Caring for an elderly loved one living with dementia is challenging and emotionally draining. Some problematic symptoms will result in nonsense conversations, making you wonder if you’re doing your role properly.
For complex health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, behavioral and psychological changes happen throughout the course of the disease, leading to increasing care needs. It’s crucial to adapt to these growing care needs and understand that these changes don’t change your loved one as a person.
Caregiving Don’ts for Someone Living With Dementia
Caregiving to a senior loved one with a cognitive decline isn’t just about preparing meals, giving medication reminders, or doing housekeeping tasks. A good caregiver also knows how to provide emotional support. This includes being patient and understanding of their challenging behaviors.
It takes a lot of emotional effort to accept that anger outbursts, memory loss, and aggressiveness are things your loved one has no control over when they have a progressive cognitive impairment. Hence, when donning a caregiver hat, there are things you shouldn’t do when interacting with someone with dementia.
1. Don’t Take Things Personally
When your loved one suddenly becomes accusatory or fearful of you is unsettling. It may be hard to ignore, but try not to take things personally. If you’re hurt because they see you as someone suspicious or can’t recall who you are, understand that dementia causes them to forget many things. It’s not a reflection of their character, and this shouldn’t change who they are or your relationship with each other.
2. Don’t Argue
It’s never a good idea to argue with anyone with dementia. First, you just won’t win. Second, it will probably upset, frustrate, or make them angry. The best thing you can do when you’re about to have a verbal fight is to change the subject of your conversation. You should introduce a pleasant topic that immediately diverts their attention and forget about the prior issue.
3. Don’t Talk Around the Person With Dementia as If They aren’t There
How would you feel if your friends talked about you as if you were not with them? You’d feel horrible, right? It’s the same for anyone with dementia. Even if you think they can’t catch up with the conversations, encourage them to interact.
Ensure they’re not left out in discussions, especially if it involves making decisions about their future. If they aren’t responsive, engage them in discussions and maintain eye contact. Don’t turn your back on them when talking to other people, as your body language is also crucial when communicating.
4. Don’t Forget That Aggressive Behavior is Unintentional.
Eventually, behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) will manifest. This includes increased agitation, aggression, outburst, and other inappropriate behaviors. They may verbally and physically abuse, shout, or scream at you and other people at home.
They may exhibit such hostile speech or action in response to feeling scared, confused, or helpless. Identify what provoked violent behaviors—perhaps they’re hungry or find their surroundings noisy. De-escalate the situation by shifting their focus to a topic or activity that they like, such as listening to favorite music or talking about happy events.
5. Don’t Ask Them If They Remember Something.
Questions like, “Do you remember who I am?” or “What did you do this morning?” can make them feel sad, frustrated, embarrassed, and confused. It can be tempting to ask if they remember an old friend or a specific event, but don’t do it. Instead of asking, say, “I remember that we had some biscuits the last time I visited. They were delicious.”
Changing how you communicate by matching their level of understanding can help them have meaningful conversations despite their memory loss. Instead of asking questions, it’s ideal to tell a story.
6. Don’t Remind Them That Someone Close Has Passed Away.
Your aging parent may wonder why a relative has stopped visiting and calling. Depending on their health situation, you can or can’t disclose that someone has passed away. Informing them that their spouse, friend, or other loved one has passed away can have a ripple effect.
If they’re in the early stages of dementia, you can tell them. Acknowledge their feelings and respond with love and emotional support. If their memory loss is severe, it may not be a good idea to announce the passing of a loved one as they won’t understand the situation or perhaps have forgotten about that person.
Dementia Caregiving Tips
Based on a recent survey, 51% of caregivers declared that the role has negatively affected their health and well-being. Family caregivers who look after a loved one with dementia tend to pay more attention to the person they care for and deprioritize their health. This isn’t practical. You should maintain a balance between your care tasks and your own well-being, especially when facing the challenges of dementia.
Here are some useful caregiving tips:
1. Don’t Wait To Accept Help.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help from family members, friends, and professional caregivers. It proves that you can’t do everything on your own. Be upfront about needing assistance as it helps your loved one receive adequate care.
2. Don’t Forget To Take Care of Yourself.
Taking care of yourself and getting support from others is essential for your well-being and your loved one. As high as 40-70% of caregivers experience symptoms of depression. Make use of caregiving services available to you so you can take a respite. It can make a huge difference if you provide care while in good health.
Supporting a Loved One Every Step of the Way
Even as your loved one gradually loses their memory and may forget important events and information, their feelings remain. So, never talk down to them, argue, or counter their aggression with aggression. It can only worsen your relationship with them.
Supporting a loved one with dementia includes being patient and understanding. Remember that they’re not deliberately making your life complicated when they’re aggressive or agitated. It’s their disease that makes them act this way, so treat them with love and care.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.