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Understanding Dementia: How to Help and Support People with this Disorder

If you’ve dealt with a person who has dementia, you are perfectly aware of the hardships that come with the territory. It’s impossible to offer help and support unless you understand the condition. The most important thing to note is that it is an umbrella term pointing to the symptoms of an ailment, rather than an ailment itself.

In other words, the memory loss dementia denotes is usually one of many symptoms that accompany diseases such as Alzheimer’s, vascular cognitive impairment, Lewy-bodies syndrome, and others. To retain a satisfying quality of life, the affected individuals require all the knowledgeable assistance they can get.

This is where you come in as a family member or a caregiver. Here’s what you can do to help.

Set the stage with positivity

The most important thing to remember is that people living with dementia know how to read body language even if they don’t recognize you. As long as you reflect a modicum of modest positivity and ‘normalcy’ in your behavior, you’ll be providing a better environment for them to relax, find their ground, and feel valued as a real person.

A positive attitude is alpha and omega of your support. It requires little effort and it makes all the difference.

Certain ground rules you need to establish

As a caregiver supporting someone with dementia, you need to have some ground rules set in stone. Make a list of pointers on a large sheet of paper which you can refer to now and then, especially if you feel that relationships in the household have been going sideways.

Now, here’s a twist: these rules are mostly there for you. And they go as follows:

  • Keep your sentences short and your questions answerable. On some days, this will be more important than on others, but you’ll also be amazed at the opportunities to have meaningful and genuine conversations with them.
  • Let them make manageable decisions – like their choice of dinner, means of transportation (car or on foot), a set of clothes, etc. This will instill in them a sense of agency and confidence.
  • And while we’re on the topic of confidence, keep your intonation and enunciation distinct and reassuring. This will also improve the overall household atmosphere.
  • And finally, always maintain your sense of humor. Encourage them to crack jokes, let go, and get silly – humor heals!

Aim for small habits

When it comes to encouragement, there’s another factor that contributes to the perception of agency and confidence in a person with dementia, and that is habit. Your job is to support behaviors that lead to their better cognitive performance and improved quality of life.

Even the smallest habits can mean a world of difference, such as going through a family photo album several times a week or writing a journal daily. Also, creative activities such as painting can do wonders for people with dementia, especially when it comes to memory retention.

Make sure to keep track

As dementia develops, there’s a greater risk of the person in question wandering off. The nature of the condition is such that they may end up confused, disoriented, and unable to recall why they’ve left home or where they are.

Fortunately, it’s possible to minimize the danger and better keep track of your loved one. At the very least, ask them to always carry their phone with them or, even better, get them to take a GPS tracker along.

Better yet, provide them with a portable medical alert tracker to ensure that they never leave home unsecured. In fact, getting more than one can be useful. You can place them in their coat pockets, jackets, jeans, or put them on a necklace that they’ll be wearing whenever they leave the house.

Give them as much freedom as humanly possible, but make this a fundamental condition.

Label everything you can

Label dispensers and stickers will become the most useful items in your ‘toolbox’ for the following period. Sticking labels on doors, drawers, cupboards, and cabinets to denote what they hold makes everyone’s life significantly easier. But why stop with the name game?

You can take it a step further by compiling a list of all the crucial phone numbers and printing out several copies. Of course, it would be impractical to just leave them lying around. If you have a chance, laminate the lists and hang them on the most frequented doors in the household.

Keep their living space limited and orderly

Naturally, to avoid confusion, you’ll have to make an extra effort to return all objects to their designated spots.

Now, if your loved one is living in a large home, you also might want to rethink their living space. Not that they are physically unfit to navigate spaces, but you’ll need to work with them to help ensure they’re comfortably nested in a space that supports their well-being as well as maximum functioning. You might need to move some furniture around and get rid of clutter to create a layout that eliminates confusion and feels right to them.

Physical activity affects longevity

Simplifying their living space doesn’t mean that they should stay confined to it. On the contrary, people living with dementia need as much physical activity as possible to stay fit and improve cardiovascular health and blood flow through the brain.

Dementia is far from a death sentence – this cannot be overstated – and physical activity correlates directly with longevity and cognitive health.

Now, when it comes to older individuals living with dementia, simple daily tasks that involve physical exertion are perfectly valid. Don’t treat them as victims; instead, keep their hands busy and give them simple tasks they can occupy themselves with.

Important note: elaborate activities might be too much to ask. On the other hand, dish-washing, vacuuming, and other household chores could be a great choice, especially because they’ll be pleased to see the fruits of their labor. Also, if you plan to keep this going, you can print out a schedule spreadsheet and keep track of all activities they’ve already finished, in case they forget.

Apart from that, you might want to look into yoga and see what benefits it manifests for people living with dementia. Yoga strikes the perfect balance between a demanding physical activity and a relaxing stretching exercise with meditative qualities that greatly benefit anyone.


At the end of the day, never forget: the person comes first, not the condition.

You need to prioritize bracing yourself for the forthcoming changes in their behavior, because it’s not merely about being patient in tight spots. To reflect a positive attitude and flexibility, you’ll need to work out the best possible and the worst possible scenarios, and be grateful when the latter don’t transpire, thanks to your efforts.

The naturally positive attitude that follows this frame of mind will have an encouraging and enriching effect on your loved one. And when you provide that kind of supportive environment for them, you might just be surprised what you can learn from them – and the entire experience.

Sarah Kaminski earned her bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Due to her parent’s declining health, she decided to become their full-time caregiver. Now, she takes care of her loved ones and writes about the things she learned along the way.

Sarah is a life enjoyer, positivity seeker, and a curiosity enthusiast. She is passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle and adores her cats. She is an avid reader who loves to travel when time allows.



Dementia Brain Problems

Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Differences and Prevention Methods

Laymen (and even medical professionals) still often have difficulty recognizing dementia, as opposed to Alzheimer’s disease.

And while the symptoms and even some of the prevention methods may be similar, we need to find a better way to distinguish between the two if we are to provide the best level of care to patients.

Let’s explore some of the traits of each, and examine how we can prevent them:

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s disease: differences and similarities

Dementia is an umbrella term used to denote a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. As opposed to Alzheimer’s, it is not a specific disease.

What do we know about Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease, where plaques containing beta-amyloid form in the brain, causing cell damage and complex changes. This damage results in dementia symptoms that will get worse as time goes on. It is also one of the most common causes of dementia. Dementia can also be caused by Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

While it most often occurs in patients over the age of 60, early-onset Alzheimer’s can begin to show symptoms after the age of 30, typically in patients with a family history of the disease. It is believed these cases account for around 5% of the total number of patients with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the US, and possibly third as a cause of death in the elderly.

One of the most typical early signs of Alzheimer’s is trouble retaining recent information, as the disease tends to affect the part of the cerebrum that is associated with learning first.

Other symptoms, in no particular order of severity and manifestation, include:

  • Impaired reasoning and judgment: leads to poor decision-making and can bring the patient in harm’s way
  • Impaired visuospatial abilities, caused by eyesight problems: leads to the inability to recognize people and objects
  • Impaired use of language: including speaking, writing, and reading
  • Changes in behavior and personality

The main challenge we face in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is understanding its underlying causes. While we know it is caused by changes and damage to brain cells, the cause of these changes remains unknown to this day.

What do we know about dementia?

Patients suffering from dementia have trouble keeping track of time and space. They become repetitive, their judgment is impaired and they often forget to eat, bathe, and perform the simplest tasks.

The early warning signs of dementia include, but are not limited to:

  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Apathy
  • Repetitiveness
  • Impaired sense of orientation
  • Delusions
  • Impaired speech
  • Impaired focus and organizational skills
  • Impaired memory, especially day-to-day retention

Dementia patients are mostly unaware of their symptoms, and their loved ones are the ones to notice they’re losing their keys, mixing up dates, and forgetting to take the trash out.

There are several types of dementia we have been able to identify:

  • Vascular dementia: caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: caused by a build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the cortex.
  • Frontotemporal dementia: caused by the loss of nerve cells in the front and side areas of the brain.
  • Mixed dementia: resulting from several different causes

Dementia can also be caused by brain tumors, HIV, Niemann-Pick disease type C, progressive supranuclear palsy, and other diseases or conditions.

To sum it up: dementia, as a cluster of symptoms, and Alzheimer’s, as a specific disease (and the leading cause of dementia), naturally share the same symptoms.


The treatment of dementia will depend on its underlying cause. When caused by Alzheimer’s, there is no cure for it, and there is no treatment that can stop its progression. There are treatments that will combat some of the lesser or more severe symptoms, but we haven’t yet found a way to reverse or pause the ongoing damage.

This fact alone is the cause of much despair among the families of patients suffering from any form of dementia.

There are signs that the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s can improve patient quality of life. And when that’s all that’s left in the absence of a cure, it becomes even more imperative we do our best to prevent this disease.

Prevention methods

Evidence has been found that the risk factors that cause heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.

However, there is no sufficient evidence to provide any substantial proof as of yet. The prevention methods recommended for dementia and Alzheimer’s focus on improving overall health and exercising your brain.

Some of the courses we can advise our patients include:

  • Balanced diet. As opposed to the umbrella term the web tends to use, let’s focus more on tailoring diets to individuals. What works well for one patient will not work for another, and encouraging intuitive eating and adapting one’s diet to your own lifestyle and needs should come more into focus.

Naturally, this diet should focus on eating 80% of the foods that are actually good for us, and getting most of our nutrition from fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, as opposed to fast food choices and high-sugar options. Cutting down on caffeine and alcohol intake can also prove beneficial.

  • Movement is one of the keys to preventing any disease, and encouraging at least three 30-minute sessions per week should be imperative. As diets, exercise regimes should be tailored to a patient’s needs and preferences. Instead of being made a chore, regular exercise should be an enjoyment and a clear avenue to improved overall health.
  • We tend to overlook sleep as one of the equal members of the health trifecta. Teaching sleep techniques should become more widespread, as the pace of modern living continues to speed up.
  • Stress-relief. Undoubtedly one of the top contributing factors to any disease, stress takes a toll on our bodies in a way we don’t even fully understand. While eliminating it will be impossible, and while it may even be beneficial in small doses, removing stress as a detrimental factor should be the focus of any preventative course of action. Whether this is achieved by yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness practices, exercise, reading, journaling, or any other method, should be up to the individual.
  • Brain training. It is also recommended to keep your brain working and engaged by reading, solving puzzles, and trying to teach it to think in new ways. Improving the neural connections in our brains will help prevent the degeneration of cells that lead to dementia.
  • Finally, let me advocate an unconventional remedy – smiling. It has been proven that smiling and the feeling of joy can be beneficial in patient recovery, and it can also serve as a great prevention method. While the science is still vague on how connected happy hormones and chemicals are with the reduced risk of degenerative brain disease, we can try anything in our power to diminish our risk factors.


Alongside heart disease and cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia remain the most explored and discussed diseases of our time. We may not see a cure for any of them in our lifetime, and that’s all the more reason to remain vigilant in trying to prevent them. A large part of these prevention efforts entails exploring different avenues in achieving a healthier body and mind, as this remains the only course available to us at the time.

Sarah Kaminski earned her bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Due to her parent’s declining health, she decided to become their full-time caregiver. Now, she takes care of her loved ones and writes about the things she learned along the way. Sarah is a life enjoyer, positivity seeker, and a curiosity enthusiast. She is passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle and adores her cats. She is an avid reader who loves to travel when time allows. 


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