Alzheimer's / Dementia

3/15/2024 | By Barbara J. Huelat

In caring for loved ones with dementia, author Barbara J. Huelat developed practical guidelines for navigating dementia care. Here she shares 10 tips, a taste of what she offers in her book, “Taming the Chaos of Dementia.”  

If you’ve ever cared for someone with dementia, you might empathize with Alice, who tumbled down a rabbit hole and discovered herself in an unhappy world where time moved oddly and animals and plants spoke, but mostly to berate you. Familiar objects became terribly out of scale. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you might feel like someone changed the rules of reality and that you need a guide. This is how I felt as I tried to make sense of the world of chaos that my loved ones and I were dropped into. 

Does this sound familiar? Are you and your loved one on this journey? I learned a great deal from being a caregiver and feel compelled to share it with you. “Taming the Chaos of Dementia” is my survival journey moving from chaos to calm, designed to help others in navigating dementia care the journey.

I accompanied my grandmother with vascular dementia, my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s, and my mom with Parkinson’s, and I survived three challenging years of dementia caregiving with my late husband, further surviving a heart attack, stress, sleepless nights, and being overwhelmed with caregiving. I asked myself, “Do all caregivers of dementia go through similar journeys? Do they need to?” 

Alarming dementia statistics

In the U.S., more than six million people are living with Alzheimer’s. More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. In 2023, about one in nine people over 65 were living with Alzheimer’s. Addressing quality-of-life care remains a daunting task

The wolf of dementia came to my door, trying to claim my loved ones, my sanity, and my health. I was terrified, confused, and often overwhelmed. Yet, I learned to tame these emotions with lessons learned from experiences, counselors, physicians, support groups, and even my loved ones. I made mistakes and still faced meltdowns, yet my loved ones and I emerged to share joy, love, and happiness.

I don’t have a magic bullet to share or cure, and these interventions don’t work all the time. However, I offer simple, inexpensive tools at emotional and visceral levels. Most of these interventions have research and evidence behind them; others require greater study. 

A note of caution – before we dive into interventions, we must first take care of the caregiver by creating a support team and a safe place for respite. You can’t do it alone. Call for help, ask friends, family, and neighbors to stop by, visit with your loved one. People really want to help. Take time for yourself, get outside. Be kind and forgive yourself even when you make mistakes. 

Related: Professional in-home care options

Human-centered interventions offer simple yet powerful ways to address disruptive behaviors. These gamechangers bypass cognitive challenges and tap directly into the emotional core. Here are 10 effective responses, each rooted in research and personal experiences:

10 firsthand tips for navigating dementia care

1. Positive distractions

In moments of agitation or confusion, a gentle distraction can work wonders. When my father-in-law started throwing objects, I learned to calmly redirect his attention with a touch and a soothing word. Stepping away and engaging him in a different activity often diffused his distress.

2. Musical interventions

Music has a unique ability to soothe and calm. Mom would often wander at night, and her behavior became a great concern. I found relief in playing her favorite religious tunes at bedtime. The prayerful music became a comforting ritual, easing her restlessness into sleep.

3. Tasty treats

Sometimes, a simple pleasure can shift the mood entirely. Just the mention of ice cream or hot chocolate would light up my loved one’s eyes, diverting him from distressing behavior.

4. High touch

Human connection is a powerful antidote to loneliness and confusion. A gentle touch, a warm embrace, can speak volumes, even when words fail. I witnessed my gruff father-in-law soften to these gestures of affection.

5. Puppy love

Animals have a remarkable ability to offer unconditional love and comfort. Whether it’s a furry companion or simply observing nature outside, engaging with animals can bring immense joy. My grandmother found solace in watching birds, even naming them.

6. Smells so good

The aroma of home-cooked meals has a way of stirring up warm memories. Involving loved ones in cooking activities can create a sense of purpose and joy. I’ll never forget the joy on my mom’s face as she savored freshly baked pies.

7. Tone of words matter

Communication is about the tone and demeanor we convey. Even in moments of frustration speaking with kindness can make all the difference. I often found Mom would mirror my own emotions, underscoring the importance of maintaining a calm attitude.

8. The great outdoors

Nature has a remarkable ability to rejuvenate. Incorporating outdoor activities can uplift spirits for both caregiver and loved one.

9. Precious memories

Reminiscing about cherished moments can provide comfort. Mom often longed for her deceased mother, and old family stories and photos helped her feel closer to her family and brought peace.

10. Empathy and love

Above all, caregiving is an act of love. Tasks like feeding and bathing, though challenging, offer opportunities to express tenderness. Infusing tasks with affection honors the love that binds us together.

With compassion and empathy, I suggest solace amidst the storm. From positive distractions to sensory stimuli, each approach is rooted in fostering emotional connection and comfort. Through these interventions for navigating dementia care, caregivers can travel the turbulent waters of dementia caregiving with greater resilience and find moments of peace amidst the chaos.

Book cover for "Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide to Interventions That Make a Difference"

For more human-centered interventions, refer to my book, “Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver’s to Interventions That Make a Difference.”

Through her involvement in healthcare design, as an author and speaker, and in her latest book, “Taming the Chaos of Dementia.” Barbara Huelat generously imparts her expertise to others. Drawing from her profound understanding and passion for the subject, she delivers practical wisdom on navigating dementia care with empathy and skill, transforming this complex challenge into an empowering journey. Dive into Barbara’s world at

Related: Seven strategies for coping with dementia-related behaviors

Barbara J. Huelat