Tips for Maintaining Strong Relationships with Those Living with Dementia

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a number of diseases that strip those affected of memory and the ability to maintain a normal life without constant help. But the greatest fear many have is that they will lose touch with those they love as the symptoms progress and worsen. There are, however, ways to maintain and support strong relationships with someone living with dementia that will benefit everyone.

Learn what to expect

Living with dementia is challenging, but understanding what to expect can help family and friends prepare for what’s to come. First, it is important to understand the type of dementia and how and when it will affect a loved one. The National Institute on Aging’s article, “Understanding Different Types of Dementia,” explains four of the most common types as well as symptoms and treatments.

Also notable is that dementia progresses over months and years. Its progression is often broken down into stages, as described in the article “How long does dementia last? Duration and life expectancy.” By understanding what changes to expect in each stage of dementia, variations that can occur in timing, severity and progression, caregivers will better be able to care for their loved one living with dementia.

Stick to a routine

One aspect of living with dementia that has proven very helpful is creating and maintaining a daily routine. Routines for those with dementia build familiarity and reduce feelings of frustration, reduce stress and help them maintain an element of control over their lives. Being a part of a routine also helps those living with dementia feel safe and cared for, which can strengthen relationships and improve quality of life. Get the facts about routines for people living with dementia in the article, “The Importance of Routine and Familiarity to Persons with Dementia.”

Emphasize independence

Living with dementia inevitably means the loss of independence as the symptoms worsen, but supporting independence as long as possible is important. According to the article, “Promoting Independence with Alzheimer’s Care,” doing everything for someone with dementia actually undermines their self-worth, while requiring them to take an active role in their own care builds independence. Even if a loved one can only perform part of a task, keeping them involved can help build trust and strengthen a relationship.


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Anticipate changes in behavior

One of the hardest aspects of living with dementia is the behavioral changes that often occur. A normally quiet person may become combative, angry and aggressive, while someone who is outgoing becomes withdrawn, anxious or depressed. Often all of these and other behaviors occur in the same person which can challenge even the most loving relationship. To best understand behavioral changes, the National Institute on Aging article, “Managing Personality and Behavior Changes in Alzheimer’s,” explains why these changes happen and offers tips for minimizing and coping with dementia related behaviors.

Communicate effectively

An essential ingredient in any relationship is communication, but for someone living with dementia, communicating can become challenging. They may struggle to find the right words, forget what they want to say, or become frustrated and give up. But accommodating these communication problems can help.

For example, the article, “How to communicate with a person with dementia,” suggests being patient so the loved one doesn’t feel rushed, resisting the urge to interrupt and help them find the right word, and maintaining eye contact which shows you are really listening. It is also unhelpful to speak to them like they are a child, exclude them from conversations all together, or speak loudly or harshly.

Do things together

Another tip for strengthening a relationship with someone living with dementia is to spend time doing things together. For example, daily tasks like cleaning up after meals, dusting, sorting laundry, or doing yard work all offer opportunities to share the load and engage the help of a loved one living with dementia.

Having fun together is another option. Working on a puzzle, listening to music, taking a walk in a local park, exercising, or baking cookies are all meaningful ways to make someone living with dementia feel included and productive.

It may also be a good idea to occasionally include one or two other friends or family members in the activity. This can help build familiarity so over time they continue to feel comfortable with others, something that can lessen over time when only one person is with them. For a great list of fun activities, check out the article, “101 Things to Do With Dementia Patients.”

At Thrive Senior Living, our memory care residents enjoy a secure yet active and independent lifestyle. To find out more about memory care communities, download our “Memory Care” guide and contact us to schedule a tour.