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How to Care for an Elder With Senile Dementia

Updated on January 31, 2014

Dementia is a disease that causes more than memory loss. It is a condition which affects a patient’s ability to reason and to learn. Over time dementia doesn’t just take away one’s memories, it alters their personalities too. When interacting with elders suffering from this heartbreaking disease, patience and a positive attitude are imperative for friends, family members and the caregiver. Having a sense of humor helps. Take the time to laugh about a certain predicament, but never directly at the patient.

What is Senile Dementia?

There are many kinds of dementia, all caused by various diseases and conditions. Senile dementia is a general loss of cognitive abilities occurring in seniors usually over the age of 65. According to the National Institute on Aging, one in seven people aged 71 and older have some form of dementia. Alzheimer's is the most common type of the disease. Vascular Dementia is the second most common. As baby-boomers continue to age, dementia is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. Learn all you can now because it may soon be your loved one affected by this condition.

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Helpful Tips When Caring for Dementia Patients

  • Join a support group. This is vital for a loved one who is caring for the patient. There are even online support groups that are helpful to the caregiver.
  • Engage the patient in various activities to offer social, mental and physical stimulation during the day.
  • Be involved with the patient as he or she performs daily tasks as this helps keep self-esteem.
  • Try to follow a structured daily routine. Dementia patients have difficulty dealing with change as it creates confusion. Having a routine lessens the patient’s defiance.
  • Appreciate and compliment the abilities the person still has. Keep your expectations of what the patient can do realistic. If your expectations are in line, you can expect less frustration for you both.
  • Dementia can bring on unwanted behaviors. Do not take this personally as it is the disease talking, not your loved one. If an elder says inappropriate things, it is best to redirect the conversation. Do not scold.
  • Confusion, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, irritability and depression are all common. Keep in mind dementia patients have good days and bad days. Appreciate the good days and be more accepting on the bad days.
  • Before asking the patient to do something, address him or her by their name. Break down all tasks into simple steps and give one direction at a time.
  • Refrain from debating over the correct answer. Dementia patients are easily confused. Their timeframe and reality is different from yours.
  • When you get frustrated, try not to blame the patient for your feelings. Dementia patients cannot change their behavior for you. Talk to a friend when you need to vent and try not to get angry at your loved one.
  • Have the hard discussions early. Take the opportunity when your loved one is first diagnosed to discuss the patient’s wishes for long-term care and make those plans together. The reality will be devastating at first but it will be a comfort to the caregiver to know they are following the patient’s wishes as the disease progresses and the elder is no longer able to articulate his thoughts.

Communicating With Elderly Patients

When you are speaking with a loved one or a patient, speak slowly and distinctly using clear words. Since dementia patients have difficulty with auditory processing, realize the importance of sensory touch. A simple gesture of slowly touching a person’s hand is helpful. Use a calm and reassuring voice. Clearly ask only one question at a time and give the patient ample time to respond. Rushing an older person can increase confusion.

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    • profile image

      Carrie 4 years ago

      Its so true. We all need to learn everything we can about dementia. It's a matter of time before we are all affected by it, either by getting it ourselves or having to provide care for someone who has it. Research seems to be focused on determining who will get it, not how to cure it.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Liz, thank you for your comments. You are right--it is hard sometimes not to debate with a dementia patient, especially when they are a loved one. Sometimes they seem so "with it" it is hard to remember they are not the same as they once were.

    • profile image

      Liz Walmoth 5 years ago

      These are some very good tips on caring for and communicating with someone who has dementia. I think "refrain from debating over the correct answer" is a great one to list, because it can be so easy to forget. Great hub!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Hi Nancy. I am so sorry you are going through this with your Mom. I know it must be hard. Knowledge is your best friend right now. Leran all you can about dementia so you can help your mom. My other dementia related hub has useful links to resources that may be helpful. See the green arrow above to the link. Alzheimer's Association is the link for Georgia. A neurologist can make a diagnosis. You mom is probably scared to be in a new place too. Hopefully her daytime caregiver has experience with dementia patients. Your mom is lucky to have you. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Nancy Kirkendall 5 years ago

      I think my mom has undiagnosed dimensia. She has started accusing me of stealing her money and running up her credit cards. She was so convinced, she had her "Day-Caregiver" call Belk today to see how much I had charged on her account. She then started in on me when I got home from work and continued accusing me of hiding her things (like bank statements) and stealing money from her account. I can't say that I handled the situation real well as she was speaking to me very angrily and I didn't respond well. Who do I go see to start with? Since I just moved her here to Georgia from Mississippi, she doesn't trust the doctor anymore than she trusts me. I really need help!!!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      You are most welcome AliciaC. There is so much to learn about the various types of dementia it can be overwhelming and scary too. You are wise to start learning about it sooner, rather than later. Is the person you know on any medication for its symptoms? Sometimes that can be helpful in the early stages.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the useful suggestions for dealing with someone who has dementia, LauraGSpeaks. I know somebody who is in the early stage of dementia. Of course I hope that his condition doesn't get worse, but I want to be prepared in case it does. Articles such as yours are very helpful.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Hi angela_michelle. I think you are right about it being counterproductive to debate or disagree with them. The example of the "recycling" pens is a creative solution to a small dilemma that could haved resulted in a lot of anger had it been handled differently. A peaceful approach is always best. Thanks for reading and sharing your story.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      This is very good article. I think a big one is don't disagree with them when they become paranoid. This will only make them angry and frustrated. If they are convinced someone is stealing their hangers, then buy them an extra stash to hide from people who come in the house. This puts the power back in their hands. A lady who takes care of her elderly mom did this.

      Another thing she did was when her mom was convinced that all her pens were junk, because she tilted back in her chair to use them, which caused the ink to go to the top and not write. Instead of explaining what happened, she told her mom that she was getting recycleable pens, since pens now a days are made so poorly. She then has two packets. One that her mom puts in a container to be recycled once they have gone "dead" and a second that is at home, sitting in a holder so the ink goes back to the tip. She then brings the box of pens as if they are newly recycled.

      Her mom can't understand that its not the pens fault, and instead of arguing with her, she is able to make her mom feel like she has some control in her world. She may not be able to have decent pens that don't work well, and she refuses markers, crayons, or pencils, she only wants pens and a certain kind at that. But she is willing to recycle pens each week.

      I think finding those little helpful hints is what makes a world of difference.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thanks for reading ragged. Dementia is very difficult for all those involved. Patients get confused often and sometimes do lash out at loved ones. I believe they are scared. They must feel so out of control.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 5 years ago from Wales

      This is so useful. My grandmother accused my mother of stealing money from her wallet and they didn't speak for months. Much, much later my grandmother was diagnosed with senile dementia - if only we'd have known earlier, a lot of anguish may have been avoided.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Laura ~ Throughout my life, in between jobs, I have worked as a caregiver for the elderly. So I very much appreciated this article. Dementia certainly can be heartbreaking to the patient as well as those around them. Thank you for writing this helpful hub!