How to Care for a Loved One with Dementia

Family caregiver serving food to loved one. [Credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz] / [Dreamstime]

Dementia touches most everyone, whether they have it or know someone who does.

Dementia is the gradual loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering and reasoning), which eventually interferes with a person’s daily life. Dementia is a set of symptoms, not a disease. Memory loss is a common dementia symptom and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

As dementia progresses, people cannot manage their lives on their own and depend more on others for help. Their caregivers are often family.

When caring for a loved one with dementia, caregivers should:

  1. Make decisions in advance. Have conversations about finances, health care, transportation and living arrangements, while it is still possible for the loved one to participate in the decision making process.
  2. Research resources. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start—offering a 24-hour hotline and local support groups.
  3. Stay active. Encourage the loved one to remain socially active and continue to pursue activities he/she enjoys.
  4. Play music. Dementia patients often respond to music from an era when they were active, and music is a great way to involve a younger generation in caregiving and connecting with the loved one.
  5. Make safety a priority. Keeping the loved one safe becomes a big issue as dementia progresses. It may be necessary to schedule additional in-home help or move the loved one into a care facility.
  6. Manage medications. Keep a current medication list and seek medical assistance in eliminating drugs that might cause or add to your loved one’s confusion. Use pill boxes to manage medications and seek pharmacies that can prepackage medications in daily doses.
  7. Stay calm. Personality and behavior changes, especially agitation and depression, are all common symptoms of dementia. Try to be agreeable in your conversations and do not argue, unless there is imminent danger.
  8. Keep to a routine. Maintain regular routines in a calm, familiar environment to help reduce the stress and anxiety that often occurs in people with dementia.
  9. Take care of yourself. Caregiving can be extremely stressful and comes at great cost, often including a loss of the relationship with the loved one.