Witnessing the age decline of someone you love can be heartbreaking. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be taxing both physically and emotionally. Many of us are now experiencing the stressful transition of seeing our aging loved ones needing more and more care.

If you’ve always considered yourself a level-headed person, it can come as quite a shock to find yourself becoming snappy, irritable, and angry with a loved one who has dementia. Even the calmest caregiver can lose it occasionally, but it’s essential not to lose your cool with a dementia patient. One reason is that people who have dementia are sensitive to your moods. If they feel afraid of you, for instance, that could have a negative impact on the caregiving and care-receiving relationship that is ideally supposed to be rooted in trust.

You have to remind yourself that a dementia patient is doing the very best they can. They are not deliberately acting out or forgetting things on purpose. And until they are in the later stages of dementia, with zero control of their thought processes, they regret their actions and inability to cope with life just as much as those around them.

Avoid these don’ts

Is there a particular way to successfully navigate a conversation with someone who has dementia so that you can keep a level head? Well, there are a few don’ts to avoid when trying to communicate with dementia patients:

Don’t bombard them with too many questions. If you ask a question, keep it simple. For instance, do you want soup or a sandwich? Refrain from asking multiple-choice questions like do you want soup, a sandwich, last night’s leftovers, or should I have a pizza delivered?

Don’t ask open-ended questions like what do you want for breakfast tomorrow?

Don’t criticize, correct, or argue.

Don’t yell when speaking! Raising your voice might make them frazzled, embarrassed, angry or result in a complete shutdown on their part. So, maintain your cool when communicating!

Don’t humiliate by putting them in a position of guessing. Don’t ask them to recognize someone whom they might have forgotten. Set them up for success by telling them the person’s name and explaining their role in your lives.

Don’t dismiss feelings. If they are having a bad or good day, acknowledge their feelings.

Don’t complete sentences. If they have difficulty completing a thought, exercise patience and allow them the time to do so.

Don’t argue when they are confused in their thinking because they do not understand the reality of their circumstances. Try, instead, to redirect the conversation to reduce their level of anxiety.

Try these do’s

Now, here are a few do’s to stick to so that your communication with a dementia patient is not an emotional struggle:

Shorten and simplify your language to keep their attention and wait for a response.

Limit the choices you offer to them.

Exercise eye contact so that your words are more impactful and understood.

Try some humor to keep things light but never laugh at them.

Learn their body language.

Speak clearly and slowly.

Try not to have distractions like loud music or TV in the background when interacting with them.

Do things together that might drum up some fond memories, like cooking a fave family recipe, dancing, or singing an oldie but favorite goodie.

Use nonverbal cues like pointing to things if they don’t understand.

Be respectful and, most importantly, patient!

Know that there’s a fine line between caring and controlling.

Understand this is the final stage of your journey with your elderly loved one. Try to put frustration, anger, or impatience aside and help make this time meaningful for them and you. It is crucial to understand that a dementia patient wants to feel emotionally connected and accepted, even in a diminished state.

Help for caregivers

If you are a caregiver for an elderly loved one, there are resources that can provide you with information that runs the gamut on dementia and elder care:
  1. Adult Children of Aging Parents – This organization provides information, resources, and support for adult children and caregivers of aging parents.

2. Alzheimer’s Association – Find out how to identify Alzheimer’s and other dementia and find support for caregivers at this association’s website.

3. Family Caregiver Alliance – This group provides services to family caregivers of adults with physical and cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and other types of dementia.

4. Family Care Navigator – A resource from Family Caregiver Alliance, this page helps connect you to essential family caregiver resources for your state.

5. National Council on Aging – This group is an advocacy organization helping older Americans and their caregivers. Among its services is the BenefitsCheckUp, which identifies programs and services seniors are eligible for.

6. National Elder Law Foundation – This organization’s site includes a feature to help you find a certified elder law attorney near you.

7. National Alliance for Caregiving – This advocacy group supplies caregivers with tip sheets, podcasts, publications, and websites on a variety of topics.

8. Caring Connections – From the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, this site offers a wealth of resources for caregivers and families of seniors.

9. Aging Life Care Association – Formerly known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. This site explains how aging life care professionals can help with common age-related challenges and provides a directory to help you locate a professional. These professionals usually have to be paid out of pocket, but they can be a huge help for families providing care at a distance or just if you need extra help problem-solving.

10. Lotsa Helping Hands – This free caregiving coordination service provides a private group calendar where caregivers can post tasks that friends and family can help with.

11. For families of Vets… The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers mission is to promote the health and well-being of family caregivers who care for our nation’s Veterans. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support Program (CSP) carries out its mission through the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS). PGCSS provides peer support mentoring, skills training, coaching, telephone support, online programs, and referrals to available resources to caregivers of Veterans.

The Veteran must be enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and be receiving care from a caregiver in order for the caregiver to participate. Caregivers who participate in PGCSS are called General Caregivers. General Caregivers do not need to be a relative or live with the Veteran. Here’s an added bonus, the adult caregiver can even get paid the Medicaid-approved hourly rate for home care which is specific to their state. Caregivers can expect to earn between $9.00 and $19.25 per hour to care for a vet.