The ONE Alzheimer’s Care Tip That Will Change Your Life

Alzheimer's caregivers

Reminders and reason just won’t work

When caring for an older adult with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s instinctive to try to bring them back into reality. When they say something that doesn’t make sense, you’ll want to remind them of the facts or ask them to remember previous conversations or events.

What most caregivers don’t know is that this approach often makes the situation worse.

 

Logical explanations cause agitation and anger

Having Alzheimer’s or dementia is scary and confusing for your older adult. Using logic and reason to explain why you’re right and they’re wrong is likely to make them agitated, defensive, angry, or act out with difficult behavior.

Instead, the best thing you can do is not try to bring them back into reality.

 

Do’s and don’ts for how to respond

When your senior says something that doesn’t make sense or is completely untrue, use these do’s and don’ts to help you respond in a way that keeps them calm. These tips have been tried and tested by an Alzheimer’s support group leader with 20+ years of experience.

DO

  • Respect and join them in their new reality – it’s the one their brain has created
  • Respond to the emotion or intention behind the words
  • Gently distract them with an activity they enjoy
  • Redirect the conversation to a pleasant, positive, or neutral topic
  • Use therapeutic fibbing – agree with things that aren’t true or bend the truth in harmless ways if it calms the situation
  • Without words, find ways to assure them that they’re safe and cared for – hugs or gentle touching often works well

DON’T

  • Force them to live in our reality
  • Respond with logic and reason
  • Pay strict attention to their words – they may not actually mean what they say
  • Keep trying to convince them to see or do things your way
  • Say “Don’t you remember?”
  • Say “No, you’re wrong.”
  • Say “Don’t do that.”
  • Tell them that people they’re talking about or wanting to see have already passed away

Don’t be discouraged if your attempts to soothe or redirect don’t work every time. This is a skill that improves with practice. In time, you’ll figure out what works best for your senior.

 

Bottom line

Using reason and logic to explain reality to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia doesn’t work. Paying attention to the emotions rather than the words helps you uncover their true needs.

Instead of arguing, shift the mood to something more calm and positive. You’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to get into the same screaming match for the 38th time.

 

You might also like:
3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
Q & A: Should You Correct Someone with Alzheimer’s?
Dealing with Difficult Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms

 

By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Image: merrymakers

16 Comments

  • Reply August 15, 2016

    Cindy Dickel

    My 93 year old mother-in-law had Altzheimer’s. She asks about her mother and father (who died 40 years ago) and her husband who died 3 years ago…why they do not come to see her. I realize you are suppose to live in their reality but is it kind to let them think they are alive? Isn’t it hurtful for her to think they NEVER come to see her ? Just wondering.

    • Reply August 15, 2016

      Connie Chow

      These are difficult situations. It’s tough, but I do think it’s better to not correct her belief that her parents and husband are still alive. To keep her from feeling hurt (or even realizing) that they’re not visiting her, find different ways to make excuses for why they’re not there at the moment and distract her from those thoughts. For example, you might say that they’re stuck in traffic and will be there soon and then suggest a walk, snack, or another activity that she enjoys. Or, you could say something about how much they love her and help her reminisce about fun times she had with them. After talking about some positive memories with her mom, dad, and husband, transition to other pleasant conversation topics or activities.

    • Reply December 6, 2016

      Gary

      I work in a care home where a resident is always asking where her deceased husband is. He was a scout leader so most of us say oh he’s at scouts or work etc and she goes off on her way happy. When her family come round there persist in telling her when she asks that her husband is dead which really upsets her everytime. She then spends the rest of the night distraught and really hard to respond to any care or reassurance. We have asked the family that it upsets her but they ignore us. We feel that by telling her every time she asks that her husband is dead is making her grieve over and over again. If she is happy thinking he is at scouts or work and she carries on her everyday life then I think this is the fairest kindest way.

      • Reply December 6, 2016

        DailyCaring

        Hi Gary, thank you for sharing your story with us! I love the way your team is able to reassure your resident and make her feel that everything is OK. That is true care! We believe that is absolutely the right thing to do when someone can no longer process the information and feelings that come up when they hear bad news. I’m so sad to hear that her family makes her so upset by telling her such sad news, again and again 🙁 Perhaps the administrator or director of nursing could sit down and explain the situation to them? Maybe hearing it from an authority figure would help? I hope they’ll come to realize that they’re not being kind by telling her the harsh reality.

  • Reply June 13, 2016

    Donna

    This is, in fact, the best tip out there for dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s. Now, if I can just get my father to pay attention to it! My mother has late stage Alzheimer’s, and I can’t persuade dad that constantly correcting her is the wrong thing to do. I’m afraid he’s in massive denial, and thinks that if he keeps trying to correct her, one day she’ll snap out of it. They both live next to us, so I can remind him whenever I’m over there, but I can’t be over there every minute. I’m printing this out for dad to read. God bless and help us caregivers!

    • Reply June 13, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Thank you Donna, I’m so glad you found this article helpful! I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your dad. I hope this article can help him as well. I can certainly empathize though. It’s really tough to admit to yourself that someone you love so much has this uncurable disease with such devastating symptoms. Big hugs to you and your family!

  • Reply April 20, 2016

    Cynthia

    This is a great article. The one thing I want to point out is that not all people living with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia are “older adults”. I don’t mean to be overly sensitive, but my loved one is experiencing early onset Alzheimer’s and it’s frustrating and somewhat alienating that most of the literature available is targeted to people who are advanced in age. I’ve never been so scared in my life, and even though the information is helpful, I feel somewhat alienated.

    • Reply April 21, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Hi Cynthia — My apologies! We never intend to exclude younger people with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Much of the writing available today is focused on older adults only because that covers the vast majority of people with the disease, but it’s not meant to exclude anyone.

      Aside from that, I’m so glad you found this helpful and I hope you’ll still consider reading our Alzheimer’s and dementia articles. Our goal is to help anyone affected by these terrible diseases.

      For additional support, I’d recommend a private Facebook group called Memory People. It was founded (and still run) by Rick Phelps, who has Early Onset Alzheimer’s. It’s an active, supportive community of kind people who are family caregivers to someone with dementia, people who have dementia, professional caregivers, and former caregivers. You’ll definitely be able to find others who are also caring for someone with Early Onset. More info here — http://dailycaring.com/alzheimers-support-group-on-facebook-memory-people/

      You may also be interested in Rick Phelps’ blog — http://phelps2645.blogspot.com/

      Best,
      Connie

  • Reply December 10, 2015

    Kim

    I take care of my father in law that’s 89 and also my mother which is 79 both with deminca . It’s so very hard . Iam doing the best I can , but feel so overwhelmed at times . Dads been with us for 5 years my mom 2 years. My sister was helping for a few days every month now she hasn’t been here for a while. I talk to her every day she lives about 2 hours away. I try to tell her I need her but I think it falls on deaf ears. It’s very very hard. I took on this but was told they would all help , now it’s like pulling teeth to get any help at all . How can I get them all to help just a little

    • Reply December 10, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Hi Kim,

      I’m so glad you found our website and hope our tips are helpful. You’re doing an amazing job caring for both your father-in-law and your mother! But I agree that you need more help, it’s so draining that it’s very common to feel overwhelmed.

      It’s good that your family had agreed to help. It sounds like they need to be reminded and told what kind of help they need to give. Sometimes people need you to make very specific requests. It’s not fair to you to have to do that, but hopefully it will let you get some much needed rest. Here is more info about how to get family to help — http://dailycaring.com/4-tips-get-family-to-help-with-elderly-parents/

      If they’re not able to help you themselves, you may take the approach of telling them that they either can help as you ask or pay for you to hire the help you need. You could remind them how much it would cost to move them to assisted living, which they would also have to help pay for. It’s sad, but sometimes that’s what it takes to motivate people to step up and do the right thing. But you’re absolutely right to insist that they help out — you need and deserve to get more rest!!

      Best,
      Connie

  • Reply November 19, 2015

    Anonymous

    My brother in law was just diagnosed with dementia and my sister needs a lot of help in caregiving.
    I will compile these tips for her to help in dealing with her husband’s behaviour.

  • Reply July 5, 2015

    Vicki Connell

    I’m thrilled to have found your site. Good information for anyone dealing with a person who struggles with this horrendous disease.

    • Reply July 5, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Thank you Vicki! We know firsthand how challenging caregiving can be, which is why our mission is to provide relevant and helpful information.

      If you have questions about aging or caregiving, email us anytime at question@dailycaring.com!

  • Reply January 28, 2015

    Mike Good

    Actually, I think Daily Caring is helping caregivers with the #1 mistake which I believe is under-estimating the demands of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. By not understanding the demands of caring for someone with dementia, these caregivers are not self-educating themselves. As a result, they are in constant crisis mode. Daily Caring is providing great educational content to empower these family caregivers.

    • Reply January 28, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Thank you Mike! You’re absolutely right. It’s so important to understand the full scope of care needs. Then, you can see how much care is needed and get help before you get totally burned out.

      When you let things creep up and get added one by one, you don’t even notice how it’s consuming you. It’s kind of like the boiling frog metaphor. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. If you put a frog in cold water and slowly raise the temperature, it won’t even know that it’s being boiled!

      This article helps families get the big picture of all their senior’s needs so they can put together a caregiving team and get the right amount of help.

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