Understanding and supporting a person with dementia

Living with dementia can have a big emotional, social, psychological and practical impact on a person. Many people with dementia describe these impacts as a series of losses and adjusting to them is challenging. This page aims to give people - and carers in particular - a better understanding of what it is like to have dementia. It looks at ways to support someone to live well with the condition, based on that understanding. It also looks at how supporting someone with dementia can affect carers.

The way a person with dementia feels and experiences life is down to more than just having the condition. There are many other factors aside from the symptoms of dementia that play a huge role in shaping someone's experience. These include the relationships the person has, their environment and the support they receive.

Personal relationships and someone's social environment are central to life, regardless of age or mental ability. People can recognise this by being as supportive as possible. Carers, friends and family, can help a person with dementia to feel valued and included. Support should be sensitive to the person as an individual, and focus on promoting their wellbeing and meeting their needs.

When supporting a person with dementia, it can be helpful for carers to have an understanding of the impact the condition has on that person. This includes understanding how the person might think and feel, as these things will affect how they behave. The person may be experiencing a world that is very different to that of the people around them. It will help if the carer offers support while trying to see things from the perspective of the person with dementia, as far as possible.

Each person is unique, with their own life history, personality, likes and dislikes. It is very important to focus on what the person still does have, not on what they may have lost. It is also important to focus on what the person feels rather than what they remember.

However, dementia has many effects. Most people experience memory difficulties and problems with thinking.

These in turn may lead to the loss of:

  • self-esteem
  • confidence
  • independence and autonomy
  • social roles and relationships
  • the ability to carry out favourite activities or hobbies
  • everyday skills of daily life (eg cooking, driving).

Despite all these things being lost, the person will still retain some of their abilities, and will still feel an emotional connection to people and their environment, even later on in the condition.