How to Best Care for a Loved One Who has Dementia

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Are you caring for a loved one who has some form of Dementia? If so, you are not alone. Did you know that throughout Central Oregon families are struggling to care for their loved ones who have Dementia? In Oregon alone in 2010 there were 78,000 people with a diagnosed form of Dementia and there are 5,000 memory care beds in the state. We have no institutional solution to this epidemic. The responsibility of caring for these people will fall on the family caregiver.

Please read on for some helpful tips in caring for your loved one: 

Do not take things personally – Regardless of the person your loved one was before they developed dementia they are different now. Dementia changes people! My grandfather was one of the nicest and kindest people I have ever known and at the end of his life he was calling my aunt bad names. Names he would have never dreamed of using with somebody he was cross with, let alone is own daughter. 

They have better days and not so good days – Like all of us our loved ones with dementia have good days and bad days. It is important to keep this in mind when trying to get them to accomplish something. For example, let’s say you give Mom a bath on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. However, if on one particular Monday she wakes up not in a good place then it is ok to wait until Tuesday for the bath. The key is to be flexible depending on how they are doing. 

You will struggle to care for them – Regardless of how demented your loved one is they will hold onto wanting to be in control of their life to the very end. If you are doing things to them you should expect resistance. You want to focus on helping them care for themselves. In the end stages of dementia most of the care will be done by you, but the way you do it is very important. No matter how checked out you think they are you always talk to them in a pleasant tone and let them know what is going on. 

Care Technique #1 – Offer simple choices – Let’s say getting Dad to eat lunch is a daily struggle. Stop asking if he wants lunch. Instead ask him if he would prefer ham or turkey today for lunch. Remember our loved ones want to be in control and if you ask “Do you want lunch today?” they are most likely going to say “No.” So instead of that question offer Dad a simple choice that assumes he will do what you need him to but he gets to help choose how. 

Care Technique #2 – Apologize and take the blame – When interacting with your loved one who has dementia you should assume there will be frequent misunderstandings. Additionally, rule # 1 with people who have dementia is: you will never win an argument! If a misunderstanding happens be quick to say these magic words: “I’m Sorry”. You can follow them with any additional statements to help add context. For example, “I’m Sorry, I must have misunderstood you”. The more you get in the habit of saying “I’m Sorry” the more successful your interactions with your loved one will be. 

Care Technique #3 – Redirect – Sometimes your loved one will get upset about something and talking directly about it will not help de-escalate the situation. In these cases re-directing to a happy memory will most likely be successful. When caring for my grandfather often times he would be upset about something and it was difficult to even understand what he was upset with. It was always better to re-direct him to a happy memory. I could ask something like: “Grandpa, tell me how you and grandma met again?”. This was one of his happiest memories and almost instantly he would be glowing and telling me that story again. The key is to know your loved ones happy memories and pull them out when he/she is in a bad place. 

Care Techniques #4 – Try Three Things Three Different Ways – Let’s say you are having difficulty getting Mom out of bed in the morning. We would suggest trying three different things three different ways and then waiting if you are not successful. We had a client who was like this regularly and we would try the following: 1) cook bacon – She loved bacon and when she smelled it she would sometimes get up, 2) Offer to take her for a walk outside – she loved to be outdoors and this worked often times, 3) Start an old episode of Bananza loud enough that she could hear it – she loved this TV series and this worked the best. If none of these worked we would leave it alone and come back in an hour.  

Care Technique #5 – Change the Environment – Sometimes there is something in the environment that regularly causes drama with your loved one. We would suggest eliminating that stimulation if possible. Maybe there is a picture on the wall of their spouse and every time they see it the relive the passing of their spouse. We would suggest removing the picture. 

Do you want to learn more? 

If so, please feel free to come to one of our complimentary Family Caregiver Alzheimer’s Training classes – In this 3-4 hour class family caregivers of those with dementia will learn more about these diseases, how to recognize symptoms, how best to interact with our loved ones, how to care for our loved ones, how to understand what may be causing some of the adverse behaviors and deal with the causes and not the behaviors, and how to keep our loved ones engaged in their lives. Family caregivers will leave the training class equipped with knowledge and skills aimed at helping them help their loved ones maintain their dignity and lead a full and independent life. You can learn more about this training class at and you can see our upcoming training class schedule at and going to the “About Us” menu and clicking on “Calendar of Events”. 

Please feel free to contact our office if you would like to learn more: 541-330-6400. 

Todd Sensenbach


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