When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, there’s often sadness and confusion around why they aren’t themselves anymore. Many people with dementia become more agitated, short-tempered, and confused by the world around them.

While these behaviors can be difficult to manage, keep in mind the challenges of a debilitating disease your loved one is facing. Learn more about dementia and tips for respecting your loved ones.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is characterized by symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia can affect thinking, behavior, and a person’s ability to do everyday tasks.

Doctors will diagnose dementia when two or more cognitive functions are significantly impaired:

  • Attention
  • Judgement
  • Language skills
  • Memory
  • Spatial skills
  • Understanding information

People with dementia often have difficulty solving problems or controlling their emotions. Their personality may change and they may experience agitation, delusions, or hallucinations.

Symptoms of dementia are largely due to the area(s) of the brain being damaged by disease. Nerve cells in the brain may stop functioning, lose connections with other cells, and even die.

Dementia is often progressive which means the disease spreads throughout the brain and symptoms worsen over time. In many cases, long term care services in a facility or memory care unit are needed to keep patients safe.

How to Respect People with Dementia

  1. Set a positive tone. Attitude and body language communicate your thoughts and feelings more than words. Set a positive tone for the interaction by speaking in a pleasant and respectful manner. Use positive facial expressions and gentle touch.
  2. Get their attention. Before speaking to them, limit distractions by turning off the TV or closing a window. Address them by their name, identify yourself, and use nonverbal cues, eye contact, or touch to keep them focused.
  3. Clearly state your message. Speak slowly and use simple words and sentence. Avoid raising your voice higher and louder. Repeat or rephrase the question for better understanding and comprehension.
  4. Ask simple questions. Ask yes or no questions one at a time. Limit their options and show a visual cue such as, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt?”
  5. Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Be patient for their reply. If they struggle to answer, suggest the words for them. Pay close attention to non-verbal cues and body language. Always listen for the meaning and feelings behind their words.
  6. When needed, distract and redirect. If they become agitated, change the subject or the environment and offer reassurance.
  7. Break down activities into steps. Encourage them to do what they can and remind them of the steps needed to complete a task. If they can’t finish it on their own, feel free to help them.
  8. Respond with affection and reassurance. People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure. Respond with comfort, support, and reassurance. A hug, gentle touch, or praise is sometimes all they need.
  9. Keep your sense of humor. Use humor whenever appropriate, but not at the person’s expense. People with dementia are delighted to laugh with you.
  10. Reminisce About the good ‘ol days. While they can’t remember what happened 30 minutes ago, they can remember their life 30 years ago. Avoid short-term memory questions and ask about their past.

Are you and your loved ones prepared for the future? Create a long term care plan now.