that their carer is a companion not someone there to tell them what to do.

5. Create a List of Issues and Priorities

The need for caregiving and assisted living for an individual is a two-way thing, so problems can be experienced by both sides. Reduce potential problems by listing priorities. Will your parent need weekly or monthly appointments at the doctors? Should you hire someone to help around the house? If your parent suffers from dementia, they cannot attend to their household chores any more, so hiring a housekeeper would be beneficial.

6. Take Your Time

You love your parents and you want the best for them, but you can’t rush into situations. If you feel they need to go to a doctor but are worried about taking them, could you ask the doctor to do a home visit? This way, it can feel like a less formal assessment which could scare your Mum or Dad into refusing to see them.

7. Seek Expert Advice

The signs around the home and in your parent’s behaviour might be obvious to you that something is wrong, but sometimes it takes professional advice to convince them of this. Talking to doctors or even social workers can help convince an elderly person of their situation. They could detail the potential problems without help from a carer and provide questions your parent might have about possible treatments.

Our expert team offer health screenings in Birmingham, Leicester and Bradford can provide a full health check alongside our expert advice. Our assessment can tell your elderly parents if they are at risk of having a stroke, developing diabetes or other health ailments. We can also provide a screening in their home if your Mum or Dad prefer. Our assessment can then inform you on whether health care arrangements need to be made.

Contact us today about our home care and specialist care services or download our brochure.

Elderly people in hot weather

We’re in the middle of a heatwave and the UK is enjoying some of the hottest weather we’ve ever experienced. From the sunbathing to the barbecues, this beautiful weather offers a lot of positives, but not everyone enjoys it. Whilst the hot weather is putting the majority of the UK in a great mood, the rising temperatures can lead to a long list of health problems, especially for the elderly.

At Sova Healthcare, we’re a leading provider of private home care and domiciliary care services across the the UK. To support family members and carers, we’ve put a list of tips together to help you care for the elderly during a heatwave, so that they can stay safe and enjoy the beautiful weather.

Symptoms of Overheating

In order to keep your loved ones safe and comfortable during a heatwave and the summer season, it is crucial that you’re able to recognise the symptoms of overheating, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Symptoms of overheating include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Behavioural changes
  • Feeling sick
  • Feeling dizzy and weak
  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Swollen ankles
  • Thirstiness
  • Dark urine

What is heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

Heat exhaustion is triggered when your core temperature reaches at least least 104°F. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke is much more serious than heat exhaustion, as it can lead to shock, organ failure and even brain damage. In extreme cases, heatstroke leads to death.

What causes heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

When your body cannot cool itself and its core temperature is raised, it can lead to heat-related illnesses. In order to stay cool when the climate is hot, your body dissolves sweat. However, during hotter, humid days, the increased moisture in the air slows the sweating process , making it difficult for your body to cool down. This, in turn causes your temperature to rise even further, which leads you to become ill. Dementia patients are more at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke during the hotter months, as they may forget to wear lighter clothing, or stay hydrated - which poses a huge risk.

How to keep your loved ones cool

Staying cool during the summer months requires much more than just drinking iced water. In order to keep your elderly relatives, friends and patients safe, you should:

1. Give them time to refresh

Having regular cool showers, baths and washes is a great way to lower body temperature, and is a great way to keep someone feeling refreshed. People with dementia may forget to wash or shower - you just need to be patient and suggest that they cool down with a quick wash or cold shower. If you’re planning on going out on a day trip or excursion, you should take some damp washcloths in a cool bag with an ice pack. This is a great way of quickly cooling someone. If your relative is suffering from dementia and becomes confused or irritated by you giving them cool washcloths, be patient and explain what you are doing. Find out more about how to communicate with a person with dementia.

2. Take a rest

Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is always encouraged - even more so for patients with dementia and other diseases. However, during the hotter months you should keep strenuous physical activity to a minimum, as it can cause excess sweating, which leads to dehydration, and will hinder the body’s ability to stay cool.

3. Eat cool foods

To ensure your elderly relative, patient or friend is consuming enough water, you should give them foods with high water content - the benefit of this is that it will also help them stay cool.

Salad foods such as cucumber, iceberg lettuce and celery, vegetables such as cauliflower and peppers; and fruits like strawberries, grapefruit and melon are ideal! Depending on what stage of dementia (find out more about the seven stages of dementia) your loved one or patient is at, you should consider whether they can safely swallow these foods.

4. Wear lighter clothing

Cotton clothing and looser tops, dresses and shorts are a simple way to help maintain a safe core temperature. Avoid tight clothing and darker colours, as they tend to absorb heat.

5. Don't go outside during peak hours

The day is hottest between 11am and 3pm. During this time, you should stay somewhere cool, and only go outside during the cooler times of the day– before 11am and after 3pm.

6. Close blinds and curtains

Closing blinds and curtains during the day is a great way to stop the sun shining inside a room and heating it up!

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with dementia, why not reach out to one of our friendly professional team to see what we can do to help and support you every step of the way.

Dementia Communication

Dementia is a disease that is affecting more and more people in the UK. With over 850,000 people suffering from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and with that figure expected to rise to above 1 million by 2025, developing ways to communicate with those who have the degenerative brain disease is starting to become more vital than ever before.

Why is communicating with a person with Dementia difficult?

Communicating with those with dementia is very difficult as their brain is struggling to communicate within itself, due to the nerve cells that transmit messages being damaged. This is because Dementia is a degenerative brain disorder, and the cell damage in the brain makes it much harder for dementia sufferers to take in new information and formulate a response like a fully functioning brain can.

Memory loss is also prevalent, meaning they may not have a strong recollection of who you are, thus making communication very difficult. Alongside this, due to the nerve cell damage within the brain, you may find that their behaviour has changed - they may behave similarly to a child.

With Dementia affecting the everyday life of the patient and their loved ones, some people need some help in being able to communicate in what can be a difficult situation. Sova Healthcare has compiled a list of ten tips for communicating with a person with dementia.

1. Create a positive atmosphere

Your body language is very important when engaging with someone with dementia. It speaks volumes more than your own words. Use facial expressions, consider the tone of your voice and gentle, reassuring physical touching of the arm will help communicate your message and show your love and affection for them.

2. Keep the person’s attention

Keeping the focus of the person with dementia is vital to good communication, but as the disease progresses this can become increasingly challenging. Keep the TV or radio off, close the curtains, shut the door or move to a place that is free from any distraction. Make sure you have their attention, address them by their name whilst making sure they know who you are, and maintain eye contact with them.

3. Clearly state your messages

Keep your words and sentences as simple as possible. Speak slowly and with a reassuring tone. Keep your voice at a lower pitch and refrain from making it higher or louder, as you don’t want to startle them. If they do not understand your message the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question. If they are still struggling, wait for a period of time before saying it again. But remember, try not to lose patience with them, as this is not their fault.

4. Keep your questions simple

Those in the later stages of dementia often get easily confused, so you need to keep your questions as simple as possible. If you need a definitive answer, try not to ask open ended questions - yes or no questions work best. If you do need to ask a question that requires a choice, make the choices clear. Transparent options can help clarify exactly what you are asking.

5. Keep your ears, eyes and heart open

Your loved one may take time to reply so you need to be patient with them. Prompt them if they are struggling to answer a question. Do not show any impatience with your body language - be understanding. Don’t be surprised if they become impatient or frustrated - this is a challenging time for them. Try and be as patient and as understanding as possible.

6. Break everything down into manageable chunks and steps

Keeping tasks manageable for someone with dementia is vital - it isn’t easy for someone with dementia to be able to complete everyday tasks we often take for granted, without support from live-in carers, family members of visiting carers. This is because the brain is struggling to send messages, impacting their memory loss which hampers their recollection of each step. Encourage them, gently remind them of the steps and assist them with anything they cannot complete on their own. Make the steps visual so they picture exactly what you want them to do.

7. Distract and Redirect when Upset

It can be easy for a dementia sufferer to get upset or agitated as they struggle to complete what we often regard as a simplistic and mundane task. Alongside this, there is also the possibility that something happening around them (such as a change in furniture) that has impacted their mood. The best way to help a dementia patient who has become upset is by trying to change the subject, or removing them from environment that is making them upset. A great distraction could be to go for a walk. Be understanding with them, as this will reassure them, and remind them that you have their best interests at heart.

8. Be affectionate and reassuring

A common symptom of dementia is confusion and anxiety - as the dementia progresses, patients often struggle to differentiate between what is and isn’t real. This is where you will need to be affectionate and reassuring. Stay focused on the feelings they are trying to express and don’t convince them that everything they see is incorrect. At times, holding hands, hugging and touching can get some to respond.

9. Reminisce

A great way to communicate with a person with dementia is to take a trip down memory lane. They might not be able to remember something that happened 30 minutes ago, but they might clearly recall something from 30 years ago. Ask general questions about the person’s past instead of anything based on short-term memory.

10. Have a sense of humour

People struggling with dementia will usually retain their social skills and will love a good laugh. Just make sure the joke isn’t at their expense.

At Sova Healthcare, we are passionate about providing the best care and advice to you and your relative. If you have any queries regarding our dementia home care services or specialist care services that we provide, please contact us today.