The 10 biggest dementia care no-no’s

If you are providing home care to a loved one suffering from any stage of dementia related symptoms, you have a lot of trial and error in your future. But we’re here to help. After hundreds of combined years experience providing in-home senior care, we have learned a thing or two. Whether your caregiving journey has just begun, or you are about to nod knowingly as you check these off your mental list of things to avoid in care, these are the ten biggest things you can avoid doing to make your communication and caregiving that much more effective.

  1. Don’t ask anyone with dementia whether they remember.
  2. Obviously, with memories and shared experiences leaving the loved one, its so tempting to check what remains. A better way (that doesn’t bring confusion about), is talking with them about the memory, which they will engage with if they can.

  3. More broadly, don’t test your loved one, quiz them or hurl questions into them as though they should know.
  4. If they remember you, then they do. If they don’t, then they don’t. Ditto, everything. It does no benefit to you or your loved one to check on whether or not they can hold onto something that they are ultimatly unable to keep.

  5. Don’t fight.
  6. If you are caring for a senior with dementia, you cannot win any more arguements, as they either will not remember, or will become angry, confused or scared. Dementia is hard. Nobody wins. Better instead of arguing or fighting to change the topic to something more agreeable. But don’t fight.

  7. Don’t make it about right and wrong.
  8. Often, we tell our dementia patients they are wrong subtly, by correcting them, or contradicting them. In that moment, they must pause to consider their memory, and check it against yours. This is a high-pressured moment in the life of someone with dementia, because they fear that they are wrong. Who cares whether they last had soup on Sunday or Tuesday? Hopefully not you. Smile, and let the details slide.

  9. Don’t assume confusion.
  10. Even if they are confused most of the time, there are moments of breakthrough with many dementia patients, where the fog lifts if even just for a moment. If you assume they are confused, and they are not, you will have just been mean, in your interaction with them. Let their state come to you.

  11. Don’t talk about them like they are invisible.
  12. It can be easy to reckon with the ongoing confusion by assuming it (see last rule), and the next thing caregivers often make the mistake of doing is treating their loved ones as though the dementia has made them invisible. You would not talk about your brother or sister poorly were they standing there, nor should you communicate about people with dementia as though they cannot hear you. They are still actual, emotional people with beating hearts and living spirits. They have feelings. And ears.

  13. Don’t treat them as though they can’t give you a valid answer.
  14. It is always best to speak directly to seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia symptoms. If they can give you an answer, they will. Sometimes because they remember. Other times because the fog of confusion has lifted long enough to reach them. In other instances, maybe they still just know what they want. Just…ask ’em. See what they say.

  15. And if they usually say nothing, still don’t ignore them
  16. Often, seniors can become more and more withdrawn, silent, or even combative. It can be overwhelming to interact with seniors whose willingness to play nice is limited, or who simply cannot or will not speak up. And it can be easy to ignore, or let slip into the background the thoughts and feelings of the silent (or the aggressive). But in ignoring them, you may make their symptoms worse, only furthering the retreat. Take the time to engage with your senior. Smile! They know what you mean.

  17. No dear, yes Bob.
  18. Since you were a child, people have called out to you by your name. Your parents, friends and extended network give you a million loving little twists on that name, and a million more reasons to have a positive association with the sound of your own name called out. It’s a deeply engrained feeling, a near automatic response. For the person whose identity is slowly eroding, the name so often remains. So stop calling him “sweetheart,” and start trying “Bob.”

  19. Don’t mess with the golden rule.
  20. There are millions (more than five of them) living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia today. Nearly as many people nationwide suffering from the diseases as there are people in the metropolitan Atlanta area. That’s a lot of folks. So it bears repeating that if it was one day you, suffering with the symptoms, what would your hopes and wishes be? Surely, to be given the same love, dignity and grace that you would afford others when called upon. Keep that always in your heart as you care for those who suffer.

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