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Caring for a Loved One with Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease

Home Instead expert, David Troxel, discusses how companionship and friendships are the best treatment for Dementia.

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Many family caregivers presently care for a parent or spouse who is suffering from some form of dementia. In fact, the frequency of dementia increases with rising age from less than 2% for 65-69-year-olds, to 5% for 75-79 year-olds and to more than 20% for 85-89 year-olds.

Caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease is particularly challenging because the disease is progressive and, eventually, completely debilitating. The person receiving the help may not be able to appreciate or acknowledge it or may even be verbally or physically abusive. Caregivers often have a hard time dealing with the fact that their loved one eventually may not recognize them.

"Caregivers of senior relatives or spouses with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are at great risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, frustration, stress and anger," warns Richard Schulz, Ph.D., caregiver stress expert at the University of Pittsburgh. Research shows that caregivers of a family member with dementia face particularly stressful demands because of the length of period of care, the behavioral and cognitive problems associated with dementia, and the extreme impairment of patients with end-stage dementia.

"Caregivers of patients with dementia should be particularly vigilant about their ability to deal with the challenges they face and seek assistance early in their caregiving role, as the disease is just beginning," advises Dr. Schulz. "It is also important to speak to the senior about his or her wishes before they unable to make important decisions.

In order to better care for a relative suffering from severe dementia or Alzheimer's disease, the following tips are recommended:

  • Understand the disease. Read about the disease, its affects, etc., so you are prepared as it progresses. With this understanding also comes additional patience, as you realize that the person is not doing this on purpose or to make you angry. It is a medical condition.
  • Enter their world. Instead of trying to correct a person with Alzheimer's disease, ask them simple questions about their statements, even if they seem strange or are about a person who is no longer living, etc. This will make you and your relative less frustrated.
  • Strike a balance. Encourage as much independence as possible. Help the person by prompting or cueing them to do things for themselves, when possible, but realize you'll need to step in if your relative's safety or well-being will be compromised in any way.
  • Get support. Enlist the help of family and friends to spend some time with your relative, if possible, to give you respite. Join a local support group for people who care for those with dementia/Alzheimer's disease to hear their stories and know you aren't alone.
  • Tap into resources. Find professionals in your area to assist with practical, yet emotional tasks, such as making senior care decisions, elder law issues/Power of Attorney, asset management or creating a will.
  • Decide on assistance. Family caregivers often find they are spending quantity time vs. quality time - doing the shopping, taking the relative to appointments, cleaning, vs. spending time with their relative. Enlist the help of a professional caregiver for the everyday tasks, so you can spend time with your loved one and appreciate them.
  • Environmental distractions, such as street noise, a loud television or radio, can lead to agitation or anxiety. It is important to make a positive and comfortable environment.
  • Use effective communication when speaking to someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Be aware of your rate of speech, your pitch and tone.
  • Use positive body language. Greet the individual with relaxed facial expressions and shoulders. If you are tense the person with dementia or Alzheimer's disease may pick up on it.

The more you know, the better your loved one's care will be. Free online training and expert tips at

Last revised: April 12, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. April 26, 2019 at 10:56 pm | Posted by Stacymorgan

    Thank you. This was eye opening and i felt a better so sorry Grammy. Xoxo


  2. March 16, 2019 at 8:41 am | Posted by Russell Snyder

    Don't know any Avenues for this HELP


  3. October 10, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Posted by Angelina

    4 years has passed since you wrote this. I hope you are in a much different stage of your life right now. I pray you have peace, happiness and peace of mind. I am a 24 hr in home nurse by profession. I work with Alzheimer's and dementia elderly. Previously I worked 3, 4 or 5 consecutive 24 hour shirts however for the past 6 months I've moved in with my client. Havjng minimal time off the first 6 months and currently my clients kids have managed to hire relief for me.


  4. October 20, 2015 at 7:38 pm | Posted by louise

    I watched my Dad suffer through Alzheimer's disease for 14 years. My Mom is now showing signs of some kind of dementia. I know watching a child die must be unbearable and people never get over it. I can't get over this...I've cursed God a thousand times over...if there is a heaven or hell...I choose hell, it can't be any worse than watching this progression. I know everyone goes through life with some tragedy...nothing in life, in my mind, is worth all this pain...I would rather to have never lived. I hope for a very short life span.


    • January 17, 2020 at 11:35 am | Posted by Patricia

      I’m so sorry to read your words! How true they are! There is so much on these sites about how rewarding it is to be a caregiver. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Speaking for myself, the bizarre behavior is the most difficult thing to observe and to deal with. Where I live, unless you sign up with an agency and have a contact with the agency, caregiver help is not available, especially when you say your person is male and has dementia. I need someone to come in overnight so I can sleep. It’s hard enough to deal with the combative behavior, refusal to bathe, hoarding behavior, all day long and being awakened by the person roaming the house all night. I have often wondered what the meaning and purpose of human life is. I know it’s all about vibration and keeping your vibration high, but it’s extremely challenging to do that when you’re “in the trenches.” I have been told that people with dementia are just trying to get back to the larger part of themselves that is the non-physical. The dementia sufferer, in their non-physical self, knows it’s the shortest path to bliss. If that’s the case, intellectually, it’s easy to understand and accept. But, as an exhausted caregiver , it’s a daily challenge to endure this sad journey with the sufferer. I am taking life one day at a time. Just one day at a time. There is no hell, just low vibration. Listen to the wisdom of Abraham Hicks on YouTube. It’s saving my life. Maybe it’ll improve yours, too.


  5. January 20, 2015 at 10:45 pm | Posted by anna-marie

    I care for my husband and my mother my mother of 90 yrs I love to the moon and back who struggles with diaeties.. my husband with Parkinson and coped there are days when I do not know where to divide my time . my love is to the moon and back for both but mom does not live with me at 90 and my husband's needs are more demanding I cannot explain the stress level... I am off of on disability myself so my tolerance level I guess is questionable... some days I want to crawl in a hole to hide is that so bad but I know I can not as I know they need me but the thought is there.


  6. December 13, 2014 at 1:33 am | Posted by A daughter

    I sat hospice with my mother. That was tough. Having spent the last 3 years of my life driving her and my dad to all their dr appointments, doing all their shopping, paying their bills and cleaning their house while running my own business office, homeschooling my son and trying to keep my house clean enough to not be condemed was rough. Then came the hospice. The hospice nurses and aides were incredibly awesome!!!! But having to feed, wipe, wash and watch my mom die more each day was rough. Now my husband and I swap nights at Dad's house. He has a traumatic brain injury (which looks like dementia to those who don't know better). He can't be left alone for more than a few hours because he gets confused about times, days and what to do. We do have an aide that comes 3 hours a day 3 days a week. And we are so grateful for that! But it's been over 6 months since we've slept in the same house let alone the same bed. I still have the office, still homeschool my son and cook and clean for all of us. But this is as hard as hospice. I know that's coming again too. I AM grateful I still have my Dad....but I don't. I have a 4yo in an 82 yo body.....I know we're doing what he and Mom told me they wanted us to do when they gave me durable power of attorney. And made me executrix of their estates. But you have no idea how much I long for a day or even a couple of hours that I could have fun, laugh and not be responsible for being the functioning brain cell for everyone around me.....sigh. And while I'm thrilled my Creator feels I'm capable of all this, I wish I felt as capable.


    • January 20, 2015 at 10:28 pm | Posted by anna-marie

      I SO HEAR your I am caring for my 90 yr mother and my husband with parkinsons and copd.. emphysema and I am personally off on disability due to back issues and other isssues that really don't matter. right now next to the two above me. I pray each day that I can get through this I guess I am expected to I hope each day I can live up to my expecatations husband s issues are difficult and each day I feel so unappreciated some days I am not sure I can go on ..but I trust my faith will get me through this. and he will be ok


  7. March 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Posted by Julie

    I am currently living with and caring for my 95 year old grandmother who is legally blind (one eye no vision, the other has central vision), hard of hearing (possibly just a cleaning issue), gait of a toddler, has ileitis/Chron's Disease, otherwise healthy, no medications. My mom, her daughter, was murdered. To say I am stressed is an understatement. My grandmother has developed some dementia and I am in denial that she is not how she always has been. She becomes agitated, confused, accusatory, repetitive, obsessive-compulsive. It is not regular but often is worse before bed. I often get frustrated and resentful and cry. I like the concept of the Adult Day Care if you have any information on the process, places nearby and if covered by either BlueCross of Massachusetts and/or Medicaid/Medicare programs. I work 10 hours weekly and in order to increase that and work a normal fulltime job, I would need an exceptional Adult Day Care for her. She used to go to Bingo but after a surgery which removed 2 feet of her intestine relative to the Chrons she never returned. Any advice you can give me is most helpful. Thank you.


  8. January 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Posted by Donna

    How do I help help my partner who is a care giver?


    • January 3, 2012 at 10:05 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      I wish there was an easy answer, Donna. The most simple piece of advice I can give you is to be patient, flexible, and loving. Find ways to pamper your partner - they need surely need it. If you can, find time to help with the caregiving any way you can. Your help is a great way to show your support (and spend time with the one you love). Does anyone else have advice for Donna? Cat Koehler Home Instead


  9. January 1, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Posted by Donna

    It's hard and you need to vent .... Frustration is a part of life with a loved one with dementia ... Being a caregiver is very hard .... Being a loved one of the care giver is hard.... Believe in yourself .... Know you are doing everything you can ... I believe ... Being outside looking in you can see how much love you are giving... I just need to know how to help the care giver ...


  10. July 14, 2011 at 2:18 am | Posted by Caren Hamilton

    The Caregiver Stress Meter ranked me as "High." It is really nice to be validated, because most people instead like to tell me how blessed I am to still have my mom and how cute she is and what an amazing daughter I am. All true, but I would so love there to be a website where we could just anonymously rant and rave as needed, and where the facilitator would simply reply, "Man, you've got it rough. Please hang in there." No advice, no nice platitudes, just a venue to air our grievances or tell our sickly funny stories about our demented loved ones. That would sure help me get up in the morning and put on a my (very fake) happy, calm demeanor and face the challenge of being an only (adopted) child taking care of my 90-year-old mom and two college age kids and two teenage kids and husband and two 90-pound dogs every stinkin' day! Thanks, it feels so good to just vent sometimes. God Bless You All -- you are truly doing the Lord's work on Earth, even if it is sometimes just plain hard and humbling.


    • May 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Posted by Pat Simpson

      Dear Caren, I understand completely how you feel. I also am so sick and tired of people telling me how blessed I am to have my mom living with me. I have to take her blood pressure and put eye drops in her eyes for glocoma everyday. I know that I have been blessed but after her living with us for 18 years and now she is 98 with health problems and dementia. I am tired of being a caregiver for her and my husband who has alzheimer's. I had him in adult day care three days a week but he became difficult to take care of there so now he is at home. He has type 2 diabetes also which means that I have to give him insulin shots 4 times a day. They both are mellow most of the time but sometime they each get stubborn, then things get really rough. I do their pill boxes, their finances, all of the shopping, and I could go on and on and on. My big fear is what am I going to do when they can't get themselves to the bathroom or take a show by themselves. I don't know how I will be able to handle feeding either of them when that time comes. I know that the Lord will not put more on my plate than I can handle but it certainly be wonderful to have a plate less full.


      • January 20, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Posted by anna-marie

        my heart goes out to you I know exactly how you feel as I am the main care giver for my mother and my husband there are days when I feel guilty if I give more attention to one than the other and if I have not done enough for one or the other..


  11. July 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Posted by Shirley

    Almost all these posts eventually refer to a care facility say 'I love my Mom and I couldn't do that to her.' Seriously, you can be her caregiver, her financial comptroller, her IRS preparer, her medical consultant, her grocery shopper and nutritionist, her clothes shopper and laundrier. But, you cannot do an adequate job of being her entire social life. Conversations and social activity are the best prevention for memory loss, loneliness, and interest in life. You will continue to offer her activities that she is familiar with. While that is comforting to her, I'm sure - it is not a good brain exercise that helps her stimulate new brain signals. Research shows that it is NEW actitivies and brain stimula that retain or regain better memory and cognitive reasoning. In the past, we heard that crossword puzzles, etc. were great for this, but that is not true. If you continually do crossword puzzles, that becomes a repetitive activity and your brainn is not learning new things and stimulating brain cells. Rest assured, there is absolutely NO substitute for a loving caregiver and no one can help guide her through important financial and medical decisions and financial chores better than you. But, she needs social activity that you cannot provide. And, if she were making these lifestyle decisions when she was younger and able to make them with her real goals in mind, most likely, she would decide to make decisions that assured her you would be continuing your own life and your own interests in your life, career, hobbies, etc. The last thing she needs is you to lose these things, to become depressed, to have a stressful marriage, to let your own friends and kids drift away. Many care facilities provide great physical and social activities and transportation. My sister and I struggled with this decision. We planted enough seeds that eventually Mom got the idea that she was overwelmed with 'independent' living. We think she may have gotten a scare or a series of scares that concerned her. The first few months at the new place were tough - she couldn't find her way around and got her area code and room number mixed up. But soon she got used to her new place and went to 3-5 physical classes a week. Her balance is better than it has been for 3 years. She is no longer withdrawn and is making friends. She is now closer to me so I can monitor her activities and help with doctor appts., etc. I still get frustrated and impatient and am overwhelmed at times. Its amazing how much help she needs now. But, SHE is improving weekly. Though she needs help and probably needed alot of help that we didn't provide just because she was doing without or toughing it out and we weren't aware of it. It is iimperative to join her Doctor's appts. Friends and hired help cannot have the same vested interest as a loved one. Most of all, it is important to make these changes while she is still competent to do so. As she ages and declines it will be so much easier for her if she does so in a familiar environment with an assortment of friends. My husband, too, is very helpful and understanding. It would be a shame if he got so fed up with a home that was no longer HIS 'home' that it resulted in a divorce or so much frustration with her needs and my needs that he resented it when she really does need to move in for closer help. Some independent living places provide an extra bedroom that if additional help is needed to comfort or care for her hourly needs, it is cheaper and more desireable than /assisted living. I am new to this (just 4 months) so have much more to learn about possible Medicare/Long Term Disability assistance. One thing is clear - we should have done this sooner so she could have adapted easier.


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