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Relaxation Techniques for People with Dementia

Matthew Ralph-Savage

October 13, 2020

Living with dementia can be extremely stressful at times, especially when one begins to notice lapses in memory or changes in behaviour. So, taking some time out to relax and destress can be incredibly beneficial for anyone living with dementia, allowing a moment to just breath, away from the general chaos of everyday life. Relaxation techniques will help reduce stress, agitation and any anger a person with dementia may feel.

It seems simple enough but taking time to practise deep breathing will help reduce tension, shortness of breath and anxiety. As with all relaxation techniques, find a quiet, calming place away from distractions. Encourage a person living with dementia to sit straight with one hand on their chest and one on their stomach. Tell them to breath in slowly to the count of 3 through their nose, feeling their stomach expand as they inhale but their chest staying relatively still. They should then breath out slowly through the mouth to the count of 5. Continue this relaxing breathing technique for about 10 minutes.

Yoga not only focuses on the body, helping strengthen muscles through a series of stretches and poses, but it also concentrates on deep breathing techniques, which is a fantastic way to relieve stress and tension. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be an Olympic gymnast to undertake yoga, and in fact there are a number of yoga classes specifically for older people or people with dementia. There are also chair yoga classes available on YouTube, that take you through a gentle, seated yoga class, step by step.

Mindfulness has become very popular in recent years, with many people believing it is one of the best relaxation techniques out there. The premise is simple; focus on the present, try not to let what has happened in the past or may occur in the future worry you. This idea works well for people who are living with dementia, as they may become distressed and agitated thinking about what the future holds, or worrying that they cannot remember what happened yesterday.
Obviously, this thought process is much easier said than done, so there are a number of courses that can be attended, specifically for people with dementia. However, you can encourage a loved one with dementia to try their own mindfulness by focusing their attention on a single object, such as a flickering candle.

This is similar to meditation, but allows the person to focus on a place that makes them feel relaxed, where they can destress and release any tension or anxiety they may be feeling. Ask a person with dementia to either lie or sit down, whatever they find most comfortable. Then ask them to imagine a restful place. This could be a beach or a country field, whatever makes them feel relaxed. Ask them to imagine walking around this place, what do they see? What do they hear? What colours do they see? How are they feeling? Happy? Relaxed?

Once you have spent about 5 to 10 minutes on this guided visualisation, ask them to bring themselves back to the present room and open their eyes. This technique should help a person feel relaxed, calm and serene.