Delivering care for dementia patients can be stressful. By understanding the experiences of people with dementia, caregivers can better provide for their patients.

Dementia is a clinical syndrome that involves impairment of intellectual abilities and affects all aspects of social and occupational functioning. Dementia results in the impairment of the ability to think, reason, follow instructions and comprehend speech, but also causes psychological problems and behavioral disruptions. As the symptoms of dementia worsen, individuals suffering from dementia need help performing various daily activities like cooking, bathing, and dressing. Understanding the symptoms and problems associated with dementia is essential for caregivers providing care to people living with dementia. To that end, here are some helpful tips for dementia caregivers:

1. Practice kindness.

Individuals with dementia may often experience pain without the caregiver being aware of it. As dementia progresses, it can result in disorganized speech and an inability to find words. Dementia patients are still able to experience feelings and emotions, but may not be able to communicate these feelings. Individuals affected with dementia, especially during the early and middle stages, may themselves feel frustrated due to the lack of control over their lives and their inability to remember things. Although they might not be able to always comprehend what is said to them, it is essential to show patience and compassion while communicating with a person affected by dementia.

2. Avoid arguments.

Arguments may arise due to various reasons, such as the individual affected by dementia refusing to follow instructions. If the individual with dementia refuses to follow instructions, it may be better to remind them after some time rather than persevering with the instructions. It is also advisable to provide instructions one at a time rather than providing them all at once.

Arguments may also arise when a person with dementia accuses their caregiver of stealing from or not taking good care of them. Paranoia and being overly suspicious are common symptoms of dementia. Rather than getting involved in arguments by directly denying their accusations, it is recommended to stay calm and downplay the situation.

3. Speak simply.

People with dementia may have trouble understanding speech, but this must not be understood as the patient being uncooperative. They may respond affirmatively to questions without comprehending the meaning of the question. It is essential to communicate with dementia patients in simple terms by asking simple questions or providing a single instruction at a time. Care must be taken to maintain a natural tone of voice and focus more on feelings than facts. On the other hand, caregivers may underestimate a person with dementia’s ability to comprehend speech and communicate. The caregiver must try to avoid coming across as patronizing by means of careful observation of the dementia patient’s behavior.

4. Remain patient.

Patients with dementia may perform many behaviors that caregivers find frustrating and annoying. It is useful to keep in mind that such behaviors are symptoms of dementia, and remaining calm is the best approach to dealing with them. Individuals affected by dementia may repeatedly ask the same question or repeat the same action. They may also persistently follow the caregiver around the house and get annoyed if they disappear from their sight. The increase in paranoia may also lead to accusations directed toward the caregiver. These behaviors must be handled with patience and calmness. Being mentally prepared for such challenges beforehand is useful.

5. Remember the power of touch.

Dementia patients may have trouble following instructions and performing daily activities such as bathing or dressing. A gentle touch can help direct attention to the task that the caregiver wants the dementia patient to perform. Besides being a powerful mode of non-verbal communication, touching and holding hands can also be comforting to the patient and provide relief from anxiety.

6. Laughter helps.

Although dementia patients may lose the capacity to perform basic activities, they may still retain the ability to laugh and have emotions. Individuals with dementia often suffer from anxiety, depression and a general sense of frustration. Laughter may bring much-needed relief as they try to cope with these symptoms of dementia. However, people with dementia may be especially sensitive to jokes and may take offense to the intended humorous remark, so caution is needed.

7. Give positive instructions.

Coping with the symptoms of dementia can be very frustrating for the dementia patient and may cause anxiety and agitation. Providing simple, positive instructions to the patient can make the task more manageable for the patient. Reassurance, while the patient engages in the task, can also be helpful.

8. Maintain a peaceful environment.

Dementia results in disorientation and confusion that may result in agitation or anxiety. Maintaining a peaceful environment by eliminating loud or distracting noises from the television and other appliances can prevent the dementia patient from becoming irritable. Many dementia patients may also use hearing aids that can amplify background noises and care must be taken to reduce those distractions. Dementia also results in a decline in visuospatial abilities and increased sensory sensitivity. Reducing clutter, avoiding bright colors and having furniture and objects with contrasting colors can help people with dementia navigate the environment more easily.

9. More medication isn’t necessarily the answer.

Antipsychotics, antidepressants, and sedatives are often prescribed to dementia patients for their mood-related problems involving depressionanxiety, and agitation. Most of these drugs have side effects, with some studies showing almost one-third of patients discontinuing the use of antipsychotics.

Drugs like antipsychotics are only modestly effective in ameliorating the psychological symptoms of dementia. Medications can be helpful for addressing specific behavioral and psychological symptoms, but non-pharmacological approaches involving various activities that provide meaningful stimulation can also be effective. Depending on the ability of the patient, engaging in musical activities, painting, dancing, and exercising can promote the overall well-being of the patient. Social interaction must also be encouraged.

10. Try to understand the reason for their behavior.

Dementia results in an impaired ability to reason, think and comprehend speech. Dementia patients may say that they understand something without actually comprehending what was said. It is essential to understand that this is not deliberate and dementia patients respond in such a manner due to neuronal degeneration that affects their abilities. Besides affecting intellectual abilities, dementia also triggers psychological symptoms such as agitation and increased suspiciousness. Although emotional outbursts by dementia patients can be distressing, one must remain calm and try to understand their frustration and the reasons behind their negative feelings.

11. Ask family members about their loved one’s preferences.

The quality of life of dementia sufferers can be improved by a better knowledge of their preferences with regard to hobbies and tastes. Ask the patient’s family about the things their loved one’s hobbies activities they enjoy. Providing intellectual and emotional stimulation through activities that the dementia patient enjoys is a better way of structuring their activities rather than imposing certain activities that they might not enjoy. Celebrating something the patient enjoys may also help the caregiver to better connect with the patient.

Individuals with substance use disorders are often at an increased risk of developing dementia. Some individuals may thus simultaneously suffer from dementia and a substance use disorder. In addition, family members of an individual with dementia may turn to substances to deal with the stress of caring for their loved one. If you or a loved one suffers from a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village specializes in the treatment of addiction along with co-occurring mood disordersReach out today for more information. 

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Deep Shukla
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Deep Shukla, PhD, MS
Dr. Deep Shukla graduated with a PhD in Neuroscience from Georgia State University in December 2018. Read more

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Schneider LS, Dagerman K, Insel PS. “Efficacy and adverse effects of atypi[…]bo-controlled trials.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, March 2006. Accessed June 19, 2019.

Douglas S, James I, Ballard C. “Non-pharmacological interventions in dementia.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, May 2004. Accessed June 19, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.