7 Keys to Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Caring for a family member who has Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming.

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- Posted on Sep 22, 2017

A young woman embraces her mother

As Karen Stobbe discovered, caring for a family member who has Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming. Home Instead Senior Care, with author Molly Carpenter, created Confidence to Care, a dementia care guidebook for family caregivers. Here are some key techniques to help minimize your loved one’s behavioral symptoms and care for them at home:

Enter their world. The person with dementia makes sense to herself. Don’t argue with or correct Mom if she’s confused or delusional. Go along with it. If Mom says, “I’m waiting for Dad to pick me up” (and Dad is deceased), say, “Tell me again how you and Dad first met.”

Validate their feelings. Reassure your family member that he is loved. People with dementia may get frustrated and lash out at the ones they’re closest to. If Dad fights you when you’re helping him get dressed, stay calm. Say, “I can see you’re uncomfortable in that sweater. Let me get you a different one.”

Redirect their focus. Shift your loved one’s attention away from something stressful and toward something pleasant. When Mom gets anxious, for example, encourage her to cuddle the family pet, or show her a funny YouTube video or photographs of the grandkids.

Apologize and take the blame. Even when you’re not at fault, an apology defuses a tense situation. Keep it simple: “I’m sorry I misunderstood.”

Change the environment. People with dementia can become agitated by or fixated on something in their surroundings. They might get upset by newspapers on the kitchen counter or want to use power tools they see in the garage. Move disturbing or potentially dangerous items out of the way. Create a calm, well-ordered place for your loved one to go to, such as a porch swing by the flowers she planted.

Give simple choices. Your family member may feel as if he no longer has any say over his life. Letting him make small decisions helps him feel in control. Ask “Would you like eggs or cereal for breakfast?” instead of setting down a bowl of corn flakes.

Involve them in meaningful activities. Research shows that participating in physical, mental and social activities reduces stress and anxiety for people with dementia. Try art or music or going for a walk. If a group outing is too much, invite a good friend over for lunch.

For three free chapters of Confidence to Care, plus free training for family caregivers, go to helpforalzheimersfamilies.com.

Read more: Alzheimer's Disease: Comedy Improv Is a Surprising Resource

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