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3 dementia care tips for families

When a loved one has dementia, their needs and abilities change significantly over time. In addition to facing cognitive challenges, dementia can involve physical and emotional issues and even impact a person’s personality to some extent. This can be hard on family members and is often overwhelming for those in a caregiving role.

In an effort to provide support to families dealing with dementia, here are three dementia care tips. If you’d like to learn about personalized in-home support, please contact us.

Focus on clarity and routine

When communicating with a person who has dementia, speak slowly and clearly. If possible, make eye contact and eliminate distractions such as the noise from a television or radio. Use their name as much as possible and identify yourself as needed. An example of this would be saying, “Aunt Margaret, I’m here to take you grocery shopping.” If your loved one asks who you are, remain calm and positive. Do not question their ability to remember your name or insist that they know you. Instead, respond factually by saying something like, “I’m your niece, Mary, and I’m here to take you grocery shopping.”

Having consistent routines will help establish comfort and trust, so try to develop a simple schedule for things like meal time, bathing and hygiene, rest times and more. 

Go step by step

Individuals with dementia often struggle with complicated questions or too much information, so try communicating one step at a time. If you’re taking your loved one to a doctor’s appointment and want them to use the washroom and put on outerwear before leaving the house, for example, focus on a single task and then move on to the next one. First, encourage them to use the washroom. Once they’re done, ask them to put on their shoes (or help them as needed). Next, hand them their jacket and ask them to put it on (again, helping as needed). This approach is often more effective than listing multiple steps at once, and will help maintain a state of calm.

The same sentiment applies to communication at home, particularly when questions are involved. For example, ask your loved one, “Would you like a sandwich?” and then, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” instead of asking both questions at the same time. It may also help to avoid asking too many open-ended questions (“what would you like for lunch?”) as clear, specific questions can be easier to understand and respond to.

Be positive and empathetic

It’s very important to maintain a calm, friendly tone when speaking to individuals with dementia. Be aware of your body language, make frequent eye contact and smile often. You may want to hold their hand or give it an affectionate squeeze when speaking with them. If they repeat themselves, answer again rather than pointing out the repetition. Share a friendly joke and invite laughter into the conversation, and if they become frustrated, try to redirect them. 

You don’t want to “baby” a dementia patient as they are adults who deserve respect. However, it often makes sense to use an approach that would work with a child (simple instructions, praise and redirection, for example) but in language and tone that reflect their age. Empathy and kindness go a long way, and patience is key when dementia is involved.

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Living Assistance Services in Toronto is pleased to offer free resources that may help families dealing with dementia. Additionally, we provide one-on-one, in-home caregiver services that support individuals with conditions including Alzheimer’s Disease. Our team of dedicated Personal Support Workers (PSWs) services the greater Toronto area with partnerships in Halton and Hamilton. For a personalized consultation and quote, please contact us—we’d be pleased to hear from you.

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