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How to Empathize with People Who Suffer from Dementia

As a family caregiver, you have the opportunity to strengthen bonds with an older loved one with dementia. However, ongoing care can present challenging moments, especially if your relative has diminished communication skills, is easily confused, or demonstrates negative behavioural expressions due to their condition.

However frustrating this might be for you, it’s important to remember that care will go much easier if you meet them where they are and put yourself in their shoes to understand what they’re going through.

Doing so helps us act with empathy, which is critical to successfully delivering quality care to your loved one.

Six ways to show empathy to someone with dementia

1. Listen closely to what they’re communicating

Listening is a critical way of showing empathy to your loved one. However, it’s important to remember that we must “listen” with more than our ears and pay attention to gestures and body language. This is especially important for people who have trouble with verbal communication, a common symptom of dementia.

You can also acknowledge their reality by responding with phrases such as, “You look tired today” or “You sound upset that you missed your show.” Always use a gentle, reassuring tone and positive words when addressing them, regardless of how you may personally feel about their concerns.

Actively listening also shows the person that you care and are willing to validate their feelings.

2. Always treat them with respect

Sometimes, people with dementia seem to “act up”, reminding you of how a young child might behave. They still should be treated with the same respect you would show any other adult, without using demeaning or condescending words or belittling tones.

There may be times when they make choices that seem irrational or arbitrary or level opinions about ideas or things different from yours. It’s a good idea to respect their preferences, choices, and opinions as long as they won’t put them in danger (e.g., they want to leave the house alone, drive the car, or consume something that could harm them).

Showing your older loved one respect at all times will preserve their dignity and help them feel good about themselves.

3. Avoid being judgmental

Your loved one might seem to be acting in irrational ways or in a manner contrary to their usual demeanour, such as being argumentative or grouchy. It’s crucial to remember that what you’re seeing isn’t “them”, but rather the effects dementia is having on their brain. It’s not their fault.

Always respond in a non-judgmental way and accept the person for who they are. Doing so will remind them that you are there to support and care for them. Showing love without judgment in all circumstances is a wonderfully effective way of acting with empathy.

They might not openly acknowledge your efforts but will cherish them deep down inside.

4. Use simple, straightforward language

When engaging verbally with your loved one, use clear and concise language without employing complex sentences or jargon. Speak slowly, giving them time to process what you’re saying at their own speed. Avoid moving on to a different topic until the first one is resolved.

You can also reinforce your messaging with visual aids, such as pictures or gestures, that will help you get your point across.

Not only will you show empathy by speaking with clear language, but you’ll also avoid confusing the person, which can trigger frustration and negative behaviour.

5. Offer comfort and support

People with dementia often display signs of discomfort, pain, or loneliness. You can offer comfort by holding their hand or offering a hug if they’re comfortable with physical touching. Other ways of providing emotional comfort and support are smiling, paying them a compliment, or starting a pleasant conversation.

A blanket, pillow, snack, or drink may comfort them if they feel cold, tired, hungry, or thirsty. If they’re bored or feeling isolated, suggest you play a game, sing a song, or suggest going for a walk.

Your older relative will appreciate your loving efforts to comfort them, even if they can’t clearly express it.

6. Be patient with them

Being a caregiver is hard work that demands patience at all times. Your loved one might need extra time to complete an everyday task or pause in the middle of a sentence while trying to find the right words. These are all symptoms of the effects dementia has on the brain.

Allow them the time and space they need to process information, express themselves, or complete tasks without interrupting, rushing, or correcting them. Help them feel loved by avoiding frustration, anger, and impatience when they make mistakes, repeat themselves, or appear confused.

Treating them with patience and kindness is a great way to show empathy and help your loved one have a great day despite their condition.

Remember to care for yourself too

We all know how demanding dementia care can be. Be sure to practice ample self-care to keep your spirits and energy levels high. Taking time to exercise, spending time with friends, or simply getting some quiet time will help protect your mental and physical health, allowing you to provide the best care for your loved one.

Remember, when you need respite or regular dementia care support, CareHop is only a phone call away.

Quality in-home elder care services in Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

CareHop specializes in providing safe, professional eldercare services, including on-demand Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care, that bring peace of mind to families who need support.

We also offer other in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship that help ensure your loved one gets all the professional care they need.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you with safe, cost-effective eldercare solutions.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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