The Dos and Don’ts of Dementia Care

Caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia is both challenging and rewarding, but it is not as daunting as you might expect. Educating yourself about dementia and maintaining a positive and realistic attitude will help you to feel in control, even in situations that especially challenge you. Use our top ten list of dementia care do’s and don’ts to elevate your caregiving game and improve the care you provide for your clients or loved one!

Do: Set a positive mood.

Even though you may not realize it, your clients can almost always tell when you are unhappy. Use your attitude, body language, facial expressions, tone-of-voice, and even physical touch to set a respectful, positive mood. You’ll be surprised how far your own positive attitude can help limit your clients’ mood swings and other difficult behaviors.  

Don’t: Argue

Frequent mood swings and confusion are no doubt very frustrating for your clients struggling with dementia. If your response to their frustration can be interpreted as accusatory or belittling, you will put your client on the defensive and most likely make them even more angry in the process. Instead, respond with affection and reassurance. Stay focused on the issue at hand and react with both verbal and physical expressions of comfort, reassurance, and support. You might even consider hand-holding, hugging, and giving praise if all else fails.

Do: Limit distractions

Before speaking, turn off the TV, close the curtains, shut the door, or move to a quieter location. Address yourself and your client by name, get down on his or her level and maintain eye contact. This will make it much easier for both of you to engage in successful and meaningful conversation. 

*On the other hand, if your client becomes upset or agitated, you can use distractions to your advantage. Redirect the situation by changing the subject or the environment. It is important, however, to connect with your client before redirecting. You might say, “I see you’re feeling frustrated—I’m sorry you’re upset. Let’s go for a walk.”

Don’t: Engage in lengthy explanations.

Don’t give your clients too many choices, as this will only serve to frustrate and confuse them. Instead, focus on yes-or-no questions and use actual names of people and places rather than pronouns and abbreviations. State your message clearly by using small words and sentences. Speak slowly and distinctly, asking simple, answerable questions. 

Do: Remember the good ole’ days.

Remembering the past can be a soothing activity for those struggling with dementia. Though they may not be able to recall what they were doing 30 minutes ago, many clients can clearly remember what their lives were like 30 years ago, and they would most likely love to share it with you. Avoid asking questions involving short-term memory, such as what they had for lunch, but instead, ask general questions about the distant past since that information is much more likely to be retained. 

Don’t: Assume your client can self-manage tasks.

Never assume your clients with dementia can handle anything on their own. Break down activities into a series of steps, and gently remind them of steps they tend to forget or assist them with steps they are not able to complete on their own. Use visual cues and demonstrations to make tasks more manageable. 

Do: Plan for the future.

Listen with your eyes, ears, and heart. As the disease progresses, your client will inevitably need more care than you can provide. Constantly reassess the care needs and health status of your client and be open with your caregiving team about your findings. No matter how close you and your clients become, it is important to be realistic about the course of their disease. 

Don’t: Lose your sense of humor.

Dealing with dementia can be frustrating for both you and your clients, but do your best to try and keep things light. Most people with dementia retain their social skills and as such, love to laugh just as much as you do! (Just make sure your humor is not at your client’s expense!)

Do: Accept support.

Never be afraid to ask for help. Many caregivers find support groups immensely helpful in dealing with the stresses of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The task is certainly not easy and there will be moments when you need a helping hand. 

Don’t: Give up.

Your job as a caregiver is so important. Even on the hard days when you feel like you haven’t been able to connect with your client at all, just think of where your clients would be without you! You are the person responsible for their safety and well-being. You are the reason they are able to maintain a sense of normalcy at home. You are the special someone that allows their family members to remain family members and not 24/7 caregivers. Thank you for all of the amazing things you do to help these seniors in need!