Connecting with a Family Member with Dementia

How to ensure you are still a loved one and not just the caregiver.

Caregiving for Someone with Dementia
Caregiving for Someone with Dementia

I have worked with many dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients and their families and while I truly enjoyed the experience, I saw how challenging it was for their family members. It can be so difficult to watch a once vibrant, smart, dynamic person who could remember the birthdays of all 26 nieces and nephews suddenly forgets whether she had breakfast this morning, or worse, forgets your children.

The role of caregiver for someone with dementia has challenges far beyond that of a person caring for an elderly parent, particularly in the later stages. So how can a caregiver maintain the relationship? It can be hard, particularly if the person has advanced dementia or doesn’t remember you, but there are ways to enjoy each other’s company in the present.


1. Engross yourselves in hobbies. It may be difficult to teach someone with dementia new skills, however, in the earlier and mid-stages of dementia, most people still have vivid memories of their past.


I worked with a man with mid-stage dementia who could give me detailed accounts of his childhood fishing trips. My aunt, who lost her short-term memory due to a stroke can still make her famous tamales from memory. The activity may take longer, and maybe not garner the same exact result, but it will be an enjoyable activity for both of you.


2. Listen to music together. Music has a strong impact and studies have shown that people with dementia benefit from listening to music from their past. It can tap deep memories and enable them to feel more like themselves. Download their favorite music to your iPod and have a dance party or just play it in the background while you are visiting with them.


3. Establish a routine of enjoyable activities. People with dementia tend to do better when their day is structured and they have a routine. Create a routine with both necessary activities such as mealtime, personal hygiene and chores, as well as activities that are enjoyable to both of you and gives them a chance to have little successes throughout the day.


I met a woman whose mother (who has dementia) enjoys folding laundry, so she handles all of the folding for the family of four. Folding laundry is something she has done for decades, so it is a task that she can easily do without having to be told how to do it. Other activities to add to your routine could be taking a daily morning walk – which also is great for your self-care, gardening, create art together or baking something simple together. You can also share stories from the past, but be careful that it is a positive discussion, not frustrating if they are having difficulty remembering.


While it can be challenging to care for someone with dementia, there are techniques to make it easier and it can bring great rewards. How do you bring joy to this role?

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