What Shouldn’t You Do If Your Loved One Has Dementia?
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What Shouldn’t You Do If Your Loved One Has Dementia?

Dementia is a general term describing a group of progressive diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and dozens of others. These conditions all affect cognitive abilities, such as recalling from memory, communicating, socializing, coordinating motor functions, and solving problems. However, most people will not develop dementia as they age, and forgetfulness or problems with multitasking are not inherently signs of dementia. A diagnosis can only be made with clinical dementia tests, including neurological exams, brain imaging, and thorough functional assessments.

Any form of dementia may also take a psychological toll on people living with it, exhibited as anxiety, mood swings, changes in personality, paranoia, agitation, or depression. These symptoms arise as reactions to stimuli or expressions of needs that can’t be communicated, and people with dementia and their caregivers alike can benefit from knowing common patterns to avoid.

Supporting and caring for someone with a cognitive health condition calls for patience and understanding. You’ll need the patience to move at your loved one’s pace and a good understanding of their state of mind to make the right care choices. At Town Square, we don’t just provide the best in dementia-focused senior day care services; we also are committed to caregiver education and support. Find a location near you, contact us today to set up a tour, or see below for more information on what not to do when interacting with someone with dementia.

What Are 5 Things to Never Say to A Person with Dementia?

Don’t Tell Them They’re Wrong About Something

One of the main symptoms of dementia is confusion about facts and events. Although it might be difficult, avoid instantly correcting your loved one whenever they make a mistake or say something untrue. Telling them they are wrong flat-out will likely just embarrass or upset them and won’t actually change their perception of the situation.

You can simply agree with your loved one’s account in the moment and move forward. If this isn’t possible for any reason, try steering the conversation in a different direction by changing the subject or directing their attention to something else.

Don’t Argue with Them

Avoid starting conflicts with a person who has dementia or trying to forcefully persuade them. More than likely, someone with dementia will not be able to intentionally change their mind or agree to a compromise like someone in good cognitive health would. Even if you remain calm and speak logically, arguments will only lead to frustration, anger, and agitation, which might exacerbate emotional distress.

Don’t Ask If They Remember Something and Press Them On It

Avoid starting any questions with the phrase “Do you remember…” Keep in mind that memory loss is one of the hallmarks of dementia. Asking things like this won’t actually help your loved one recall less accessible or clear memories, and will typically just lead to more confusion. Instead, use less intrusive phrasing. For instance, start conversations like this with a statement: “I remember when…”

Don’t Remind Them of a Deceased Loved One

Don’t discuss a family member, friend, or colleague who’s passed away. People with dementia vary in what they can remember about a deceased person, no matter how close they were to that individual. The sensation of knowing you’ve lost someone who was important to you, but not recalling the details of your relationship with them, would understandably be painful.

Unfortunately, there are no rules on what to say when a person with dementia asks the whereabouts of a deceased spouse, friend, or family member. It depends on the individual and how they’ve previously handled news of death. Sometimes it’s easier to brush over the question, while other times, an honest but reassuring answer is better.

Don’t Bring Up Topics That Might Upset Them

People with dementia are just as much individuals as people in good cognitive health, so there are differing things that those with dementia prefer to talk about and prefer not to discuss. If you’ve noticed a certain topic causes a negative response, you should avoid saying anything about it rather than trying to sway your loved one’s opinion. You may also have to outwardly agree to opinions and positions you disagree with in order to move the conversation forward.

What Actions Should You Avoid with an Individual with Dementia?

Avoid Using Complicated Language

People with dementia have difficulty understanding complex language and instructions. That’s something you have to consider in every interaction. Take your time and express yourself in simple and clear language when communicating with someone with dementia. Concise and clear speech leaves less room for ambiguity and hence reduces confusion and indecision. Here are a few examples:

  • Avoid open-ended questions and simplify them into binary choices. Instead of asking, “What would you like to drink?”, for example, say, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
  • Break down instructions into digestible, single-action sequences. For instance, rather than asking a loved one to put on their coat, hat, and glasses and pick up their cane in order to head outside, bring up these steps one by one.
  • Avoid using abstract speech. Slang, sarcasm, idioms, and figures of speech are all examples of abstraction. At times, individuals with dementia can only think concretely and simply won’t understand abstract phrases.

Don’t Rush or Force Activities

Allow your loved one to move at their own pace and don’t force them into anything they don’t want to do. Remember, people with dementia can still make their own choices.

It’s best to ease a person with a cognitive condition into doing something rather than pushing. For instance, if you have planned an activity for the day, prepare them well in advance. Build some anticipation ahead of time and get them excited about the activity. Rushing, spontaneous events, and demanding will only lead to stress.

Don’t Disregard Emotional Needs

People with dementia may not be in full control of how they express their emotions. Nevertheless, it’s important for caregivers to remain emotionally open. To do that, you must first understand that your loved one’s emotional outbursts are not personal, even when they seem directed at you. Second, acknowledge the existence of the concerns no matter what their basis may be.

Here are some of the ways to be emotionally conscious around a person with dementia:

  • Stay positive and be encouraging
  • Validate their emotions by actively listening and showing empathy
  • Avoid criticism, harsh language, and belittling comments
  • Avoid using negative words such as don’t, no, and can’t
  • Do not think of a person with dementia as a victim or sufferer
  • Do not assume they don’t understand you
  • Avoid using an aggressive and frustrated tone

How Town Square Supports Our Members and Their Families

Town Square offers our members an enriching and joyous experience during each weekday, and our programming is always filled with social connections, therapeutic reminiscence, creativity, and fun. Our staff is able to provide an exceptional level of care thanks to their leading dementia care training, and we also uplift the primary caregivers of our members through support groups, education, and much more. Contact us today to find out more about Town Square or to set up a tour at your nearest location.