Alzheimer's / Dementia

5/9/2022 | By Megan Mullen

Seniors Guide offers 5 tips on caregiving for dementia patients, from caring for oneself to understanding what to expect from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Watching a loved one slide deeper into dementia can arouse intense feelings of sadness. The relative or friend may display increasing signs of memory loss – including failure to recognize you or other dear ones – and exhibit frustration, aggression, and other inappropriate behaviors when interacting with others.

These inevitable changes can sear the soul even if you only see the person from time to time, such as visiting them at a memory care facility. But if you are your loved one’s caregiver, the sadness can be pervasive. It can be accompanied by fatigue, frustration, depression, and anger. To protect yourself from burnout when caregiving for dementia in a loved one – and to be better able to care for your patient – it’s important to take care of yourself. In order to navigate the disappointments and challenges of the disease, it’s also helpful to learn what to expect from the disease progression and how best to manage it.

Caregiving for dementia patient – and yourself

1. Understand the new and changing roles.

As infants, we rely on others to fulfill our needs. As we mature, our early caregivers become more like collaborators and friends. But sometimes, the adult child must take on the caregiver role.

You may take on the work yourself or place your loved one in a care facility. But either way, the roles have changed, and you must use your own judgment instead of relying on your elders. For adult children and aging parents, such role reversal can be difficult to accept.

Or perhaps your partner is the the one with the dementia diagnosis. The two of you shared responsibilities, or perhaps he or she was in charge of tasks that you must now take on – in addition to your role as caregiver.

For caregivers, challenges can include:

  • A parent denying physical or mental limitations that you see as concerning
  • A patient’s insistence upon independence versus your feeling that they need help
  • The elder’s desire for privacy versus the need for regular check-ins.

As an aging loved one becomes more needy, both of you will need to gradually transition into new roles. Don’t push to take over responsibilities prematurely. Grant independence – even if in small things – for as long as possible. And appreciate the time you spend together when caregiving for dementia in a loved one, even if it’s simply holding hands during the later stages.

2. Don’t neglect your own needs

caregiving for sick spouse Photo by Kirill Kuznecov Dreamstime. Wise caregiving for dementia patients includes caring for the caregiver and understanding what to expect from Alzheimer's and other dementias.

Maintaining your physical and mental health is critical in caring for someone else. Yes, caregiving for dementia can lead to depression – especially when your treasured friend or family member forgets who you are. But harboring that depression and any guilt about being a perfect caregiver can lead to disabling stress.

To combat caregiver burnout and depression, it’s essential to

  • Maintain outside interests.
  • Ask others for help in providing care – whether from friends or professional home care services.
  • Consider adult day services, including respite care.
  • Start or get back to a daily exercise routine, perhaps even adding yoga or meditation to the mix.
  • Eat healthy to stay healthy.
  • Arrange to get solid sleep on a regular basis.

If you take care of yourself, you will have stockpiled the energy to present yourself in positive ways and maintain your sense of humor when you’re with a loved one whose mental capacity is diminishing.

3. Treat the person with kindness and respect

Maintaining a calm, non-combative atmosphere improves the environment for both caregiver and patient.

  • Compassionate communication involves sharing thoughts and memories in a kind, thoughtful manner. In the same way, you can structure routines and activities with kindness to ensure compassion – and success. If your loved one takes longer to bathe, dress, eat, etc., schedule these activities, establish routines, and allow sufficient time for no-rush completion.
  • When conversing, try to think from the other person’s perspective. For example, ask simple “yes or no” questions to learn how their day has gone. Maybe do this while taking a walk, perhaps around the neighborhood or the senior’s community. It’s a great way for you both to get exercise and fresh air.
  • Try not to argue, as doing so will frustrate both of you. And avoid judgmental prompts like, “Don’t you remember?” Of course, they quite possibly do not remember what you’re referring to and may feel frustrated and depressed because they can’t.
  • Be sure to respect your elder’s personal space – it will mean a lot!
  • You can even benefit from applying improvisational techniques when caregiving for dementia patients. Improv practices improve interactions for both parties of an exchange.

4. Be prepared for troubling behavior

People who have dementia and Alzheimer’s can easily forget routine behaviors. They may unwittingly do unpleasant or annoying things. For example:

Maintaining continence

Typical elimination protocols are not only easily forgotten for those with memory loss, but they also become more challenging to execute. So, here are some caregiver suggestions:

  • Set a toileting routine and adhere to it.
  • Schedule enough fluids, so the person doesn’t become dehydrated, but avoid too many fluids close to bedtime.
  • Use a bedside commode and/or incontinence pads for nighttime needs.
  • Use washable, easy-to-remove clothing in case of accidents.


Wandering, and getting lost, is common among Alzheimer’s and dementia patients – and clearly very dangerous. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To prevent wandering:

  • Offer regular accompanied exercise opportunities.
  • Create safe barriers and warning signs (consider standard stop signs).
  • Keep outdoor clothing out of view.
  • Use an alarm system to alert you if they leave the property.
  • Use a GPS tracker – such as a discreet GPS necklace, watch, or bracelet – in case they wander.
  • Register the person with the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program or other emergency tracking service.

5. Make sure the person feels safe

Seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias become increasingly vulnerable as limited activity compounds inevitable changes of aging. Older women with osteoporosis are prone to bone fracture. People with osteoarthritis have difficulty with hygiene. Cancer, diabetes, stroke, and many other conditions can further limit a person’s abilities.

At home

Whether alone or with family, older adults aging in place might resist using specialized home equipment – until it’s too late and they’re injured. Consider shower chairs, grab bars, etc. for many older adults, but especially those with memory concerns.

In a care facility

Tragically, not all senior care facilities are safe. Sanitary conditions are always a concern, as are fall risks. But even worse is outright elder abuse – for which those with memory loss are highly vulnerable. So watch for signs of Alzheimer’s abuse in your loved one, and report it to authorities.

Final thoughts

A capable and dedicated caregiver is a treasure. But the role comes with challenges, especially when the patient has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Be patient, understand that your loved one’s condition comes with changes that neither of you can control, and practice self-care.

Do these things to help the person with memory loss. And do them for yourself, too.

Megan Mullen

Megan Mullen is a freelance writer, librarian, and former college professor. Senior life is one of her niches (and a personal interest). Megan enjoys using her writing and research skills to create well-crafted web content and other publications.