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How To Help Your Loved One With Dementia

In honor of Alzheimer’s and brain awareness month, Pegasus Senior Living Senior VP of Health and Wellness Dr. Sandra Petersen shares some important insights to increase awareness and help us understand how best to help those living with dementia.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia is an “umbrella term” that encompasses Alzheimer’s disease but also includes other diseases that result in neurocognitive decline. Vascular dementia, alcohol-related dementia, Lewy-body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia, for example, are also included under the umbrella of the term “dementia.” Dementia can be used as a description for any neurocognitive decline that results in loss of function that is progressive over time.

Pegasus Senior Living | Senior couple sitting at table together
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How do I help a loved one with dementia?

1. Communication style is key

Communicating with someone like an aging parent living with a neurocognitive disorder like Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) can be challenging. That’s because one of the hallmark symptoms of dementia, along with memory loss, is difficulty expressing and comprehending ideas, known medically as aphasia.

Aphasia that’s associated with several forms of dementia includes word-finding problems. Individuals with dementia sometimes replace the words they mean with something that sounds similar. When saying “fish,” they may mean “find” or replace “book” with “bank.” They also tend to describe things like “the numbers on the wall that tell time” to indicate they’re talking about a clock.

It can often be frustrating when you’re not sure how to communicate with a loved one with dementia. Dr. Petersen shares some tips on how to communicate effectively with your loved one.

2. Smile and position yourself at eye level

A genuine smile can set the tone for positive interaction and reduce the chance of negative behaviors.

Individuals with neurocognitive disorders like dementia have a limited field of vision and decreased depth perception, especially as their disease process advances. Bend down or kneel to be at eye level rather than standing up straight and looking down on someone who is seated. This tactic might not be physically comfortable for you, but it will facilitate a more relaxed and respectful conversation with an individual with dementia.

3. Address them using their preferred name and title

Avoid terms like “honey, baby, sugar, sweetheart,” or similar terms, as these can come across as demeaning or patronizing. While you may intend it as a sign of affection, it can be confusing to the older adult with cognitive decline — and, even worse, may seem condescending.

4. Use the sense of touch as a communication tool

While some people may get defensive if you enter their personal space, many appreciate a gentle touch. Knowing how someone responds to physical contact is essential. You might want to give a little pat on the shoulder or hold their hand as you speak with them. Gentle touch can effectively communicate that you care about them and wish to engage with them.

5. Give them time to process and respond, and keep interactions brief

If you have a question, give the person a chance to respond before turning to others for an answer; processing slows as dementia progresses. Also, don’t talk about the person as if they’re not there. Convey your respect by addressing them directly and including them in conversations with others. Limit your questions to just a few and your interaction to less than 20 to 30 minutes. Your goal is to encourage and provide encouragement during the conversation.

6. Finding the right care for your loved one with dementia

Dr. Petersen’s guidance and extensive experience in memory care helped to build Pegasus Senior Living’s signature Connections program. The therapeutic program uses evidence-based techniques to provide greater quality of life for memory care residents.

Connections utilizes technology and evidence-based practices to enhance lives. Residents benefit from:

  • Brain growth through neuroplasticity
  • Personalized engagement
  • Individualized care programs
  • Purposeful programming in a secure and consistent environment

Residents thrive in an environment that caters to their unique needs by:

  • Engaging the Emotions
  • Encouraging Movement
  • Challenging the Brain
  • Supporting Socialization

“It has a smaller, more personal home-like setting and care is individualized and changes depending on the resident’s needs.” – Family member of a resident 

“The caregivers take really good care of my mom. She feels safe and secure there and that gives me peace of mind.” – Family member of a resident

Increasing your awareness about Alzheimer’s is so important to help support someone with dementia. Learning more about how to engage with your loved one and effectively care for them is important for their well-being and yours.

Finding specialized care that offers your loved one individualized support and a secure and calming environment has never been easier.

*(comments taken from a third party survey)


Find the care your loved one needs to thrive.

Learn more about a Connections program near you today. Our team will be happy to help answer any questions you may have and provide you with resources about caring for your loved one with dementia.

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