How to Help Someone Suffering from Dementia

For people helping others (often their parents or grandparents) with dementia, communication can be tremendously difficult. People suffering from dementia often struggle to think and communicate clearly, and sometimes act in inappropriate or odd ways. For their caregivers, this can be terribly frustrating, and if the caregiver is caring for a loved one, it can be distressing to observe behavior changes and the loss of key memories.

If you’re caring for someone with dementia, there are a couple of good resources to start with in improving communication: Alzheimer’s Association’s Communication: Tips for successful communication at all stages of the disease, and the Family Caregiver Alliance’s Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors.

Those guides have quite a bit of good information, and there’s no point in regurgitating it all here, but there are some clear themes that come out of those guides:

  • Don’t take it personally. Sometimes the person you’re caring for is going to say or do irrational things. He or she may forget who you are, or act inappropriately. It’s not you; it’s the illness.¬†Like anyone else, the person would act rationally if it were possible.
  • Involve them in conversations. Don’t talk about the person as if he or she weren’t there.
  • Keep things simple and clear. A yes-or-no question or a question that provides a limited range of alternatives is likely to get a better response than an open-ended question.
  • Break complicated processes into steps. Along those same lines, processes that seem simple to us might be too complicated or confusing for a person suffering from dementia, and you may need to break things into smaller tasks.
  • Avoid interrupting or finishing sentences for the person, even if it takes longer for the person to understand and respond to you.
  • Minimize distractions and speak clearly.

Another issue that the Family Caregiver Alliance addresses¬†is how important it is for caregivers to take care of themselves. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to be that much more difficult to take care of someone suffering from dementia. People caring for family members suffering from dementia are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are at higher risk for substance abuse, and are less likely to take steps to maintain their own health.

But the less you take care of yourself, the less help you’ll be to the loved ones you’re caring for. There are a number of techniques listed in the link above to improve your ability to take care of yourself:

  • Caregiving is going to be frustrating from time to time. Use stress reduction and relaxation techniques to manage stress and frustration.
  • Get adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  • Be willing to ask for and accept help.
  • Along those same lines, take time off from caregiving.
  • Make sure you take care of your health.
  • Develop and improve your caregiver skills.

Ultimately, improving your communication and other caregiving skills and making sure that you maintain your own health will lead to a better situation for both you and the loved ones you care for.

Photo credit: Flickr user Hartwig HKD, image licensed under CC 2.0

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