Helping people keep a sense of themselves

People living with the later stages of dementia often begin to lose their sense of identity. Prompts about names and situations are useful reminders.

Making clear what is happening and why helps people to understand what is going on and reduces anxiety. It also provides a environment that may help make an activity easier and more meaningful. Remember also that people change. Allow for this change, and for growth in the individual.

  • Always treat people with the respect they deserve. Listen to what they say.
  • Let them make choices, even if they are bad ones, providing they aren’t overly dangerous. Allow people as much freedom as they can possibly be given.
  • Remind people of the real world when necessary, but don’t force truth on people for its own sake if it is unnecessary or hurtful.
  • Bear in mind what people enjoy doing and help them to do it. Background knowledge about people is naturally very useful – but don’t assume people will stay exactly the same forever!
  • Find meaningful activities for people. Most people enjoy feeling that they are being helpful and everyone enjoys feeling engaged, interested and taken out of themselves. No one enjoys being bored. Old hobbies may be enjoyed again.
  • Memory books (with photos, postcards, newspaper cuttings, etc.) may be helpful aids for starting discussions, which help people to relax and to connect with their lives.
  • Allow people to personalise the space around them. Make sure they have access to pictures and objects that are familiar and reassuring.
  • Let people be upset if they want – sometimes it is natural. This may leave you feeling powerless but sharing your experiences with others can help.