Caring for a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s is difficult and sometimes frustrating. As the disease progresses, it robs your senior loved one of the ability to understand and communicate. It also brings personality changes and behavioral changes that can challenge even the most patient of caregivers.

How family caregivers and personal companions respond and react in these situations can make a difference.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers practice “compassionate communication” and  respond calmly. This can not only minimize conflict, but reduce aggressive behaviors.

Minimizing Stress in a Senior with Alzheimer’s Disease

Here are some dos and don’ts that can reduce stress for your loved one with Alzheimer’s and for you.

DO change the way you communicate.

  • DO use short, clear sentences. Repeat yourself using a calm voice when necessary.
  • DON’T provide explanations or tell lengthy stories.  
  • DON’T ask questions like “Do you remember when…? Or ask if your loved one remembers what happened in recent memory. This can be humiliating for a person living with Alzheimer’s who likely can’t remember.
  • DO carefully rephrase your questions so that they can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
  • DON’T remind your senior loved one that their memory is failing. Statements like “I just told you that this morning,” or “I cannot believe you don’t remember that,” can upset and agitate a person with Alzheimer’s.

DO adjust your attitude.

  • DO practice kindness and patience. It is easy to become irritated and frustrated when you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  

When working with your loved one becomes difficult, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they cannot control their disease. Alzheimer’s causes the deterioration of brain cells. Your loved one is not behaving as they are because they want to aggravate you. As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it, “Once dementia is diagnosed, the patient is excused 100% of the time.”

  • DO be cheerful and reassuring. This can keep your Alzheimer’s loved one calm and help them to feel safe.  
  • DO “go with the flow.” The Family Caregiver Alliance explains that caregivers shouldn’t be concerned about correcting their senior loved one’s misunderstandings. For instance, rather than  letting them know that a loved one they want to go see has been dead for years,  experts recommend caregivers “let it go” and play along to avoid conflict and stress.

DO change your response.

  • DON’T argue or confront. Taking an aggressive stance can trigger an aggressive defense in a person living with Alzheimer’s. When your senior loved one does or says something troubling, it is best to distract them from their thought or behavior. For instance, if your father with Alzheimer’s insists that he needs to get to work, distracting him with a snack and a walk will calm him. Explaining that he retired ten years earlier will only further agitate him.
  • DO focus on reducing stress and making your senior loved one feel safe. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people living with dementia are very often fearful. When reacting to their behavior, consider all your options and act with their comfort and security in mind.

For more information about caring for your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s Caregiver Center.