Caring for a Family Member with Dementia

Caring for a family member with dementia is daunting, and at times stressful, endeavor. There is currently no cure for the degenerative condition, meaning that, at some point, many Americans will be forced to care for someone with dementia. There are currently more than 16 million people caring for a person with dementia in the United States.

In the early stages, it’s likely your loved one may not need too much additional support. However, this is the proper time to start learning about caring for a family member with dementia. If you wait until they need around-the-clock care, it will be much harder for both of you to adjust to these changes. Take the time to learn about your loved one’s dementia early on so you can properly plan for their future. Start with these tips.

Communicate clearly

First and foremost, you must learn how to effectively communicate with someone with dementia. As the disease progresses, some can start having difficulty speaking on top of remembering things. Do what you can to keep interactions positive and focused (this means limiting distractions when trying to hold a conversation). When trying to get a message across, be clear and keep things simple. Open-ended questions are likely to frustrate them.

Remember these simple “do’s” and “don’ts” when communicating with someone who has dementia.


  • …Tell your loved one who you are if they appear to be confused.
  • …Listen to their concerns. If they’re struggling with words, watch for nonverbal cues.
  • …Distract or redirect if necessary. Address whatever it is that is concerning them (“I’m sorry you’re feeling this way”) and offer means of distraction (“Let’s read your favorite book”).
  • …Repeat yourself even if you’ve only just jogged their memory a few minutes ago.
  • …Reminisce on the “good old days.” Your loved one may not remember what happened a few weeks ago, but they will remember what happened 25 years ago. Indulge them with stories of the past.


  • …Say “Do you remember? How can you not remember that?” as this may frustrate them.
  • …Point out memory issues. Repetition is always key, as saying “I just told you,” can seem demeaning.
  • …Talk as if they aren’t there. If you and another person are in a conversation, include your loved one in it.
  • …Overuse pronouns—for example, “that, this, it, him.” Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “Grab it,” say “Grab the Charles Dickens book.”

Help reduce their frustrations

Those with dementia are more likely to experience agitation, irritability, and even verbal or physical aggression. For many with dementia, frustrations arise from a perceived lack of control. Allow your loved ones to do as much for themselves as possible. Try to pose yourself as a support in their life as opposed to taking over for certain things.

Frustration and agitation can also be provoked by one’s diet. Caffeine and sugar cause spikes of energy, which can attribute to these problems. Make sure to limit these in the diet. Also offer a variety of calming outlets, such as soothing music, reading, or walks. Again, distractions help when one grows vexed.

Everyday care tips

Routine is one of the best things to stress as one’s dementia progresses. Those with dementia may be better in the morning than in the evening. Keep this in mind as you prepare a daily routine for them. It may be better to schedule appointments early in the morning and leave easier tasks for later in the day.

Make time every day to do things they enjoy that are stimulating. For instance, get outside as often as you can. Involve them in group activities that not only boost their creativity but give them a social outlet.

Sleep problems and sundowning

One symptom of dementia is the exacerbation of restlessness, disorientation, and other troubling behaviors at the end of the day. This is commonly known as “sundowning,” which can occur due to exhaustion or a confused biological clock. There are things you can do to help limit this symptom.

Discourage napping throughout the day by providing them a variety of daytime activities– ones that include exercise are better. When night falls, close curtains to darken the home and minimize shadows that can confuse. Make sure your following activities are quiet and calm, such as playing a card game or listening to music.


Wandering can be dangerous for seniors with dementia, especially when it happens in the middle of the night. Preventing wandering can be a bit of a challenge, as you don’t want your loved ones to feel trapped, but you want them to be safe.

Instead of using child locks that may frustrate them, consider installing an alarm system. This could be a professional system, or even something as effective as jingle bells that ring every time the door is opened. It is also important to give your loved one an identification bracelet that includes their name, address, phone number, and medical conditions. If they do wander, someone, will be able to get in contact with you should they find your loved one.

Safety Tips

When caring for an elderly loved one, you need to take the proper steps to ensure the house is safe for them. There are things you might not even consider to be dangerous that can pose a great deal of danger to your family member.

  • Remove any tripping hazards, such as small rugs and electrical cords.
  • Replace curtains and rugs with busy patterns that can confuse and dizzy your loved one.
  • Lock up dangerous household products, such as cleaners or matches.
  • Lower the temperature of the water heater to avoid burns
  • Install safety plugs in unused electrical outlets.
  • If you have stairs, make sure they are easy to climb. Put carpet or safety grips on the steps. If there are no handrails, install at least one.
  • Make sure all rooms and outdoor spaces have quality lighting.

Take care of yourself

In caring for another person, it’s all too easy to neglect to care for oneself. It is essential you take this time. If you allow your personal needs to slip, it will not only poorly impact your health, but your ability to care for your loved one.

Make sure you take the necessary steps to ensure all your needs are cared for. Eat a balanced diet, take breaks, keep up with hobbies, and join a support group. If you find it difficult to get away, call upon the help of a friend, family member, or respite care.

You can be paid for your work

If you have been acting as a caregiver for your loved one with dementia, you can be paid for the work you already do. Home Care Powered by AUAF is contracted by the Illinois Department of Aging (IDoA) to train caregivers who are already caring for a loved one with all the proper care techniques. Upon completion of the program, you can be paid to work with your loved one.

If you have any questions about the program, or if you’d like to hire a caregiver, call us at 773-274-9262.

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