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The Do’s and Don’ts of Handling a Loved One with Dementia

by Dr Prem Community Writer
Handling a Loved One with Dementia

A dementia diagnosis isn’t only life changing for the patient, but for family and friends as well. Many things accompany a dementia diagnosis including memory loss, the inability to perform basic skills and tasks, and a breakdown of cognitive function. While this is very frustrating and sad for the patient, it’s also very difficult for those who love them most. It may even be more difficult for family and friends of the dementia patient. That’s because the patient may not even realize what’s happening, whereas those that love them most have to witness and handle the patient’s mental deterioration. So what can you do, as a loved one, to help deal with a dementia diagnosis in your family? Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind

What You Should Do

If someone close to you is diagnosed with dementia, you’ll need an action plan. Even if your loved one is admitted to an assisted living or has in-home care, there are still things to keep in mind during your interactions.

Remain Calm

Dementia patients can sometimes be defiant and even aggressive. This behavior usually occurs when the person doesn’t want to comply with what they’re being asked to do. If they don’t want to eat, shower, or perform other basic tasks, they’re defiance can quickly escalate to anger and aggression.

Knowing how to react will help the situation from escalating any further. Remember that your loved one isn’t acting out on purpose. Usually, bursts of anger in dementia patients are caused by something else like an unfamiliar environment, physical discomfort, or confusion.

Don’t be surprised if this anger actually morphs into physical contact like hitting, smacking, or biting. Try to pinpoint the cause of their anger. Are they uncomfortable or in pain? Are they feeling overwhelmed or tired? You’ll likely need to determine these things based on your knowledge of the patient because it may be difficult to ask questions and get a helpful, clear response.

Once you’ve eliminated the catalyst, you can try to shift or change the subject. Turn the patient’s focus to something else and speak in calm, soothing tone. If you think it’ll help, place your hand on your loved one’s shoulder or hand. Sometimes, physical contact can help ease your love one’s stress and anxiety. According to Jane Byrne, project manager at a nursing home in Kildare, “Dementia is also a progressive disease, which means that over time it will get worse, not better. It’s important that you’re realistic about your loved one’s diagnosis and what it means for their quality of life. Over time, they will most likely need daily care and assistance. This might be finding an assisted living program for them, hiring an in-house nurse or caregiver, or taking time off from work to be with them.”

Be Realistic

No one wants to accept that their loved one is changing or mentally deteriorating. But sadly, over time, dementia will change the person you once knew. While some medications can help treat the side effects and symptoms of dementia, the disease is non-reversible.

Dementia is also a progressive disease, which means that over time it will get worse, not better. It’s important that you’re realistic about your loved one’s diagnosis and what it means for their quality of life. Over time, they will most likely need daily care and assistance. This might be finding an assisted living program for them, hiring an in-house nurse or caregiver, or taking time off from work to be with them.

If the patient remains in their own home, you may need to make some adjustments to accommodate their condition. Things like keeping pathways clear, helping them organize their belongings, and providing good lighting throughout the house can all make a dementia patient’s life easier. You can learn more here about keeping your loved one with dementia safe in their own home.

What You Shouldn’t Do

Constantly Correct Misinformation

Handling a Loved One with DementiaBecause dementia is a progressive disorder that negatively affects the person’s cognitive function, the memory of your loved one would slowly start fading. This can happen over time and exhibit itself in a variety of ways. The patient might start by simply mixing up dates, times, and people’s names. They might recall events that they believe happened recently but were actually many days, months, or even years prior.

Not all the information that dementia patients recall will be accurate. It may seem as if your loved one is fabricating stories but keep in mind that to them, these are truths. They believe what they’re saying and as long as it’s not harmful to themselves or others, there’s no real benefit to correcting them.

Avoid nitpicking over dates, facts, and information that the patient believes to be true. Being overly critical might excite and aggravate the dementia patient, causing unnecessary emotional stress. If the patient asks you questions regarding what they think or remember, you can tell them the correct information. But if they’re adamant about something you know isn’t true, simply let it go or change the subject. The only time correcting a dementia patient about what they’re saying is acceptable and important is if it’s related to their immediate care, specifically medications.

Don’t allow your loved one to take more medication than needed or not take it at all, based on what they believe to be true. This is the one instance where you can be somewhat stern with your loved one and explain that this is something they need to do. If the patient becomes combative, try calming them down or talk about something else but be sure to revisit the subject a short time later.

Get Defensive or Frustrated

Dealing with a dementia patient can become very frustrating and both emotionally and physically exhausting. That’s because dementia patients are often very adamant about what they believe or “know” and what they want. Arguing with them can excite them, which causes a spike in their blood pressure and heart rate. If the patient verbally or physically attacks you, walk away. Take a break and ask for help.

It’s especially difficult dealing with a dementia patient if they are close to you – a mother, father, sibling, or grandparent. That’s because it becomes hurtful when they say and do unpleasant things. It’s important not to take these behaviors personally and to understand that they don’t mean to act out. The best thing you can do for them is to remain calm. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and take turns visiting and offering care to the dementia patient in your life.

Dementia is a very scary and difficult diagnosis for all those involved. It’s life changing for both the patient and those who love them most. The more knowledge you have about dementia and what to expect, the better you can handle the situation and provide your loved one with the patient, nurturing care they need.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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