Learning How To Calmly And Clearly Deal With A Parent With Dementia

Interactinv with dementia patient
Dealing with a parent with dementia can be challenging as you realize you may need to change your way of communicating with them. Rather than remind them of what they can’t do, speak calmly, emphasize the positive, and set up a comforting routine. Don’t be afraid it ask or help and use outside services in the community.

Being a caregiver to aging parents is both fulfilling and challenging. Your responsibility significantly heightens if your mom or dad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia. To ensure they have the best quality of life possible, you must learn to embrace several changes — including how you communicate with them.

How Should Your Communication Style Change With Your Parent’s Changing Abilities?

The National Institute on Aging notes that aging remains one of the leading risk factors for many chronic diseases and conditions. These include Alzheimer’s and dementia, which affect around 11% of American adults aged 65 and above. 

The signs of dementia include memory loss, difficulty in communication, and inability to perform activities of daily living. As they exhibit cognitive decline, you must change your communication style to care for their well-being effectively.

Here are valuable communication skills that anyone looking after a dementia patient must have.

Explaining documents to deimentia patien

1. Speaking Clearly And Calmly

When talking to them, speak slowly and choose words that aren’t difficult to understand. Don’t bombard them with questions, instructions, or reminders. Remain calm when speaking — loud or high-pitched voices can trigger patients to become agitated. 

2. Reducing Distractions

To reduce their risk of agitation and irritability when you’re communicating with them, you also have to create an environment where there are minimal distractions (e.g., television or radio noise). Sit at eye level and maintain eye contact so they can focus on you.

3. Distracting And Redirecting

As dementia progresses, patients are more likely to display difficult behaviors. To address that, you must learn the art of distraction. Upon catching their attention, redirect them to talk about another topic or do another activity. 

4. Ushering In A Positive Mood

Apart from your voice, use body language and facial expressions to convey a positive mood while interacting with them. Choose topics that can cheer them up as well. For instance, you can help them recall fond memories.

Engaging a dementia patient with humor

5. Incorporating A Sense Of Humor

You can further lighten the mood by adding a sense of humor to your everyday conversations with them. A hearty laugh won’t only be beneficial for them but for you as well.

How Do You Treat An Elderly Parent With Dementia At Home?

Most senior dementia patients live at home. 
To treat an elderly parent with dementia and effectively provide long-term care, you must first accept the diagnosis and come to terms with your family’s new reality. Deal with conflicting emotions and discuss with your family members how you should go on about caring for your dementia-affected loved one.

Then, educate yourself about the different types of dementia. 

Note that dementia is a general term for brain disorders that affect one’s mental abilities to the point that it interferes with their daily life — it’s not an illness itself. It covers diseases like Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease dementia. 

The web offers a wealth of caregiver resources about these health conditions. Various organizations and institutions also provide helplines and training for family caregivers. 

In the early stages, your loved one may still not need much assistance. To help them out, do the necessary modifications at home:

  • Label frequently used things with words or pictures
  • Place often-used items in storage areas that are easily accessible
  • Keep doorways locked and set up an alarm system 
  • Invest in grab bars and non-slip mats
  • Reduce busy patterns in the interior space

Why Is Routine Important To Dementia Patients?

No dementia care plan is effective without the presence of a comfortable routine. When dementia progresses, patients may find themselves frustrated by the fact that they’re losing cognitive abilities.

Family members of people affected by dementia can help reduce their frustrations by doing certain tasks (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating, and going to medical appointments) at a set time. 

When establishing a routine, don’t forget to involve the patient themselves. Ask them about the activities they enjoy and do them regularly. Doing all this will give them a sense of control and familiarity.

Showing dementia patient a concept

Identifying The Stages Of Alzheimer’s And Dementia

To prepare and implement the appropriate care plan for a dementia patient, you must learn and identify the different stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

  1. No cognitive decline. During the first stage, a patient exhibits normal outward behavior, despite their brain undergoing chemical changes.
  2. Very mild decline. This stage is marked by forgetfulness. Your parent may have trouble recalling names, events, and places.
  3. Mild decline. Your aging loved one will experience memory lapses more frequently. Family members may also notice them struggling to do some everyday tasks.
  4. Moderate decline. The signs of dementia are more pronounced at this point. They will find it hard to concentrate, complete a task, or follow conversations. They may also wander or have a sundowning syndrome (confusion that happens at a late time of day).
  5. Moderately severe decline. Patients, at this point, will need assistance to perform daily living activities. They may also show an increased loss of vocabulary.
  6. Severe decline. During late dementia, they will show notable personality and behavior changes. They will also start losing their communication and language abilities.
  7. Very severe decline. Late-stage dementia calls for round-the-clock in-home care (or they may also be sent to senior care and assisted living facilities) to address their daily needs. Most patients will be unable to speak and lose their motor skills, requiring them to stay in bed.

What Should You Not Say To A Parent With Dementia?

Adult children need utmost care when talking to a dementia-affected parent. Saying the wrong words (or using the wrong tone) can trigger them to display dementia behavior like agitation or anger.

Whether you’re talking to them at their own home or during your visit to a memory care facility, here are things you should never say to older adults with dementia:

  • Long and complex sentences
  • Multiple commands
  • Abstract speech
  • Baby talk
  • Corrections and contradictions to what they said
  • Arguments and confrontational statements
  • Questions that prompt them to recall something
  • Reminders of a loved one’s death

How Can You Accent The Positive?

Geriatric or eldercare is a delicate task. While dealing with older adults who display memory lapses, communication issues, and aggressive behavior, you must remain calm and patient.

If you’re providing in-person or personal care to a parent with dementia, your communication should use positive expressions (“Try this way” instead of “It’s not like that”). Use your tone of voice, face, and body to supplement that. Don’t forget to compliment them whenever needed — a simple “Thanks for helping” can boost their morale and confidence.

As long as possible, share a two-way conversation with them. Take the time to listen so they feel they are part of the conversation.

Talking with aging parent

How Do You Deal With A Parent With Dementia?

Approximately 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone with dementia. Following a dementia diagnosis, a family caregiver should learn how their condition will affect their abilities and daily functioning.

1. Anticipate Changes And Prepare Engaging Activities

Anticipate and prepare for these changes. Talk to a healthcare expert and dementia specialist to explore different treatment options. 

While improving their quality of life as the disease progresses, you can engage their senses by doing fun activities.

2. Do Self-Care

Enlist help from fellow family members so you can have time to attend to your needs, do your self-care routine, and avoid caregiver burnout. As much as you need to care for your parent’s physical and mental health, you must also look after your own. 

3. Don’t Forget About Financial And Legal Matters

Amid all this, don’t leave out organizing financial and legal matters. Compile all essential documents (e.g., bank accounts, tax returns) and get help for your parent’s estate plan needs. 

4. Establish Support Network Or Hire Outside Services

Then, establish a strong support network that includes outside services or help you may need in the future. 

Look for a home care and respite care facility. Join support groups and organizations to get access to valuable resources. People experience different situations when caring for someone with dementia; knowing all those can help you better take care of your parent. 

Randell S.

Randell Suba is a former Physiotherapist who returned to his first love, writing. He has over a decade of online writing and research experience. Randall has experience managing the care of elderly parents who lived with his family and other relatives with dementia, so he writes in the area of senior living and care with considerable experience.

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