How To Compassionately Care for a Loved One with Dementia

Dementia affects more than 5 million Americans, according the the Alzheimer’s Association, and that number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050. If you care for or visit a loved one who has dementia, his or her behavior can often be confusing, aggravating, and even frightening. The most important thing to remember when dealing with a loved one with dementia is that the disease has altered his or her brain permanently; your loved one may not even be aware of what he or she is doing.
It often can be difficult to cope with some of the more troubling behaviors in which your loved one engages. Here are some common disconcerting behaviors seen in those with dementia, and how you, as caregiver or loved one, can help the situation:

Confusion About Time or Place

For many patients with dementia, confusion regarding their surroundings is one of the earliest signs that something may be wrong. Often, those with the disease cannot remember something that happened an hour ago, but they clearly remember their wedding day decades prior. Many patients will appear confused or frightened about their surroundings, even if they have visited that location multiple times, simply because they cannot access that portion of memory in the moment.

What you can do: Offer reassurance and comfort, especially if your loved one appears frightened. Even though it may pain you personally, always remind your loved one of your name and your relationship when seeing him or her. Avoid questions that require access to short-term memory, such as what your loved one had for lunch. Instead, stick to questions that allow your loved one to tap into long-term memory. Even if your loved one is saying something wholly untrue, avoid contradicting him or her. This can lead to further confusion and frustration, and may cause your loved one to become agitated and upset.


Sometimes, wandering goes hand-in-hand with confusion. Your loved one isn’t sure where he or she is, and wandering is an attempt to find familiar surroundings. Other times, wandering is a symptom of something else. It could be that your loved one feels antsy and wants to find something useful to do. It also could be a result of a medication side effect. Wandering also can be an attempt to fill some physical need – hunger, thirst, a need to use the restroom – that went a little awry.

What you can do: Though complete safety at all times is nearly impossible, do your best to make your loved one’s environment as secure as you are able. If your loved one still lives at home, install alarms or keyed locks on the inside of doors. Fit him or her with an identification or GPS tracking bracelet, and sew identification labels into all items of clothing. Consider keeping going-out essentials – coat, purse, or glasses – hidden away, as some people will not leave the house without these items.

Anger or a Combative Attitude

Dementia is an incredibly confusing mental state for a person to live under. Thoughts and actions often don’t match, and people become confused and frustrated at the disconnect. This can lead to defiance, such as stating, “I don’t want to go to the doctor!” Or, it can lead to anger and even violent outbursts.

What you can do: No matter what, meet your loved one’s anger with love and compassion. Maintain your calm and composure and attempt to guide the person in a more positive, productive direction. If possible, offer a hug, a hand to hold, or a reassuring touch on the arm or shoulder. Try changing the subject, especially if the outburst relates to something your loved one can’t quite remember, or offer a change of scenery. Getting out and going for a short walk can make all the difference in your own and your loved one’s attitudes.

Coping with dementia in a loved one, whether you are a full-time caregiver or just visit occasionally, can be challenging. Keeping your love for that person foremost in your mind, and attempting to always maintain a positive, supportive attitude can help everyone through a difficult stage in life.

At Advanced Nursing & Home Support, our compassionate, knowledgeable caregivers have experience with patients suffering from dementia at all stages. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you and your family.

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