Dementia Action Week: 5 things not to do around someone with the illness

This Dementia Action Week, if there is someone you know with the illness, taking care of them can be challenging. 

This Dementia Action Week, if there is someone you know or love with the progressive illness, taking care of them is a big step and can be challenging. - Credit: Gundula Vogel

It's Dementia Action Week, and as those  who have someone they know or love with the progressive illness, taking care of them is a big step and can be challenging. 

Both the carer and the person with dementia will require support to cope with the symptoms and changes in behaviour. 

Will Donnelly, co-founder and care expert at Lottie, an expert on finding elderly care homes for someone with dementia or other illnesses shared what not to do around someone with dementia: 

1. Avoid asking if they remember 

For most people with dementia, memory problems will become more persistent and impact their everyday life. Whilst it’s tempting to try to help your loved one’s memory, it can cause a lot of distress. 

Avoid saying ‘remember when…’ to jog their memory. Instead, you can talk more openly about the past and lead the conversation. A more suitable and calm approach would be ‘I remember when…’, as this can ease them into an open conversation where they can join in, if they feel comfortable. 

2. Try not to get frustrated 

Caring for someone with dementia can be very rewarding, but it may be challenging. It’s understandable to feel frustrated and even angry sometimes. For instance, you may feel overwhelmed, or things are happening outside of your control. 

Most Read

Watch out for signs you’re feeling frustrated; for instance, if you have a shortness of breath, chest pains or you’re experiencing a lack of patience. Take yourself away from the stressful situation and try some relaxation techniques, including mindfulness or head outdoors for a quick walk. 

Dementia can affect a person’s behaviour, and your loved one may become agitated or aggressive. Try not to take their aggressive behaviour personally. Reassure them that you are here for them and redirect your loved one towards a familiar object, as this can help to bring them comfort. 

3. Don’t refer to them as ‘suffering’ 

The way we communicate and talk about dementia has a direct effect on how people living with this condition feel. Using phrases like ‘suffering from dementia’ or ‘a victim of dementia’ is negative and can have a profound impact on the person with dementia, as well as their loved ones. 

Instead, use respectful language to show that dementia isn’t a defining aspect in their life. For example, say ‘a person with dementia’ or ‘living with dementia’. 

4. Don’t stop spending time together 

Often, the best part of your loved one’s day is spending time with you. Although it can be a challenge and feel overwhelming, it’s so important to spend time together. Those feelings from relaxing and having fun together can shape the rest of their day. Your visits have more lasting power than you think and can influence how they feel, and even how they eat. 

Remember: even if it’s a slower pace than what you’re used to, you’re making memories together. 

Often, the best part of your loved one’s day is spending time with you.

Often, the best part of your loved one’s day is spending time with you. Although it can be a challenge and feel overwhelming, it’s so important to spend time together. - Credit: Gerd Altmann

5. Avoid talking differently to them 

Although no harm is intended, sometimes you may find that you speak differently to your loved one who has dementia. Speaking in a child-like tone can come across as patronising and demeaning and may leave your loved one feeling irritated, overwhelmed, or anxious. 

Remember that your loved one deserves dignity and respect. Every person’s experience of dementia is unique, so make sure they feel as comfortable as possible. Communicate clearly and calmly, use simple sentences, and take the time to listen to their response. 

Will Donnelly added: “There are lots of ways to ensure your loved one feels calm, comfortable, and content every day. Focus on what they can do (rather than what they can’t), be patient and offer practical support. For instance, offer to do any shopping for them or work with them to organise a weekly timetable. 

“It’s equally important to support yourself, as looking after someone with dementia can feel overwhelming. A quick online search will show any local groups for those in a similar situation. Open up to your close friends and family if you’re struggling, as it can feel a huge relief.”