When someone you love is diagnosed with dementia, it can be a frightening time in which you focus much of your energy on what will happen to your spouse, parent, or other loved one. However, while it’s wise to start preparing for how their life will change, it’s equally important to prepare yourself for how you should support and interact with your loved one as their dementia progresses.

As many who have gone through this process before will attest, it’s not a straightforward journey and can often be a frustrating time of trial and error in determining what works best to support your loved one. In fact, some of the techniques you can use to make them feel more comfortable may be the exact opposite of what you would intuitively do to support them. Now, in the early stages of dementia, is the best time to learn what to do, and what not to do, to prepare for the challenges ahead and how to get the support you need.

Focus on Learning and Honing Your Approach

Doing your research and speaking to professionals will help you learn more about what to expect currently and as dementia symptoms progress so that you are better prepared. You may start to notice your loved one’s balance and motor skills are more affected as time goes on. In this case you can help minimize risks of falling and injuries in your loved one’s home by adding safety features and removing certain hazards.

Keeping a healthy mindset will also help you to care for your loved one in the coming years. As dementia progresses, many people begin to treat the person with dementia more like a child, talking down to them or making decisions for them that they could still have made for themselves. This is natural and forgivable; after all, you may start to do a lot of tasks for your loved one that they used to be able to do themselves. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they are still an adult and deserve to be treated with respect.

In that same vein, you should try to remember that your loved one is not intentionally being difficult. Remember how you would feel in their position. They’re doing their best in facing a very difficult condition and may often feel frustrated themselves. It’s important to try to do your best to acknowledge who they are now, and continue to interact with and visit them if they have moved to an assisted living facility, even when it is uncomfortable. Patience is key, even when it’s most challenging.  

Shift Your Questions

Things will become less clear to your loved one as time goes on. As this happens, many people seek to prod their loved one’s memory, sometimes out of frustration which can translate to a negative approach as discussed previously. However, you should avoid quizzing your loved one, or asking them if they remember who you are or what happened on an important date in the past. This tends to frustrate those with dementia even more and may make them more anxious. Quizzing them is not an effective way to help them remember.

There are methods you can use to help your loved one navigate their life. By talking generally about an event in the past, and not asking about that event, you can help spark memories. When your loved one gets confused, use short, clearer sentences to help get your message across. Further, those with dementia rely on well-established routines to help them remember where they are and what they should be doing. Approach changes to their routine with care.

Learn How to Handle Aggression

One of the most shocking parts of supporting a loved one with dementia is dealing with the aggression. Even the most mild-mannered people may become aggressive when dementia makes them confused or scared and act out, either by hitting others or themselves, or screaming and crying.

Tresa Mariotto, Family Ambassador at Silverado Senior Living in Bellingham, WA, told A Place for Mom that aggression doesn’t stem from a place of malice. “A lot of times aggression is coming from pure fear,” she says, “People with dementia are more apt to hit, kick or bite.”

While you should protect yourself from acts of aggression, there’s no reason to hold these outbursts against your loved one. During these outbursts, it’s important to take a deep breath, observe, and try to avoid a tense reaction that may make things worse. If you need to, take a moment away and then regroup with your loved one to see how they’re doing and how you can work together to refocus on something else such as television show or music. The power of music, especially, can help calm those with dementia and inspire more positive emotions and reactions.

Remember, It’s Not the End and There is Support

Many people diagnosed with dementia are able to continue about their daily lives and routines for a long time. Their lifestyle factors, including food and exercise, can help slow down the progress of the disease and sometimes even improve it. Your loved will be different, especially at their condition progresses, but the individual they are will still be there. Enjoy your time with your loved one and remember to be patient. You can avoid most of the pitfalls of caring for someone with dementia by just remembering how you would want to be treated.

Additionally, remember to ask for help. No one should have to handle a dementia diagnosis alone, and there are a wide range of support resources available at the local and national level to speak with professionals about getting help with daily living and interacting with your loved one.

At Aging Life Network, our community is full of professionals and caregivers alike who are ready to assist. For advice and support on caring with someone with dementia, we encourage you to schedule a call with one of the dedicated Aging Life Care Managers™ in our network.

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