According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is the second tier of the pyramid just above the need for food and water. It is defined as “protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.” When we think of creating a safe environment for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, the focus tends to be on elements of the physical environment that may be dangerous, but we often overlook the psychological aspects of feeling safe.
A recent study in Neural Plasticity found worrying about safety is a major reason for mental disorders, such as anxiety, phobia, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study illustrates how the amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for releasing hormones that trigger our emotions of fear and anger, also alerts us to possible dangers and the need to do something about it like fight or run.
Our loved ones with dementia fall into this category, and, with this information in mind, how we approach their care can have an extreme impact on successful outcomes.
Of course, we need to make sure that the environment is free from fall risks by arranging furniture to create open pathways, and by removing loose rugs and tacking loose carpet edges to reduce trip hazards. We also need to make sure there is adequate lighting and the temperature in the environment is comfortable.
However, the most important element of caring for someone with dementia is to help them to feel safe. Feeling safe may be affected by symptoms of dementia, such as confusion, memory loss and disorientation, limited mobility and coordination, or by changes in the environment. We can help with this; it’s all in our approach to care.
Someone with dementia may have cognitive impairment and physical limitations, but in most cases, people retain a rich, emotional life. If we can tap into truly knowing that person, we have a great opportunity to gain their trust and really have fun with providing care. Here are some caregiving tips:
- Communicate and engage with the person in your care by being fully present.
- Leave your fast-paced life filled with all of the things you have to do at the door.
- Take some time for yourself to slow down and approach the person you are caring for with a smile.
- Tell the person your name and that you are glad to see them.
- Make sure your voice has a nice tone and that you modulate your speech so it has a songlike quality.
- Make a lot of eye contact as you smile and greet the person.
- Have a conversation with them about something you know they are interested in.
- Suggest an activity that is meaningful for them.
- Have fun and spend some quality time being there with the person.
Following these guidelines can set a positive tone and help the person feel safe and loved and help them to live their best life possible.
If you need additional support caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, contact us. Our proprietary program, DementiaWise®, engages and enhances the lives of people with dementia while providing support and education for the family. Call 800-886-4044 or find a ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care location near you.