Living with Someone with Dementia
1. Don't Ask Them if They Remember or Why They Don't Remember
I learned early-on from some literature about Alzheimer's and dementia what not to do. One should never ask a dementia-sufferer, "Don't you remember?" or "Remember when...?" It will most likely only upset him or her, and frustrate you in the process. Instead, just meet them where they are in this exact moment in time. "Now" is their reality. For example, my grandfather may ask me five times in an hour, "What day is it today?" or "Is it Monday?" but I'm careful not to ask him, "Don't you remember I told you a few minutes ago?" I just say, "It's Sunday." Then he'll look at his watch, which gives him the day of the week and month, and he'll say, "Oh, you're right!" It does require a lot of patience, of course, but that's what people in this state of mind need most from us: lots of patience and understanding.
2. Get Used to Repeating Yourself
You're going to be repeating yourself. A lot. You're going to be repeating yourself. A LOT. (See what I did there?) Yes, it can be mentally draining. Yes, it can get frustrating. But keep in mind that it's not the dementia-sufferer's fault that he or she doesn't remember. They don't want to be this way. Remember to have compassion and try not to show frustration. Just calmly answer their questions again. Get yourself used to the idea that you're going to sound like a broken record, but to your relative, each time seems like the very first time they are hearing the information.
3. Don't Argue
Arguing with someone who has dementia is worse than arguing with a three-year-old, because chances are they literally do not recall the conversation you had five minutes ago. So don't even attempt to argue with them. As best as you can, remain neutral or stay in agreement, or just stay quiet. To them, their reality is accurate and true, and it's all they know, even if you know it doesn't make logical sense. Sometimes the best thing to do is just say, "Okay", and smile and nod. Or, change the subject.
Sometimes its necessary to redirect him or her to a new topic of conversation, if something is upsetting or could cause conflict. For example, while looking at cars and trucks for sale in the newspaper, my grandpa can start to get upset that he doesn't drive anymore. Since it's not safe for him to be on the road, but he doesn't want to accept that fact, it's helpful to redirect him to another topic, if possible. I might say, "Papa, I picked some lemons off your tree. Would you like me to make us some lemonade?" Changing the subject to something more pleasant is the best thing to do.
5. Don't Engage in Negative Conversation
Often times, people with dementia can become paranoid, or get angry/upset about things they don't understand. For instance, Uncle Joe may get upset that his adult daughter took away his firearm for safety purposes. He doesn't realize that with him forgetting who people are, he is liable to shoot someone he doesn't recognize, who in fact may be a beloved relative or friend. If the name of the daughter gets brought up, he may remember that his gun was taken away and become agitated. "I ought to have my daughter arrested", Uncle Joe may say. Or, "I'm taking her out of my will." It's best not to defend or explain the situation, as it will only upset the person and cause an argument. As much as possible, just stay quiet, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Revert back to changing the subject or activity, if necessary. For example, "Would you like to go for a walk with me?" or, "Is there anything good on TV today?" or "Did the weatherman say it will rain again today?"
6. Pray for Compassion/Patience and Seek Support from the Community
Pray for continued compassion, empathy and patience when dealing with a relative with dementia. There are many issues that may arise that you might not know how to cope with. Consider joining an online forum regarding caring for elders with dementia--or, even better--an in-person dementia support group. Getting the support and encouragement you need, from people who have been there or are currently going through the same circumstances, is absolutely vital! Hopefully you will encounter some good advice and likeminded individuals to help you along your journey as you care for your loved one.
7. Treat Others How You Want to Be Treated
As difficult as it can be sometimes, people with dementia need our kindness and understanding. Remember that you could be in the very same position someday, of losing your memory. So be kind and compassionate, and loving, remembering to treat your relative how you would want to be treated in a similar circumstance.
8. Try Not to Be Easily Offended
It can be easy to get offended by a person with dementia, because he or she can say really hurtful comments sometimes. Even if the person was very kind and tactful in their younger years, that can all change when dementia rears its ugly head. If he or she was not so tactful to begin with, it can obviously be even worse. Try not to be offended if your loved one makes rude or hurtful comments, because the disease is most likely responsible for it and what he or she is saying is not how they truly feel.