Advice for living with and caring for your loved one with Dementia

By Melody Thomas-Morgan, Resident Relations Specialist, The Margaret T. Morris Center

Living with and caring for your loved one with dementia can be challenging, stressful, and joyful … all within one hour! One main way to honor your loved one and lower your own stress levels is to always have one goal: enter their world. To enter your loved one’s world means seeing the world as they see it, agreeing with them in whatever way you can, and encouraging them to share more. In doing so, you affirm and honor them. This also encourages you to totally accept their disease and what it means for them and you. Sometimes we look at our loved ones living with dementia and physically, they look the same and we may expect them to think and act like they used to. We forget that they have a progressive terminal disease that is causing the lapses in memory, the jumbled speech, and the lack of recognition.

Entering their world means a variety of things. When they explain to you that it is Christmas in July, which is easier; a long, detailed explanation of the fact that Christmas is actually five months away, or saying, “Merry Christmas!” and putting on a Christmas CD? You may want to work hard to persuade them of the truth, but for someone with dementia, you are spinning your wheels and creating anxiety in your loved one and yourself. This type of total acceptance takes practice. But try it; find ways to agree immediately, say, “yes,” and encourage more communication by saying things like, “Tell me more.”

Another part of entering your loved one’s world is knowing and expecting that changes will take place—your loved one with dementia will change. What works today may not work tomorrow, not because they are trying to be difficult, but because they have a disease: dementia. Accepting the fact that there will be change ahead will help the caregiver handle it with less stress when it arrives.

Reframe. Reframe your expectations for your loved one, for yourself, and for each day. View each day as an adventure. Adventure is defined as an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. It can involve the exploration of unknown territory. That certainly speaks to the person on the journey of dementia as well as those who love them. As with all adventures, attitude and expectations are important. Even this can be a wonderful, amazing, and meaningful experience even with the challenges.

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