HOW TO: 3 tips for keeping them engaged while you get other tasks done

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“It sounds bad, but I can’t get anything done with my wife around,” Walter sighed. “She wants to ‘help,’ but I end up having to re-do her task or just stand over her shoulder the whole time, helping her do whatever it is.”

I’ve heard this story many, many times over. You want your loved one with dementia to be engaged and active, but you also don’t want to be doing 99% of the task yourself. And, more than anything, you want to get your own chores and errands done…but it’s tough when you have someone needing your attention 24/7.

The holidays are an especially challenging time when it comes to providing care for someone living with dementia. 

Let’s review my best 3 tips for getting someone out of your hair (in the nicest way possible!) while still keeping them happy and feeling successful:

  1. Set them up for success. This takes a little more time for you on the “front end,” but provides a lot of extra time saved on the back end. Find a task that is easy, repetitive, and doesn’t require any special or particular outcome. A good example would be folding towels or making a salad. When it’s done, it’s done, and it doesn’t need to look a particular way as long as the towels can fit in the cabinet and the salad has the ingredients in the bowl. 
  2. Ask them for help, and then let them do the task by stepping away. “Can you help me with…?” you ask. When they begin, step away. Encourage them. It may take a few tries to make this work so that they feel comfortable and confident. Your loved one may feel, at the start, that they “don’t know how” or are afraid to make a mistake.
  3. Don’t worry about the outcome. It’s all about the experience of doing the thing and the opportunity for you to have a break. Praise your loved one’s finished project, no matter what it looks like. 

Then, repeat. It could take a few tries to perfect this. Don’t give up.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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