Tips on Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Dressing is difficult for most dementia patients. Choose loose-fitting, comfortable clothes with easy zippers or snaps and minimal buttons. Reduce the person’s choices by removing seldom-worn clothes from the closet. It's common for people with dementia to continue layering on clothes even though they are fully dressed. To facilitate dressing and support independence, lay out one article of clothing at a time, in the order it is to be worn. Remove soiled clothes from the room. Don’t argue if the person insists on wearing the same thing again.

  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others don’t) and delusions (false beliefs, such as someone is trying to hurt or kill another) may occur as the dementia progresses. State simply and calmly your perception of the situation, but avoid arguing or trying to convince the person that their perceptions are wrong. Keep rooms well-lit to decrease shadows, and offer reassurance and a simple explanation if the curtains move from circulating air, or if a loud noise such as a plane or siren is heard. Distractions may help. Depending on the severity of symptoms, you might consider medication.

  • Sexually inappropriate behavior, such as masturbating or undressing in public, lewd remarks, unreasonable sexual demands, even sexually aggressive behavior, may occur during the course of the illness. Remember, this behavior is caused by the disease. Develop an action plan to follow before the behavior occurs, i.e., what you will say and do if the behavior happens at home, around other relatives, friends, or paid caregivers. If you can, identify what triggers the behavior.

  • Verbal outbursts such as cursing, arguing, and threatening often are expressions of anger or stress. React by staying calm and reassuring. Validate your loved one’s feelings and then try to distract or redirect his attention to something else.

  • “Shadowing” is when a person with dementia imitates and follows the caregiver, or constantly talks, asks questions, and interrupts. Like sundowning, this behavior often occurs late in the day and can be irritating for caregivers. Comfort the person with verbal and physical reassurance. Distraction or redirection might also help. Giving your loved one a job such as folding laundry might help to make her feel needed and useful.

  • People with dementia may become uncooperative and resistant to daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Often this is a response to feeling out of control, rushed, afraid, or confused by what you are asking of them. Break each task into steps and, in a reassuring voice, explain each step before you do it. Allow plenty of time. Find ways to have them assist to their ability in the process, or follow with an activity that they can perform.

  • Even with these many potential challenges, it’s important to remember that these behaviors are often coping tactics for a person with deteriorating brain function. There’s no question that dealing with these behaviors can make caregiving especially challenging.

Resources

Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
(415) 434-3388 | (800) 445-8106
Website: www.caregiver.org
Email: info@caregiver.org
FCA CareJourney: www.caregiver.org/carejourney
Family Care Navigator: www.caregiver.org/family-care-navigator

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research, and advocacy. Through its National Center on Caregiving, FCA offers information on current social, public policy, and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers. For residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, FCA provides direct support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s, and other debilitating health conditions that strike adults.

 

FCA Fact Sheets

A listing of all facts and tips is available online at www.caregiver.org/fact-sheets.

Dementia, Caregiving and Controlling Frustration
Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers
Hiring In-Home Help
Community Care Options

 

Other Organizations and Links

Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers
A service of the National Institute on Aging that offers information and publications on diagnosis, treatment, patient care, caregiver needs, long-term care, education, and research related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Eldercare Locator
eldercare.acl.gov
A service of the federal Administration on Aging that offers information about and referrals to respite care, as well as other home and community services available through state and Area Agencies on Aging.

Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program
www.alz.org/care/dementia-medic-alert-safe-return.asp
A nationwide program that identifies people with dementia who wander away and returns them to their homes. For a fee, families can register their loved one in a national confidential computer database. Participants receive an identification bracelet or necklace and other identification and educational materials.

 

This fact sheet was prepared by Family Caregiver Alliance and was reviewed by Beth Logan, M.S.W, education and training consultant and specialist in dementia care. © 2004, 2008, 2016 Family Caregiver Alliance. All rights reserved.