Advice for daily life

It is natural to feel at a loss when dealing with a person with dementia. This even applies if you are a close family member. How can you help them – and perhaps prevent them from hurting themselves – yet at the same time show respect for their integrity and self-determination? 

  • Talk to them as normal. If the person is “living” in the old days, then talk about the old days. Do not forget that you are talking to an adult.
  • Do not try to correct the person. Never say “You can’t do that, it’s the wrong way, don’t you see?” 
  • Capture the person’s feelings and do not put pressure on their memory. Do not say “Do you remember what we did today?” Instead, say “We went out today picking flowers. They were so beautiful.”
  • When you feel yourself getting angry. Of course you can find yourself getting angry, but do not show it. Walk away and let it just wash over you – or, if possible, ask someone else to take over.
  • If the person has behaved inappropriately, do not point out to them that their behaviour was inappropriate. They will probably not remember the event, and pointing it out to them can create feelings of unease.
  • Do not talk about the person in front of others. Do not point out their failings to other people. In dementia patients, emotions function better than their intellectual capacities. No-one wishes to be made a fool of in front of other people.
  • Even if you can see that the person is unable to cope with the situation, do not let them see this. Try to ease the situation and put things right unobtrusively. For example, say “We can get help to do that” instead of “It would be better if I did that”.
  • Do not try to guide the person if they would like to do something else. Be accommodating and try to steer them in the right direction. It may be time to eat, but they want to go for a walk in the corridor. Tempt them by saying “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some meatballs?” or “Wouldn’t it taste good with meatballs? Shall we see if we have any?”
  • Try to use your “intuitive feelings”. In other words, good old common sense! How is the person expected to react and feel about what I am saying, or what I want them to do? Is it my wishes or theirs that is the driving force here?