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3.8 Helping without taking over

Providing encouragement and support can help persons with dementia maintain their skills.

It can be both frustrating and upsetting to watch someone struggle to do something that used to be easy for them. The temptation is often to ‘take over’ and do the task for the person. However, completing the task for them may cause them to lose that skill more quickly, or to stop trying. Providing some encouragement and support to complete a task can help the person maintain their skills and preserve their self-esteem.   

People with dementia often have difficulty planning or starting a task. However, there are ways that you can help. The following three steps go in order from providing the least to most direct support for the person with dementia.  

  1. Provide opportunity for the task to be carried out.  

    Aurora is always happy to fold the laundry, but never thinks to collect the clothes from the laundry basket. To help, her sister leaves the basket in the living room in sight of her favourite chair. Now, each time Aurora spots the laundry basket she decides to do some folding. You can think of this as ‘setting up the activity’ or doing the initial step that the person may forget. Another example is washing the dishes. Filling the sink with soapy water and having the dirty dishes stacked can be get someone going on this task.  

  2. Give a prompt. Rather than asking for the task to be done, casually draw their attention to it: “I brought the laundry basket upstairs” or “I filled the sink to wash the dished” can sometimes get the activity going.  

  3. If the ideas in steps 1 or 2 don’t work, simply ask the person to do the task. “Would you be able to help me by folding the laundry or doing the dishes?” 

Try strategies to help with life

Re-read the article and write down some strategies that you think might be helpful to you. Then try them out.