Practical Tips for Living with Dementia

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 14 March 2012

Today’s guest post comes from Leann Reynolds. Reynolds is President of Homewatch CareGivers, an international home care provider, well-known for its development of Pathways to Memory — a specialized dementia care program. Follow her on Twitter at @hwcaregivers.

Dementia never stands still. The condition, its symptoms and its manifestations are constantly changing, and with them, your loved one’s needs. One of the most maddening aspects of providing dementia care for a loved one is realizing that a technique that works today may not work tomorrow.

Dementia slowly weakens one’s mental abilities, causing changes in personality, behavior and capacity to perform everyday activities. Perhaps worst of all, the condition also dramatically hinders the communications skills of those who suffer from it.

The deterioration of communication skills in people with dementia is difficult for caregivers. But it’s even tougher for your loved one. It may be hard for them to find the right words, follow conversations, or understand the meaning of what you are saying . And they may get impatient when they can’t say what they want.

The best way to approach these challenges? Try to understand what your loved one is going through by putting yourself in her place. How would you feel if you couldn’t make sense of what was happening around you? You would get scared, angry and frustrated. This is exactly what your loved one with dementia experiences.

To help your loved one comprehend their environment and converse with family and friends, try these simple techniques:

  • Remain calm and patient. Your panic or frustration can negatively impact your loved one.
  • Use short sentences, ask simple questions and limit the number of choices.
  • Give easy-to-follow instructions, one at a time.
  • Speak slowly and allow some extra time for a response. Rephrase a question if your loved one doesn’t understand what you are trying to say.
  • Watch your tone of voice, body language and facial expressions; smiles truly are the universal language and will go far in establishing the proper tone.

As a caregiver for a person with dementia, expect to see changes in personality and impulsive behavior. You may notice that your loved one has good days and bad days. Getting upset, worried or angry for no visible reason are all examples of such changes.

Once again, try to understand where your loved one is coming from. As dementia clouds their memory, they might get anxious when people and settings look unfamiliar or when they don’t know what behavior is expected. Feeling overloaded can lead them to respond abruptly or act violently. In these situations,

  • Don’t argue or try to reason with your loved one; reassure them that they are safe.
  • Allow them to calm down, then redirect their focus.
  • A challenging behavior can be caused by discomfort (tight or itchy clothes, the need to go to a restroom, hunger, etc.,) or health problems (pain, medication side effects, infections). Try to understand the reason for their agitation.

When caring for a loved one with dementia, pick your battles. If your mom wants to wear mismatched socks with her sneakers today — let her. It’s not going to harm anybody and will make her feel that she is still in control.

You can find more practical dementia care tips in our Guide to Living with Dementia.




There are 7 Comments about this post

  1. Thad P says,

    This is such helpful information. My MIL has Alzheimer Disease, and we have watched the progression of the illness with sadness. She is happy today, and for that we are grateful.


    on 14 March 2012 / 12:22 PM

  2. Glad to hear your feedback, Thad. Sorry to hear that your MIL is struggling with Alzheimer’s; it is such a terrible disease. It’s good to embrace the happy days and be grateful for them, as you said. I hope you have many more with her.


    on 14 March 2012 / 12:56 PM

  3. Thank you for sharing this Michelle! Leann offers some great tips. As a geriatric social worker I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to relay such information to family caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. It often proves helpful and the key is to remember that no one method will work for everyone. Patience and a willingness to “troubleshoot” is a must. Hopefully this post gets out to as many people as possible.


    on 15 March 2012 / 11:45 AM

  4. Thad, I would like to applaud your positive attitude. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s is a physically and emotionally consuming responsibility, especially when it is your mother-in-law.

    Also, I’m glad that these tips were helpful. If you have any specific questions about Alzheimer’s care and need help with challenging behaviors, please don’t hesitate to ask here.

    Christine, thank you for your feedback.


    on 15 March 2012 / 1:14 PM

  5. Wonderful comments, all! Glad to share the post; thanks again, Leann, for writing it. Your insights have clearly encouraged others. Christine, keep up the wonderful work you’re doing. And I agree: patience and a willingness to troubleshoot is absolutely a must.


    on 15 March 2012 / 1:22 PM

  6. Lucy James says,


    I hate to look so spammy and do this within the comments section, but I really couldn’t find any other way of contacting you on this website.

    My name is Lucy James and I help to represent MHA online, a UK based charitable organisation for dementia care and accommodation. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue – I am a writer and have guest published articles on many subjects related to dementia care and accommodation for the elderly. You can find out more about MHA by visiting: http://mha.org.uk.

    We are trying to get the word out about our charity organisation online, without spending thousands of pounds on advertising. I would very much like to write a high quality article as a guest post on your site, perhaps on something from perspective of the care home? Hopefully, this new content will help you get more traffic to your website as well. Below are some of my ideas.

    • MHA’s ground breaking music therapy scheme
    • Emotionally coming to terms with dementia in loved one’s
    • Independent evaluation of Live at Home schemes

    If you have any of your own ideas about the input that I could provide, please let me know your thoughts and I will get right onto it. If you would like one of my articles please get back to me ASAP and I will email you back with a copy for your approval.

    All I ask for in return is that I can include at least one, subtle link back to the related site I represent to help build awareness of our organisation online.

    Kind Regards,

    Lucy James
    (On behalf of MHA.org.uk)


    on 26 June 2012 / 10:51 AM

  7. Hi Lucy,
    Thanks for reaching out. I will email you soon regarding your request!



    on 28 June 2012 / 11:16 AM


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