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Practical Strategies for Supporting Someone with Dementia

Caring for a loved one experiencing forgetfulness and confusion can be a challenging and emotional journey. You yourself or someone you know may be becoming more absent-minded than usual.

For children supporting aging parents, they can often find ourselves in a dual role—navigating our own lives while trying to support our parents through a difficult transition. It’s not uncommon to encounter resistance or denial from our loved ones who may find it hard to accept their changing circumstances. Distance can amplify these challenges, making it tougher to provide hands-on support and observe changes firsthand.

Despite these hurdles, there are effective ways to provide meaningful support and ensure our loved ones receive the care they need. This guide explores practical strategies and compassionate approaches to help you navigate this complex and emotional journey of supporting someone with memory and cognitive issues.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affect cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, and communication. It is not a specific disease but rather a syndrome caused by various conditions, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. Other types include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.

Dementia affects memory, cognition, and behavior, leading to a progressive decline in a person’s ability to manage daily activities. Providing the right support and understanding can significantly enhance the quality of life for both the person living with dementia and their caregivers. This guide aims to offer practical advice, effective communication strategies, and respectful language to help you support your loved one with dementia.

People living with dementia may experience:

  • Memory loss, particularly recent memories.
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and complex tasks.
  • Changes in mood and behavior.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Challenges in communication and understanding.

Early diagnosis and management are crucial. They help in planning care, exploring treatment options, and accessing support services.

Tips for Supporting a Loved One with Dementia

General Support Strategies

  • Patience and Empathy: Approach every interaction with patience and empathy. Understand that frustration and confusion are part of the condition, not intentional behavior.
  • Routine and Consistency: Establish a daily routine to provide structure and reduce anxiety. Consistency helps people with dementia feel more secure and oriented.

Memory Aids and Tools

  • Post-it Notes: Use post-it notes for reminders and place them in visible areas like the bathroom mirror.
  • Whiteboards: Hang dry/erasable whiteboards to keep track of daily tasks and appointments. Update them regularly to avoid confusion.
  • Timers: Use oven timers to remind your loved one about tasks such as cooking or laundry. They can also help bridge reminders for appointments.
  • Emergency Lists: Create a list of emergency contacts and important health information. Keep it accessible, such as on the fridge.
  • Calendars: Utilize computer and smartphone calendars for automatic reminders. Mark important dates and appointments clearly.

Day-to-Day Memory Strategies

  • Visual Cues: Place objects related to tasks in visible locations, like a backpack on the door handle to remind them to take it when leaving.
  • Notebook and Pen: Encourage your loved one to carry a notebook for jotting down important information and tasks.
  • Writing It Down: Write down tasks and events. Once completed, discard the notes to prevent repetition and confusion.
  • Detailed Conversation Notes: After conversations, write detailed notes about the discussion, including any follow-up actions required.

Medication Reminders

  • Visible Placement: Keep medications in a frequently visited spot, like by the coffee machine, but out of reach of children.
  • Pill Containers: Use pill containers with compartments for different times of the day to organize medications.
  • Blister Packs: Consider using blister packs prepared by a pharmacist to simplify medication management.
  • Alarms: Set alarms on a phone or clock to remind your loved one to take their medications at the correct times.
  • Calendars: Mark the time and day medications are taken on a calendar placed near the medication area.

Effective Communication Techniques

Dementia-Friendly Interactions

  • Face the Person: Make eye contact and speak directly to your loved one, ensuring they can see your facial expressions.
  • Speak Slowly and Clearly: Use a pleasant tone, short sentences, and one message at a time.
  • Avoid Slang and Metaphors: Use clear, simple language to avoid misinterpretation.
  • Ask Closed-Ended Questions: Yes/no questions are easier to answer than open-ended ones.
  • Allow Time for Responses: Give your loved one time to process and respond without rushing them.
  • Minimize Distractions: Take conversations to a quiet place to reduce background noise and distractions.

Enhancing Communication on the Phone

  • Introduce Yourself: Begin with a clear introduction and the reason for your call.
  • Break Information Down: Present information in smaller pieces and repeat calmly if necessary.
  • Follow Up: Send a follow-up email, text, or letter to help remember the details discussed.

Supporting Wandering and Safety Concerns

  • Approach Calmly: If your loved one is wandering, approach from the front, introduce yourself, and explain why you’re there.
  • Stay with Them: Stay with your loved one and avoid making them feel detained.
  • Emergency Contact: Look for a MedicAlert® bracelet or other emergency contact information.
  • Call for Help: If necessary, contact local authorities for assistance.

Creating a Dementia-Friendly Environment

Home Modifications and Safety Tips

  • Safe Navigation: Ensure the home is free of tripping hazards and well-lit.
  • Labeling: Use labels for drawers, cabinets, and rooms to help with navigation.
  • Secure Dangerous Items: Keep sharp objects, cleaning supplies, and medications locked away.

Engaging Activities and Routines

  • Meaningful Activities: Engage your loved one in activities they enjoy and are capable of doing, such as gardening or simple crafts.
  • Physical Exercise: Encourage regular physical activity suited to their abilities to promote overall health.
  • Social Engagement: Facilitate social interactions with family and friends to reduce feelings of isolation.

Emotional Support and Well-being

Supporting Emotional Health

  • Listen and Validate: Listen to their feelings and validate their experiences. Reassure them when they feel anxious or frustrated.
  • Encourage Reminiscence: Encourage sharing of past memories to help maintain a sense of identity.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Celebrate small achievements and positive moments.

Encouraging Social Engagement and Activities

  • Group Activities: Participate in group activities designed for people with dementia, such as music therapy or art classes.
  • Family Involvement: Involve family members in caregiving and activities to create a supportive network.

Self-Care for Caregivers

  • Seek Support: Join support groups for caregivers to share experiences and gain insights.
  • Take Breaks: Ensure you take regular breaks and time for yourself to avoid burnout.
  • Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help for respite care when needed.

Dementia-Friendly Language Guidelines

Respectful Language

  • Person-First Language: Always refer to someone as a person living with dementia, not as a sufferer or victim.
  • Focus on Abilities: Highlight what the person can do rather than what they can’t.
  • Neutral and Respectful Terms: Use terms like “challenging” or “life-changing” instead of “devastating” or “hopeless.”

Examples of Dementia-Friendly Language

  • Preferred: “A person living with dementia”
  • Avoid: “Demented person” or “victim”
  • Preferred: “Reactive behavior”
  • Avoid: “Aggressive”

By using respectful language, you can help reduce the stigma associated with dementia and foster a more inclusive environment.

Supporting a loved one with dementia requires patience, empathy, and a variety of strategies to manage daily challenges. By incorporating memory aids, practicing effective communication, creating a dementia-friendly environment, and using respectful language, you can provide meaningful support and improve the quality of life for your loved one. Remember to take care of yourself as a caregiver and seek out additional resources and support from local Alzheimer Societies.


Alzheimer Society of Canada (2024). Tips for Dementia-Friendly Interactions. Dementia-Friendly Canada.

Alzheimer Society of Canada (2024). Dementia-Friendly Language Guidelines. Dementia-Friendly Canada.

Alzheimer Society of Canada (2023). Memory Tips & Tricks. Dementia-Friendly Canada.