Living with Dementia

The recognition of dementia by adult children can be a sudden jolt, or a slow process. The problem, however, truly arises when they must deal with a loved one's wishes to remain living at home while dealing with this new dilemma. When you live close to the family member and set them on a daily basis, it can be difficult to recognize the disease as it progresses. Generally, it is a slow progression that barely changes on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, it's just as easy to live in denial and rationalize the personality changes as "aging" and nothing more.


The moment of "WOW! Something's different," most often comes from a person that has been away for a while and just returned to your loved one's life, allowing them to see the dramatic change that has happened in terms of managing daily activities.

For people living at home, it is difficult to know just when the person should be placed in the special care of a memory center. The special kind of care that a person will require and receive will be an important part of keeping them safe and making the best decision. If dementia is progressing and the person is doing just fine at home, with no danger being present, there are still precautions that should be in place if a crisis should happen. Most people wait too long and do not take action until a major incident has already happened, which can sometimes mean the death of a loved one.

One of the common symptoms of this disease is wandering. There is no pattern with dementia and changes will quickly happen without warning. It isn't an uncommon thing for a person suffering from dementia to flee after their spouse has fallen asleep for the night. There are things you can do, however:

  • Place stop signs on all of the doors of the house.

  • ID tags can be sewn into all of their clothing. If they wander off and are then found, an ID tag will help them be returned to you safely. Local Alzheimer's Associations normally have "safe return" programs that help with this problem in particular.

  • Install door alarms that will make a sound whenever opening a door. These are easy to find at any local hardware store.

  • Contact your local police department and give them the name and address of your loved one who is suffering from dementia. If they wander off, an officer on patrol can easily return them to you.

  • Preserve a sample of their DNA in case the person is confused or must be identified in the event of their death.

As dementia progresses, it can become easy for simple tasks to become overwhelming. Some things to consider are:

  • Purchasing a special telephone that has large speed dial buttons and numbers can help them contact people without confusion. The speed dial buttons should be labeled with names, rather than numbers, and the police button should be labeled POLICE instead of 911.

  • A sign should be hung from the mirror in the bathroom that will list their daily routine with things like brushing teeth, shaving, face washing, and bathing.

  • Mark normal settings on appliances with arrows. Equipment like the washer, dryer, thermostat, microwave, stove, etc.

  • Disable the stove by either tripping the breaker or simply unplugging it.

  • Often, people will be unable to learn how to use new appliances such as a microwave if they are replaced with newer models.

Always keep it simple when you converse with the person who has dementia. It might be possible for them to only process a single, simple thought at each time. When preparing meals for the person, only offer a single alternative meal. Ask if they would like soup or a hamburger, for example. If you are going to the store, ask them if they would like to go at 3 or 4.

If you are helping with a certain part of the day that requires several different steps, it is important that you break it down into smaller pieces that can easily be understood. Speak face to face with them, rather than from the side or behind, since this can confuse them. Remember to talk using simple words and short sentences. Simply say, "Let's go out to eat," rather than, "Let's go across town and go to that one Italian restaurant."

It is easy for personal hygiene to deteriorate in a person with dementia. You will offend your loved one if you tell them that they have an offensive odor, or that their fingernails are becoming unsightly. Should this become a problem, you should consider:

  • Hiring professional help to assist in bathing and helping prevent the embarrassment and loss of dignity that many dementia patients suffer from.

  • Washing the person's clothes while they are asleep and replacing them with clean clothes that they will put on in the morning.

  • Local services can handle nail care. Thick, difficult to care for nails can be taken care of with proper training and equipment.

Finally, professionals from the dementia field can always give objective advice to help with this troubling time. Dealing with cognitive impairment of this kind is difficult for adult children and spouses to handle emotionally. Proper care can alleviate some of this strain.