Phrases to Avoid Saying to Loved Ones With Dementia

  |     |   Memory Care

a elderly wife attempts to comfort her senior husband with dementia sitting on a couch

When a loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, you might feel immediately overcome with the desire to say something comforting or encouraging to your loved one. But, unfortunately, you might find that there isn’t much to say, or what you want to say doesn’t feel right or “enough.” 

The reality is that the patient who received the diagnosis also likely doesn’t know what they want to hear, either.

As you both navigate this together, you might find that you say or do the wrong thing. Try not to be too hard on yourself. You’re likely experiencing this for the first time, just like they are. 

Memory care can be an incredible resource, not just for their health and safety, but for you and your family to learn more about the condition your loved one is living with. 

But there are a few things you might not even think to ask about, such as what to say to someone with dementia in certain situations. Without realizing it, you might say something hurtful or confusing to them, even when you don’t mean to. 

Here are a few things you should avoid saying or doing to loved ones with dementia. 

“You ARE home” to Someone Who Is In Dementia Care.

When a person with dementia is asking to go home, they’re likely trying to communicate that they’re uncomfortable or don’t feel safe where they are, even if they’re already home or in a safe place. 

Try not to get frustrated, and avoid trying to reason with them. It can be highly frustrating for these individuals to hear that they are “already” home because it can sound like you’re telling them what they’re feeling is wrong. 

Instead, trying to understand and acknowledge their feelings. This is very different from saying, “Dad, calm down; everything is okay!” But, again, this can feel dismissive. 

Reassure them that they’re safe verbally or with comforting touches where appropriate. 

Ask your loved one about how they’re feeling. Are they unhappy? Lonely? Scared? This person is trying to communicate that they aren’t feeling safe at “home”. 

“You’ve told me this a million times!”: How to Help Someone with Dementia Preserve Their Memories

Not necessarily in the literal sense, but figuratively, through remembering and preserving their stories to pass on. 

As dementia progresses, your loved one may spend a lot of time telling you stories you’ve already heard over and over.  It can be frustrating or annoying, but remember, your loved one is just trying to communicate and connect with you. Moreover, telling them sharply that you’ve heard it before might make them feel embarrassed over something they can’t control. 

Instead, try asking them to tell you more, even if you feel like you could retell this story yourself. Consider writing down or even recording them telling their stories for posterity, too. 

When they’re gone, you might wish you could hear that story one more time. 

“Mom, who am I?”: Coping with a Parent with Dementia Who Might Not Remember You

Reconciling that one of your loved ones doesn’t remember you can be heart-wrenching. Don’t ever feel guilty or hide from how this makes you think. Of course, it’s painful, and of course, you’re grieving. 

But remember, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to jog their memory by asking, and saying “Mom, it’s me” over and over will likely have no effect. Moreover, it can often feel undignified for the patient and could only hurt both of you more. 

Instead, try introducing yourself and explaining your relationship. They may not remember next time, but this gentle kindness is invaluable in moments like these. 

Enjoy moments of clarity where they DO remember you, but remember that it might be fleeting, too. 

For more advice and guidance on coping with a loved one going through dementia, visit our blog post “Losing a Parent to Dementia: 6 Coping Tips from Caregivers”. 

Symphony Senior Living is dedicated to providing comfort, assistance, and care to older Canadians, whether they join us in Assisted Living or Memory Care. We strive to provide kindness, care, and dignity to every resident who comes through our doors and reassurances to the people who love them. To learn more, visit us at https://www.symphonyseniorliving.com.

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