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When caregiving, sometimes it is best not to C.A.R.E.

Ice cream is loved by young and old
Ice cream is loved by young and oldPhoto by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, can be frustrating, overwhelming, and depressing. That is how you feel, but the same applies to the person with the disease.

People with dementia may have lost their ability to remember but they still have feelings and can be happy, agitated, afraid, and angry, just like you. Plus they are trying to cope with their own loss and at times they understand how it affects you. One of the best ways to deal with his or her sense of self is to remember the acronym CARE and try not to do the following things:

Don’t Criticize Don’t Argue Don’t Reason Don’t Explain

Your first reaction may be “of course I don’t criticize,” but sometimes the caregiver may lose patience and it is understandable that one can slip into one of these actions. Keep in mind that the patient now lives in his or her own world and while it is tempting to try to ‘change’ them, the person who is most capable of change is the caregiver. You are the one who will have to adjust, accept the changes in your life and in the other person. Your patient still has feelings but their memory is not functioning as it did. He is not crazy; he has simply lost access to memories and knowledge built up over a lifetime.

So don’t criticize. Change the subject, distract him. If he asks you the same question over and over, don’t lose patience. Simply repeat the answer in a pleasant voice. You can also acknowledge the person’s emotions by saying things like “this must be frustrating for you.” It is not necessary to ignore emotions.

Don’t argue. If she insists that someone looked at her oddly, or said something unkind, have patience and a sense of humor. Acknowledge her reality without belittling her. That can make her feel better and valued as an individual. And use her name when talking to her. This helps her emotional needs.

Don’t try to reason with a dementia patient. He has his own reality now and while it may not be “true” for you, it is what he lives with today. If he sees things or people who are not there, try changing the subject. If she is sure a certain thing happened that you know is not true, do not try to change the patient’s mind. She is probably going to forget about it soon anyway.

Don’t explain. You don’t know why he or she has the disease and neither do the doctors. There are many theories but still no cure. But you can help the patient by continuing to talk with them, speaking a bit more simply or slowly, and maintaining an adult level of communication. Nothing is more demeaning than using baby talk, or talking about the patient to a third person as if the person with dementia isn’t there. She has memory loss, but she is not deaf.

What are the Do's that will make life more pleasant for both the patient and the caregiver? There is no easy acronym for this, but try patience, sensitivity, talking and a positive attitude.