Dementia – tips for carers

Ways to support your loved one with dementia and make it easier for both of you

Key points about dementia tips for carers

  • Caring for someone with dementia at home is intense, challenging and rewarding.
  • On this page are everyday tips to help you manage.
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Your loved one still likes to be useful and have meaning in their life. Support them to live life as they want to for as long as they can. 

Find tasks that they can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do. For example, they may no longer be able to cook dinner but they can lay the table or dry dishes. 

Accept their reality. Rather than arguing, this may mean accepting the belief that their parents are still alive, or that you are somewhere different to where you actually are. That doesn’t really matter.

If your loved one wants to do something unsafe or act on a belief that isn't real, distracting them with another activity or experience often works better than directly saying no, even it means joining them in their reality for a while.

Treat your loved one the way that you would want to be treated. They're not trying to upset or frustrate you, what they say and do shows how they're really experiencing life now.

If you need to step into another room to take some deep breaths to calm down that’s fine, as long as your loved one is safe.

Your daily life will run more smoothly if you have a regular routine. This helps make the most of your loved one’s brain function and helps them to sleep at night. It might include always doing the same thing after breakfast (eg, a walk, or listening to the same piece of favourite music). Getting out into natural daylight during the day, and reducing artificial light in the evenings helps with sleep. Doing the same things in the same order before bed tells our brains it's time to wind down.

Older couple looking at photos in an album

Image credit: Canva

If your loved one gets agitated, take the time to figure out what’s bothering them. Are they hungry? Constipated? Have they seen something out of the window or in the house that upsets them? Are they bored? If they're sad or worried, hold their hand and listen. Reassure them but avoid telling them there is nothing to be sad or worried about.

You may find that providing them with something to keep their hands occupied helps them to calm them down. If you or a whānau member of friend can knit or crochet, try making a fidget glove or sleeve for them to wear and fiddle with. Below are some examples of free patterns available:

Make sure you have your loved one’s attention before you start to talk. Speak clearly, slowly and in short sentences. Talk about one thing at a time. Leave more time for a reply. Avoid interrupting. Use body language to help understanding – gestures, movement and facial expression. Notice their body language too. If they still don’t understand, try doing the activity you want them to do so they can copy you.

Questions can be difficult to answer and make your loved one feel stressed. It may be easiest for them to say no. Try speaking in a conversational way, for example, “I thought we could go for a walk to the park today” rather than, “would you like to go for a walk to the park today?”

When they’re getting dressed it’s good to have a choice, but a direct question may not work well. “I’ve got out the green shirt and the blue shirt for you to choose from” can work better than, “Would you like to wear the green shirt?”

Young woman holding up two different coloured shirt options

Image credit: Canva

Help them to stay connected to friends and activities they enjoy. Read more about how to avoid social isolation in someone with dementia.

The music your loved one enjoyed as a teenager and young adult is likely to make them feel calmer and happier now too.

They may enjoy spending time with pets and children.

Grandfather smiling at grandchildren

Image credit: Healthify He Puna Waiora

Accept support. Caring for a person with dementia is hard work. You need to look after yourself so that you can look after your loved one.

If you want support you can contact Dementia New Zealand(external link) or Alzheimers New Zealand(external link) for information about what's available for you. 

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust

Reviewed by: Dr Emma Dunning, Clinical Editor and Advisor

Last reviewed: