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20 Things Not to Say to Someone With Dementia

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A loving son having a conversation with his senior father who has dementia while enjoying a cup of coffee by the stairs

Living with dementia can be challenging, not only for the individual affected but also for their friends, family, and caregivers. 

For caregivers, effective communication and the creation of a positive environment are essential strategies. Engaging the individual’s attention and conveying messages clearly can facilitate better interactions.

However, when you’re talking to an individual experiencing dementia, it’s important to consider what you say. Avoid correcting them outright or engaging in arguments. It’s not helpful to ask if they remember specific events or to insist they should recall something. Similarly, pointing out, “You’ve mentioned that before”, asking them to confirm their identity, dwelling on past events, or questioning whether they’ve taken their medication can make the conversation more difficult.

At Landmark Crossing at Southgate, we pride ourselves on offering memory care that’s as individual as the people we serve. We understand that each person facing dementia has a unique path. That’s why we customize our services and experiences to meet each individual’s needs.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a comprehensive term that encompasses a range of symptoms affecting memory, language, and problem-solving abilities, significantly impacting daily life. This condition often results from a decline in the brain’s functionality, leading to difficulties in routine activities.

Among the various conditions classified under dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the most recognized, affecting a significant number of individuals worldwide. However, dementia encompasses a spectrum of disorders, each with its own set of challenges.

The experience of living with dementia, or caring for someone who is, requires a deep understanding of the condition. Everyday tasks become increasingly challenging as the individual struggles with cognitive impairments. Empathy and support play important roles in enhancing the quality of life for those affected.

Behaviors associated with dementia, such as aggression, delusions, repetitive actions, insomnia, and wandering, present unique challenges for caregivers. Familiarity with these behaviors allows for more effective management and support.

What Should You Not Say to Someone with Dementia?

“Remember when…”

Avoid referencing past events or memories that the person may not recall. Instead, focus on the present moment or engage in activities that stimulate positive experiences.

“You’re wrong.”

Dismissing their reality can lead to frustration and feelings of invalidation. Validate their feelings and redirect the conversation if necessary.

“You just told me that.”

Refrain from pointing out memory lapses or repetition. Instead, gently remind them of the topic or provide context to help them remember.

“I already told you…”

Repeated reminders of forgetfulness can be discouraging. Approach each interaction with patience and understanding.

“You don’t look like you have dementia.”

Avoid making assumptions based on appearances. Dementia manifests differently in each individual, and outward appearance may not reflect their cognitive state.

“You’re not trying hard enough.”

Blaming or shaming the person for their symptoms is counterproductive. Offer support and encouragement instead of criticism.

“Just think positively.”

Minimizing their struggles with simplistic solutions can be dismissive. Listen to their concerns and offer empathy and reassurance.

“You’re being difficult.”

Avoid labeling their behavior as difficult or challenging. Try to understand the underlying reasons for their actions and respond with patience and compassion.

“Do you remember me?”

Asking this question can create anxiety if the person cannot recall your relationship. Instead, introduce yourself and provide context to help them remember.

“You’re being paranoid.”

Dismissing their concerns as paranoia can escalate feelings of fear and mistrust. Listen attentively and offer comfort and reassurance.

“It’s all in your head.”

Invalidating their experiences or emotions can be hurtful. Acknowledge their feelings and provide support without judgment.

“You’re not making any sense.”

Avoid criticizing or dismissing their communication attempts. Practice active listening and respond with empathy and patience.

“You’re too young to have dementia.”

Age-related assumptions can be misleading. Dementia can affect individuals of any age, and focusing on their needs and experiences is more helpful.

“You’re just being forgetful.”

Minimizing their symptoms can be hurtful and frustrating. Acknowledge their struggles with memory loss and offer support.

“Why can’t you remember?”

Avoid blaming or interrogating the person for their memory lapses. Instead, offer reassurance and support to help them cope with their challenges.

“You used to be so independent.”

Comparing their current abilities to their past self can be disheartening. Focus on supporting their current needs and abilities.

“Let me do it. You can’t handle this.”

Offering help is appreciated, but assuming they can’t manage tasks on their own can be disempowering. Encourage independence while being ready to assist when needed. Don’t focus on what they can’t do—instead, focus on what they can do.

“Have you taken your medication?”

Presuming that memory loss is solely due to medication can oversimplify the situation. Consult with healthcare professionals rather than making assumptions about their medical condition.

Your loved one may not provide a truthful response to this question without meaning to lie. Just like any other question you might ask, their response will likely be affirmative, stating that they’re grown up and are capable of taking their medication–even if they haven’t.

“You’re just confused.”

Avoid labeling their experiences as confusion without understanding the underlying reasons. Offer support and reassurance instead of dismissing their feelings.

“I can’t deal with this anymore.”

Expressing frustration or giving up can be emotionally damaging. Seek support from other caregivers and resources to cope with the challenges of dementia caregiving.

Navigating Communication With Compassion

A happy man and his senior father with demential having a lovely conversation by the pier

Effective communication with someone with dementia requires patience, empathy, and understanding. Avoiding these 20 phrases can help maintain positive interactions and support the individual’s well-being. 

By focusing on validation, empathy, and support, we can create more meaningful connections and improve the quality of life for those living with dementia.

Everyone dealing with memory loss has their own story, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. At Landmark Crossing at Southgate, we create a supportive space that helps your loved one thrive and makes every interaction more meaningful. Get in touch with us or drop by for a visit to see how we can make a difference! 

Written by Angela Clark

More Articles By Angela Clark
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