Tips for Managing Difficult Caregiver Emotions When a Parent Has Dementia

Tips for Managing Difficult Caregiver Emotions When a Parent Has Dementia

Dementia is a tough disease for the person living with it and those who love them. There’s no denying the physical and emotional toll it can take on a family caregiver. While it can be rewarding to care for a loved one during this journey, it’s important to acknowledge that guilt and frustration are common and normal emotions, too.

The challenges of the disease itself are what make being a dementia caregiver so difficult. People with Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, can seemingly go for days without sleep. To keep them safe and protected, a caregiver might be forced to stay awake, too. Because of the damage dementia causes to the brain, there are behaviors that are hard to navigate as well. People with dementia often experience agitation, anxiety, and tearfulness.

One of the keys to surviving the emotional rollercoaster family caregivers often experience is learning how to manage caregiver guilt, fear, and frustration. We have some suggestions that we hope you will find useful.

Managing Difficult Caregiver Emotions

Our first piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Caregiving for someone you love is difficult work, no matter how rewarding it is. When a senior loved one has dementia, the role is exceptionally tough. As the illness progresses, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia rob a person of their independence and ability to communicate. Setting aside the physical demands of care, there is the sadness associated with watching your family member decline.

Other steps you can take to manage the difficult emotional journey of a dementia caregiver include:

  • Journaling: One method of coping with the guilt, fear, and frustration you are feeling is by journaling. It’s an effective solution used by many, including cancer patients, hospice team members, and those in recovery from substance abuse. One practice you might find particularly helpful is known as reflect and release. These tips and prompts for reflective journaling might help you get started.
  • Asking for help: Family caregivers often feel as if they need to handle everything on their own. While it’s understandable to want to help your loved one as much as possible, this can lead to caregiver overload or burnout. Reaching out to friends and family for help, such as assistance running errands or sitting with your senior while you get out for a bit, might ease some of the tough emotions you are experiencing.
  • Utilizing respite: Another option to consider is using respite care regularly. Your loved one can stay at a dementia care community for a few days or weeks while you take a break. You can relax and enjoy time to yourself knowing they are in the hands of expert, professional caregivers.
  • Joining a support group: Finding a group of peers who are walking a similar path with a family member is another good way to help you cope with the challenges of caring for a person with dementia. You could call the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to investigate in-person support groups that meet in your area. You’ll likely find one at a nearby church or senior center. If you prefer an online support group, this resource from the Alzheimer’s Association can help you connect with one.
  • Taking a daily walk: Finally, another good way to clear your head is to take a quick walk outdoors every day. Even if you have to bundle up against the cold or take an umbrella with you, connecting with nature can help boost the spirits and bring a sense of peace.

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

Because we understand the challenges living with a memory impairment creates, we created a specialized form of care for older adults living with dementia. We provide an environment that works around disease-related obstacles to help enhance the quality of life for residents.

No detail is overlooked in our Michigan dementia care communities. From an individualized plan of care to dedicated dining and meaningful daily activities, it’s a solution that benefits older adults and their families. We invite you to call the Heritage location nearest you to learn more!

Tips to Host an Alzheimer’s-Friendly Independence Day Gathering

Tips to Host an Alzheimer’s-Friendly Independence Day Gathering

Every July 4th, Americans pause to celebrate our nation’s birth with family, friends, and neighbors. Festivities traditionally include parades, barbecues, street fairs, and, of course, fireworks. Independence Day activities often include everything from lighting sparklers for the kids to shooting off loud firecrackers in the yard.

While these noisy gatherings are fun for many, others may find them stressful and even frightening. Among those who struggle on Independence Day are veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, people who grapple with anxiety, and adults living with Alzheimer’s.

For adults with Alzheimer’s disease, the flashing lights and loud bangs created by fireworks can cause agitation and fear. It could be severe enough that the senior might attempt to wander from home in search of a quieter, calmer place. For adults with a memory impairment, wandering poses a serious risk of injury or loss of life.

If a spouse or parent has Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia, it’s essential that you take steps to keep your loved one safe on July 4th and the days leading up to it. The following tips can help you plan a safer Independence Day holiday gathering.

Celebrating Safely on July 4th


  • Keep the gathering small and invite familiar people.

While fireworks can create stress and agitation for adults with dementia, the crowd size can factor in too. Sometimes a sea of unfamiliar faces, even if it is people the senior should recognize, causes the most anxiety. That’s why our first tip for hosting a more dementia-friendly Independence Day celebration is to try to keep it small. Your loved one will likely find it less overwhelming. When they aren’t anxious and agitated, it will probably be easier for you to relax and enjoy the event.

  • Plan around the senior’s best and worst times of day.

While July 4th celebrations often occur in the evening, that may not be a great time of day for a senior with dementia. As a family caregiver, you are likely familiar with your loved one’s daily patterns, specifically their best and worst times of day. Use that as a guide for when to have your party. For example, many people with Alzheimer’s experience sundowner’s syndrome. This puts them at risk for wandering and other struggles during late afternoon and early evening hours. In these situations, planning a lunchtime or early afternoon picnic might be a better choice.

  • Arrange alternative activities.

If your loved one with dementia lives in your home, another idea is to plan indoor activities for them to enjoy during the party. It may be helpful to ask people your family member is familiar with to spend a little time engaging in these activities with the senior. For example, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia often find repetitive tasks calming, such as folding a basket of towels or sorting a deck of playing cards. You might also want to set out family photo albums or boxes of pictures for the senior and other family members to go through together. You could also provide a few simple craft projects. These all have the added benefit of giving family members a chance to make memories with the senior.

  • Give guests a heads-up before the party.

Finally, remember that many people aren’t familiar with Alzheimer’s disease and the challenges and changes it causes. Send a quick explanation in email or text to guests who are unfamiliar with your family’s situation. You could also include a link to an article like “Helping Family and Friends Understand Alzheimer’s Disease” to make it easy for guests to learn more.

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

If a senior in your life has been diagnosed with some form of dementia, exploring the options for care in your community is always a good idea. Heritage is one of the leading providers of specialized dementia care in Michigan. We encourage you to contact a community near you to learn more!

Using the Prompting Technique for Loved Ones with Dementia

Using the Prompting Technique for Loved Ones with Dementia

When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, their verbal communication skills are impacted. Because of this, it’s essential that families explore new ways of communicating.

Some families find it useful to provide visual reminders. Examples include a sign with a picture of a cup on the cabinet where you store glasses or a photo of socks on the sock drawer.

Another option is to provide cue cards with photos for the senior to use when they need something and can’t express it. You could include photo prompts for food, water, a blanket, the bathroom, and more. On days when your family member is struggling, these tools can make communication less difficult.

One last suggestion that is worth the time it takes to master is prompting. You can use it to encourage a loved one with dementia to try to accomplish tasks on their own, but with a little direction from you.

Prompt Techniques for Adults with a Memory Impairment

While it can be tough for family caregivers to cope with their loved one’s inability to communicate, it’s probably even more frustrating for them. That’s further compounded when caregivers run out of patience and take over doing tasks completely. Instead, learn more about the types of prompts people with dementia may respond to.

  • Verbal prompts: Tasks that require memory and abstract thought are especially challenging when memory is impaired. Getting dressed in the morning or preparing for bed at night are two examples. While you may think it’s helpful to lay clothing out on your loved one’s bed, that’s really only step one of the process. By using verbal prompts, you’ll make it possible for the older adult to maintain a sense of independence. You could carry on a simple conversation while also guiding them step-by-step through the task. Keep the directions short, such as, “Take your shoes and socks off. Put your bathrobe on.” Giving a person with dementia too many steps to follow at once will force them to rely on short-term memory that is likely damaged.
  • Hand gestures: A person with memory loss will likely be able to follow gestures you provide one at a time. If you want them to brush their teeth for example, point to their toothbrush and toothpaste. Then pretend as if you are placing toothpaste on an invisible toothbrush and lifting it to your mouth. You might have to model this step twice and then mimic brushing your teeth. It will take longer than just doing it for your loved one, but they will feel more independent doing it for themselves.
  • Hand guidance: Though this one doesn’t allow for quite as much self-sufficiency, it still gives the senior a sense of independence. If your family member is struggling with a particular task, place your hand over or under theirs to act as a guide. Gently help your loved one overcome what is keeping them from succeeding, and then allow them to try again to finish the action. The idea is to provide just enough support as is necessary.

Memory Care Neighborhoods at Heritage

As the leading provider of dementia care in Michigan, caregivers in memory care neighborhoods at Heritage communities receive specialized training. It helps our staff to learn how to support the unique needs of people with memory loss. We invite you to schedule a private tour to learn more.

Benefits of Container Gardening for People with Dementia

Benefits of Container Gardening for People with Dementia

Dear Donna:

A few years ago, my mom was diagnosed with dementia. As a family, we’ve been managing the disease fairly well so far. But I do feel like we need to find more meaningful activities for her to engage in. I hope to give her more productive ways to pass time.

Mom was a lifelong gardener until the symptoms of her disease caused some mobility challenges. Gardening always gave her such a sense of contentment. This summer, I am thinking of trying to help her create and nurture container gardens. Does this seem like a hobby that would benefit a person with dementia? Do you have any tips?


JoAnna in Williamsburg, MI

Gardening Tips for Adults with Dementia

Dear JoAnna:

What a great idea! Window boxes, pots, hanging baskets, and raised flower/vegetable beds are good ways to allow older adults with mobility problems to enjoy this popular pastime. Engaging with nature has proven health benefits, including for people with dementia. It’s linked to lower stress, better sleep, and more positive self-esteem.

Here are a few tips that I hope will help you and your mom make the most of your gardening hobby this summer:

  • Look for pictures in magazines or on gardening websites.

One way to get started is by sitting down with your mom and flipping through old gardening magazines or visiting websites, such as Pinterest, to get some ideas. Save pictures of flowers and plants you and your mom like. It will help you better define your garden style. Some people find it helpful to come up with a color scheme for their flowers, like purple, pink, and yellow or red, purple, and white.

  • Identify locations for your containers or raised beds.

Your flower and vegetable choices will be directly impacted by the amount of sun or shade they receive each day. That’s why it’s important to identify where you will place your containers or raised beds. If space isn’t an issue for you and your yard has both sun and shade, you will likely be able to choose whatever plants you both like most. And don’t restrict yourself to just pots on the patio or porch if you have easy access to water. Hang pots from shepherd’s hooks near the shed or back door. Plant an herb garden in window boxes, or grow a cutting garden in a raised bed.

  • Invest in good potting soil.

One thing we’ve noticed in creating container gardens with our dementia care residents is how important good soil is to the plants’ health. Don’t just dig up dirt from your yard to fill the pots and raised beds. Instead, purchase one that is specifically designed for containers. Most of them have moisture container components that keep the pots from drying out too quickly. Your local independent garden center may sell a region-specific mix. If not, brands like Happy Frog, Miracle-Gro, or Espoma usually work well.

  • Take water into consideration.

Finally, as you are planning where to locate your containers, remember that they will need more frequent watering than in-ground flowers and vegetables. If you aren’t able to help your mom carry a watering can or drag a hose around the yard, be sure to keep your containers close to a water source or install drip irrigation. While tools like watering globes can help a little, they really aren’t a match for the hot, humid days of a Michigan or Indiana summer.

I hope these tips help you and your mom get your garden off to a great start!

Kind regards,


Visit a Heritage Dementia Care Program

Heritage is one of the leading providers of care for adults with dementia in the Great Lakes region. From our person-centered approach to care to our specialized training programs for caregivers, we help adults with a memory impairment enjoy their best quality of life. Call the Heritage community nearest you to talk with an experienced team member about specialty dementia care!

Can Olfactory Enrichment Improve Memory Loss?

Can Olfactory Enrichment Improve Memory Loss?

Dear Donna:

My mom was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, we are trying to learn more about the disease and if there is anything we can do to slow the progression. We are also trying to plan for her current and future care needs. It feels like a lot.

I recently caught the very end of a radio interview about using different smells to treat Alzheimer’s. It also covered how the sense of smell may be linked to neurological conditions, like dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Are you aware of any credible research on this topic? I’m trying to explore every avenue I can.


Elise in Pittsford Township, MI

Can Smells Impact Alzheimer’s?

Dear Elise:

While it sounds like you are on the right track in understanding and preparing for your mom’s long-term needs, it is understandable that you are feeling overwhelmed. It can be so much for families.

You’ve asked a great question regarding how smells may impact Alzheimer’s. It’s an interesting topic, for sure. Researchers have long believed the loss of smell, whether caused by environmental factors, age, sinus problems, or something else, can increase a person’s risk for certain neurological conditions. Those range from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.

The olfactory system, which is responsible for the sense of smell, is comprised of the nostrils, the ethmoid bone, the nasal cavity, and layers of tissue that line the nasal cavity. The olfactory system is also directly connected to the body’s limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for memory and emotion.

This proximity is one reason researchers are so interested in exploring the topic. One of the most recent studies is from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Its lead researcher is Dr. Michael Leon, Professor Emeritus of the Institute of Memory Impairment & Disorders at UCI. He has been studying memory loss for over three decades.

Leon believes aging and memory go hand-in-hand with a sense of smell. It’s thought that as the ability to smell is diminished or lost completely, the brain is at risk for a host of health problems. While his team’s study was too small to reach a solid conclusion, the preliminary findings are encouraging.

People who received olfactory enrichment in the form of seven different diffused essential oils showed significant improvements in verbal learning and memory. In fact, when using the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), the enrichment group showed a 226% difference in performance.

You can find and read the full study, “Overnight olfactory enrichment using an odorant diffuser improves memory and modifies the uncinate fasciculus in older adults,” online. It was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience on July 24, 2023.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Kind regards,


Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

Having a thoughtfully-designed, controlled environment helps adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia live their best quality of life. At Heritage Senior Communities, we offer specialized dementia care at our Michigan communities. Our person-centered approach to care includes dedicated programs, such as for dining services and life enrichment activities.

If you are searching for a memory care community for a Michigan loved one, we invite you to call the Heritage memory care community nearest you. One of our team members will be happy to arrange a tour and answer any questions you may have!

How Can I Make the Spring Time Change Easier on a Spouse with Alzheimer’s?

How Can I Make the Spring Time Change Easier on a Spouse with Alzheimer’s?

Dear Donna:

My husband was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s almost two years ago. So far, I’ve been able to manage his disease at home. Recently, however, he’s started trying to leave home. It mostly happens in the evening. While our home security system alerted me both times he exited our house, I know I have to be vigilant.

I’ve read the statistics about wandering and how dangerous it is for people with Alzheimer’s, so I’m trying to be as proactive as possible. I ordered a GPS watch that my husband wears all the time now. In the event the worst does happen, it will help me locate him quickly.

I have a question about something that was mentioned in my Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. Several caregivers have noticed that the time changes in fall and spring seem to exacerbate their loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease. Thinking back, last fall’s time change might have been challenging for my husband, too. I didn’t make the connection then.

As the spring time change gets closer, I’m wondering if there are steps I can take to make it easier for my husband. Any advice would be much appreciated.


Meghan in Scio Township, MI

Helping a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Navigate the Time Change

Dear Meghan:

Great question! It’s one we’ve been asked before and we always appreciate the opportunity to share tips to help families manage the seasonal time change.

While many people find the time change difficult to adjust to, it can be much more challenging for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Here are some suggestions you might find useful: