In addition to sharing a meaningful experience together, the friend or family member can also contribute a lot to their loved one’s enjoyment and success by assisting them with their participation. Many participants in the early stages of dementia may not need extra support and their partners can simply share the experience. However, as participants’ abilities change, there are a number of ways that friends and families can be more supportive. As a facilitator, you can also draw out this support with careful modelling or direct instructions.
During conversation, a friend or family member can repeat or reframe questions or comments to support understanding, or they can remind their participant of something familiar to encourage their answer. They can help by quietly repeating others’ comments that might not have been heard or understood.
They can add personal details to the conversation to help build connection. They can model ways of answering questions or taking action in activities, giving their participant someone to follow or imitate when they are not sure what to do. For participants who speak another language, they can offer prompts or translate responses to help too.
During hands-on activities, they can use supportive techniques to help with work, from repeating steps and demonstrating techniques to more targeted actions. We will describe these in a moment.
Just be careful that supporting does not change into taking over and ‘doing for’ or ‘answering for’ the person. The program is primarily meant to encourage participation for the participant as we seek to foster independence and agency as much as possible, remembering that participation can be demonstrated by many different kinds of actions. Friends and family members can sometimes benefit from redirection, modelling of supportive actions, or gentle reminders of the goal of the program – engagement.