Caring for Loved Ones with Dementia

older man with caretaker

The instances of dementia are on the rise along with the frustration levels of their caregivers. Here a Dementia Dialogue Trainer and caregiver to a sister with dementia provides realistic tips on how to better communicate and cope with someone with dementia.

senior man with dementia
We may well be creatures of the Information Age, but an increasing number of us are also, ironically, living in the age of missing information, thanks to the increasing prevalence of dementia-related disorders. The number of people impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia is rising at an alarming rate as baby boomers are getting older (age is the top risk factor for Alzheimer’s). Currently some 5.4 million in the US have Alzheimer’s, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia. And every 66 seconds, someone new is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; every 33 seconds for all dementias.

The result: many, many of us are caring for or dealing with loved ones who are struggling with some form of dementia. This can be stressful and difficult, on many levels. Here are some tips to help.

Communication Tips
People living with dementia have trouble organizing their thoughts and may have a delayed response to your question or statement. Always allow adequate time (four to five seconds at least) for a response, speak slowly but naturally and give clear, step-by-step instructions when asking them to do a task. Too much information all at once may increase their confusion and your loved may get frustrated and not want to cooperate.

If you see your loved one struggling to find words, help them out. They are often quite sensitive to our non-verbal cues and body language. Try visually demonstrating and gesturing in addition to verbal cues. Visual assistance is often more helpful in the middle to late stage of the condition. Focus on their feelings, not the facts.

Dealing with Challenging Behaviors
When a person is acting out and exhibiting challenging behaviors, it’s typically due to frustration. Caregivers may have the best intentions but don’t realize that they have to be the ones to change their expectations and “go into the patient’s world.” Those with dementia are incapable of coming back in to ours. Try to be empathetic and have realistic expectations. Don’t ask or expect them “to do what they used to do” or ask them, “don’t you remember I told you that already?” Doing so will only increase the sense of frustration or embarrassment, which may cause them to react by displaying challenging behaviors.

Instead, caregivers should strive to:

When I was a caregiver for my sister who lived with vascular dementia, the experience was challenging because I just wanted my sister back, and I finally had to realize that was never going to happen. When I took time to learn more about the condition and to look at the world from her view, the quality of life for both us became so much better. The intimacy shared on the journey can be very rewarding.

By Tina Davis, Certified Dementia Dialogue Trainer


The Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center is dedicated to ongoing Alzheimer’s disease research. Our program studies a variety of treatments for Alzheimer’s including those for prevention, current memory impairment, and disease related behaviors. If you or a loved one has memory concerns and/or are interested in being evaluated for Alzheimer’s research opportunities, please call (843) 724-2302.