Practical Tips for Dealing with Dementia

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In 2015 we started noticing that my Dad was getting more forgetful.

At first, we just assumed it was a part of aging but it was more than that. Mom said they would leave the house with Dad driving and he would forget where they were going.

In early 2016 Dad had a stroke which caused Vascular Dementia. In many ways we were lucky. Dad always knew who we were, when we were with him. He retained his sense of humor and his ability to have conversations. He also continued to be cranky and irritable.

Mom knew from the beginning that she would not be able to keep him at home and care for him herself. I applaud her for making this realization. If she would have tried to care for him, he would have refused to listen to her and would have made her life difficult.

The first nursing home couldn't handle Dad when he acted out. The second place was wonderful but Dad didn't like being around all those "old people." It was a facility that specialized in memory loss and in the area where he was the other residents couldn't carry on a conversation.

The third skilled nursing facility was the one for him. There were higher functioning people for him to interact with. There were activities that we could take him to and we could join him for meals.

So here are the first two tips:

  1. Don't be afraid to put your loved one somewhere they can receive care from professionals. Sometimes that's what's best for everyone.

  2. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We thought the first facility was the perfect choice, it wasn't. Moving isn't easy but it may be what is best for your loved one.

On several occasions, I would pass my sister leaving a visit with Dad as I was arriving for a visit. We would chat about her visit then when I arrived at Dad's room I would ask him, "Have you seen my sister lately?" Dad would reply, "Nope. I haven't seen her."

Sure, I could have tried to explain to him that she had just been there but it would have frustrated both him and me and that would have caused us to have a terrible visit.

Mom would visit Dad on the same day and time each week. Dad looked forward to those visits knowing she was coming and that she would have lunch with him.

Did he remember this? Probably not but we had a dry-erase board in his room where we would write things like that. So, every day he would read it. The staff at his facility was great about updating the date on his board each day.

The next tips:

  1. Don't argue or try to explain the truth to someone with dementia. Just agree with them and move on.

  2. Keep a routine. Even simple things like bathing, dressing, and eating at the same time each day.

  3. Write down appointments and events. This helps both your loved one and the staff if they are in a facility.

Often during visits, I would tell Dad I had seen a Gold Finch bird, whether I had or not, because this would spark a memory from Dad's childhood and he would tell me the story about all the Gold Finches around his childhood home. This would often lead to another story.

Other times I would point out the pictures of the grandkids on the wall and I would tell him their name, where they were and what they were doing. Mostly he would listen but sometimes he would ask questions.

More tips:

  1. Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.

  2. Try distracting the person with an activity, such as a familiar book or photo album, if you are having trouble communicating with words.

No two people are the same so not all these ideas will work with everyone but give them a try and see if they work for you and your loved one. Also, feel free to reach out if you want more tips and ideas for ways to interact with your loved one who has dementia.

By: Rev. Jill A. Smith