Difficulties in everyday public situations can be distressing and embarrassing for people with dementia and carers. Helpline Supervisor Alex Clay points us in the right direction to find solutions.
'I was paying at the supermarket checkout with my dad when he started shouting at me for stealing his wallet. I had it because he takes so long with coins. Dad snatched it off me saying he could do it, but he took ages. Everyone in the queue was staring and I felt so embarrassed! I won't take him with me again.'
Everyday situations in shops, on the high street and at the bank can become fraught with distress, embarrassment or even anger when someone with dementia struggles to understand or communicate something in a moment of memory loss and confusion.
It's only reasonable to expect the person to accept assistance. However your dad may not recall the difficulty he has in handling money or comprehend the need for help. Alternatively, he may understand but feel his independence is being taken away.
We love our queues and their delicate social etiquette. The smallest infringement can cause unease. A person might be so confronted by the task of tackling their memory loss that social etiquette is the least of their worries, or it is forgotten entirely. For the carer the pressure of disapproving or even sympathetic looks can be overwhelming.
How to deal with embarrassing behaviour
There are no simple solutions, but it can help to break down the component factors of the problem to find what may be at its root:
- memory loss
- the person's anger in losing independence
- the carer's complex emotions in witnessing the person wrestle with the disease so publicly
- the carer's frustration at the person not accepting help
- pressure not to hold up the queue
- paying for the shopping
- embarrassment and guilt for both the person and the carer.
Focus on the positives
If the person regularly experiences difficulties they might need help to avoid these situations, but it is important to consider other priorities.
Many aspects of everyday activities such as shopping trips can be very positive for the person with dementia and the carer - the journey, interaction and stimulation, practical tasks that help to maintain skills and a chance to feel involved in everyday life.
When problems outweigh the positives there may be decisions to make about adjusting lifestyle and routines, but considering all the factors involved can be difficult in the heat of the moment. Support, counselling and advice for carers can help to avoid hasty choices and to face any difficult decisions that may be required.