Caring for Those With Dementia
Caring for someone with dementia can be physically, emotionally, and financially challenging. I work with caregivers of individuals with dementia every day and one thing that comes up often is that they are uncertain of how to interact with the person they’re caring for, particularly as the disease progresses. While every caregiving situation is unique depending on the kind of dementia, there are 10 caregiver commandments that can provide guidance for all.
- Agree, Never Argue. Even if the person you’re caring for is saying something that isn’t true, makes no sense, or is offensive, roll with it. Meet that person where they’re at. Arguing just creates stress for you and them.
- Redirect, Never Reason. When the person your caring for is fixated on something – they insist it’s time to go home, even if they are home – redirect their attention to something else. It could be something on the TV, showing them a picture, mentioning the weather…anything that will move them away from whatever they’ve fixated on.
- Distract, Never Shame. If a mistake is made and confusion sets in, just laugh it off and instead, tell them how good they look! Positivity isn’t always easy, but humor and compassion can help in a tough situation. Humans often dwell on mistakes or lost memories; focusing on something positive or even fun can bring peace and joy, even if only for a little while.
- Reassure, Never Lecture. Individuals with dementia become more fearful as the disease progresses. Reassure them that everything is okay, even if they continue to express fear and anxiety. Keep in mind that even the familiar may now be new and unfamiliar to them.
- Reminisce, Never Say “Remember.” To say, “don’t you remember” is very frustrating and hurtful to someone with dementia because they truly can’t remember. When they see you frustrated, they will get equally frustrated. Things can easily fall apart. Instead, just share a memory you have and even if they don’t remember it, they’ll often enjoy the story you’re telling.
- Repeat, Never Say, “I already told you that.” This ties into not saying “remember.” You may have told something to the person you’re caring for less than five minutes ago, but they won’t remember. If you find yourself getting frustrated with repeating the same thing over and over again, drop that thing and move onto something else. This goes back to the “Redirect” commandment.
- Say “Do what you can,” Never Say “You can’t.” Provide easy tasks for the person your caring for—folding towels, drying the dishes, sweeping, helping with bathing—to make them feel useful and a part of daily living.
- Ask, Never Command. The person with dementia deserves respect and kindness. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.
- Encourage and Praise, Never Condescend. Always remember that a simple task is not easy for someone with dementia. Giving them praise will go far.
- Reinforce, Never Force. You may have to repeat how to do something many times, but your patience will be appreciated.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a hub for many services, support groups, and excellent trainings and disease education. Go to https://www.alz.org/ to find your local chapter. They have a 24/7 helpline (1-800-272-3900) to help you during times of stress, when a new behavior occurs that has you frightened or frustrated, or if you just need someone to talk to.