Dementia affects the brain and memory, thinking, reasoning, social skill, and behavior. It can be difficult for people living with dementia to deal with some conversational topics and questions of well-meaning friends and relatives.
When caring for a loved one with dementia, remember that their emotions and impulse may not be the same as they were before. Though it is challenging to see your loved one change and struggle with memory loss or confusion, you can manage what you say and do.
How to have good conversations with people with dementia can vary from day to day, but generally, we recommend the following:
Dementia can cause mood swings and behavioral changes that are surprising to you. This can be difficult for caregivers to handle. Try to be patient and understanding. You are there because you care about them. Love and compassion are where the conversation starts.
Or "don't you remember?" Dementia is not being forgetful – it’s a condition that affects the ability to think, remember, and communicate. Telling someone they've forgotten something reduces their dignity and may make them scared or frustrated.
Be understanding and patient. Try something like, “Tell me about your day.” Ask questions that do not have a right or wrong answer and allow them to indicate what they know right now.
One of the most frustrating things about having dementia is the feeling that you’re constantly being misunderstood. From the outside, dementias can be an "invisible" condition. Comments like “you don’t look ill” can add to the confusion.
Cognitive impairment may cause people with Alzheimer’s or dementia to believe nothing is wrong.
Please don't make assumptions about their condition, and always speak to them with respect. And if you’re unsure what to say, ask them how they feel and enjoy their company.
It’s a common phrase that people often say to dismiss someone else’s memory loss or confusion. But if the person you’re saying it to has dementia, you’re invalidating their experience and minimizing their condition.
If someone has progressive dementia, it may damage their brain in a way that makes it difficult for them to know what’s happening to them.
Someone with dementia still has thoughts and feelings and experiences happiness and sadness. They are not relieved of worry and stress. They may have even more to worry about as their condition progresses.
They need your support, not your pity, so telling them they are lucky not to worry about anything anymore is dismissive and insensitive.
This is probably one of the worst things you could say to someone with dementia. It cannot be fixed by thinking positively or snapping out of it.
Dementia is a physical illness and should not be dismissed as ‘all in someone’s head.’ It implies that they are making up their symptoms or are crazy. Neither of these is true.
Some people with dementia may choose to forget certain parts of their life due to the distress it causes them. This may be a personal choice and should be respected. Telling them that they are better off not remembering is dismissive.
Instead of saying any of these things, try to communicate with the person respectfully and clearly. Ask them about their day, what they’re enjoying, or if you can get them a beverage. When stuck, try for yes or no questions to get things back on track,
See things from their perspective, and be patient.
To help avoid anger and humiliation, do not contradict or correct them if something is wrong. There’s really no benefit to doing this. If they are aware enough to realize their mistake, they’ll feel bad about it and may even get angry.
On the other hand, if they do not understand their mistake, correcting them may cause increased confusion or embarrassment. People experiencing dementia often react in ways that show they are stressed.
It can be frustrating when someone with dementia doesn’t understand what you’re saying. But arguing with them is the last thing you would want to do.
Explain things in simple terms and offer easy choices when possible. Don’t take anything they say personally. They’re not trying to be difficult; they’re just communicating how they can.
Have a judgment-free mindset. Dementia can make it hard for someone to understand what’s happening around them. Conversations can be overwhelming.
These conversations are not about making a point or being right. You can go along with the ride instead of getting into an argument. Being right doesn’t matter. For instance, if they told you something you’ve never heard or seen or things that didn’t happen, you can say you’d forgotten that. Let them express what they want and refrain from correcting their ideas.
Woman speaking with her mom calmly and with respect. Her body language is relaxed, positive, and encouraging with a gentle touch of reassurance.
Tips to help make caring for a loved one with dementia easier:
Dementia care isn’t just about calculating dollars and cents, it also adds a tremendous scheduling, transportation, and emotional burden for primary caregivers. When we say take care of yourself, try anything you can to do it. We know it is tough.
We have partnered with Headspace because there is science behind their resources like mindfulness and meditation practices. Read more about their research on activities that can support caregivers and people who are experiencing cognitive decline.
“A regular meditation practice may aid in preserving brain gray matter and in reducing risk for cognitive decline.” The mindfulness study author, is Kim Innes, MSPH, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia University School of Public Health.
If you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline in your family, or simply want to protect yourself against age-related memory issues as best you can, give meditation a shot.
For caregivers specifically check out the Headspace program called, “Be Kind to Your Mind.” This ten minute breathing technique helps you keep perspective of what is happening with the people you take care of.
Studies have shown that meditation exercises may improve cognitive function.
CircleOf is designed by a team of experts in the field of caregiving. We created the app for unpaid family caregivers. It has various resources, including a shared calendar to track visits, appointments, and tasks.
Additionally, the real-time messaging system will help keep everyone up to date and share photos and stories. You can be as prepared as possible for your next conversation.
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It’s no secret that taking care of elderly family members can be a challenging task. Not only do you have to worry about their physical and emotional well-being, but you also have to manage your busy life simultaneously.
If you’re a family caregiver, CircleOf is the app for you. It allows you to organize and collaborate with family and friends, maintain regular communication so everyone is on the same page. Download CircleOf today to build your circle of care.
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