Caring for an Elder with Dementia

The Dementia Diagnosis is Official-and Life Goes On

Remember the days when you couldn’t remember a phone number you called everyday-but if you picked up the phone your fingers could dial the number immediately? There is a muscle memory to doing the same thing in the same way every day.

A familiar routine is necessary for those who live with dementia.

  1. Wake, bathe, dress, eat and go to sleep at the same time everyday.
  2. If possible, use the same familiar caregivers.
  3. Eat familiar food prepared in the same way.
  4. Engage in activities that have brought pleasure in the past-favorite tv shows, music, dance

Creating a safe environment is important.

  1. Keep the environment free of clutter
  2. Timers can be used to discretely limit when the stove or other electric appliances can be turned on.
  3. Car keys can be removed from sight. It may be necessary to remove the car “for repairs”.
  4. Alarm doors to go outside.
  5. Lock the door to the basement stairs  or other areas where a fall may be deadly.
  6. Install childproof door latches where poisons or cleaning products are kept.
  7. Assist with financial tasks.

Cues to time and place are helpful.

  1. Opening or closing curtains and blinds with daylight helps to orient to day vs. night.
  2. Large easy to read clocks will help with time of day. Large calendars help with dates.
  3. Written cues may help ex: 8:00AM Eat Breakfast, 12PM Eat Lunch 2PM watch tv


Wandering increases as dementia progresses. Provide information to your local police department BEFORE an emergency.  Include a recent photo, medical information and people or places that the person may be trying to get to. Alert trusted neighbors.

Locating Device technology is advancing quickly. Many companies offer GPS or Radio Frequency location services. Consider if the device can be worn all the time (comfortable, waterproof, easy to clean?) or depends on the person to take a device with them? Who activates the location service-you, the company or the police? Does it depend on cellular service or satellites? Will it work if the wanderer is inside a steel building or concrete garage or in water?

Communication Tips

In addition to dementia, hearing loss and visual impairment can also make communicating difficult.

  • Approach from the front-it can be startling if you pop up from the back or side
  • Speak face to face and make sure your mouth can be seen. We naturally read lips to help us determine what is being said to us.
  • Speak at a normal tone or slightly louder in order to be heard. Don’t yell-it distorts the sound of your voice and distorts your mouth.
  • Use simple words, phrases and directions. Allow time for the person to process what was said.  Repeat as needed.
  • Tell them who you are and what you are going to do before you do it..
  • Hand gestures, miming and sometimes singing can be effective.
  • Don’t argue, try to redirect-the person may be “somewhere else”-childhood, early adulthood etc
  • “Therapeutic lies” are acceptable for example: An elder with dementia may be looking for their Mom-don’t tell them their mom has been dead-instead tell them Mom went to the store and wants them to stay here where they are safe.

Communication for both of you may be frustrating-remember to be patient.

Why Should I Care?

 Dementia is not an easy diagnosis for anyone involved.

Grieving is natural.

A “new normal” will develop over time.