One of the most tragic aspects of dementia is watching a person who you once knew to be capable, independent, and thriving now have difficulty with basic tasks and revert to a childlike state. There’s often great pain as your loved one knows that they’re regressing but is unable to regain the abilities of their younger self. It may seem like this decline is out of anyone’s control, but there are some ways that you can help to lessen its sting.
First, pay attention to how you’re speaking to your loved one. There’s a tendency for us to talk down to the elderly and treat them like children. Are you being condescending? It may help to separate the person’s illness, which may result in strange and childlike behavior, from who they are essentially as a person. Mom is still there behind her dementia, and you want to honor her. Also think about your vocabulary. Are you using words that you might use with a child but not when talking to your loved one before the onset of dementia? Try calling adult diapers underwear or the “potty” the bathroom or whatever your loved one has always called it.
In conversations, avoid putting your loved one on the spot by asking questions they may not be able to answer. Try to stay away from facts that can be wrong or right, and instead ask how they feel about something. For example, if someone who doesn’t know your mother asks her how many grandchildren she has, redirect the conversation by getting her to talk about how much she loves them instead.
Many caregivers strategically use what they call “therapeutic fibbing” to help their loved ones. For example, dad insists he wants get in his old boat and go fishing by himself the way he used to. Don’t tell him he’s not capable of going out on the water on his own and his boat has been sold anyway, as this will likely make him feel upset and depressed. Instead, you can tell him today’s not a good day because there might be a thunderstorm coming, or that the boat’s engine needs to be repaired.
Each and every one of us needs respect and to feel important. Try to encourage and reassure your loved one that they have value as much as you can, and speak with other family members about doing the same. Your loved one may no longer be the exact same person they once were, but with a little cooperation and assistance from those around them, you can minimize embarrassing situations and despair.