Did you know that dementia affects more than 47 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization? Dementia is broadly defined as a deterioration in cognitive function, greater than would be expected in normal aging processes. Deteriorating cognitive functions can affect memory, learning capacity, calculation ability, recognition, language, and more. Of the different dementias, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common - and one of the most serious. Needless to say, when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it will signal major changes for both the patient and his or her family.One of the most difficult things to witness as an adult child or grandchild is the progressively decreasing mental capacity of a parent (or other loved one). It’s also important to know that sometimes these cognitive changes might be preceded by emotional or social changes. What this means is that atypical behaviors from a family member ought to be checked by a physician if they begin happening more and more frequently. Examples include...
- lashing out at loved ones (verbally or physically)
- changes in language (cursing, yelling, etc)
- a change in social behavior that cannot be accounted for (more withdrawn, more outgoing, etc)
- developing mistrust of those closest to them
These may all be signs that a person’s cognitive abilities are deteriorating, and they need to be evaluated. If a diagnosis of dementia has been established, this will change a family’s life in significant ways. One of the minor - but very important - changes will be in the language you use around someone whose memory and mind are failing.
Here are three phrases that might slip from your mouth more often than you think, and why they could be harmful over the long term:
“I already told you that.” As anyone who has raised children would know, it can be frustrating to repeat something more than once. But getting frustrated does not benefit the situation at all, and it certainly doesn’t help a person retain whatever information they are forgetting. The same goes for an elderly parent or relative with dementia; they may know something but have forgotten it, and they may not be able to recall facts and information like they used to.
“You should know where it/he/she is.” A person with dementia might get lost in their own home. Think about that for a second - a place you have lived in and been familiar with for perhaps decades might become foreign and unfamiliar. A scene from the movie “Still Alice” is a good example of this phenomenon - the title character wets herself because she can’t remember where the bathroom door is.
“Why don’t you remember [xyz]?” This can be an especially cutting and derisive remark to someone with dementia - even if it’s not meant that way, and even if the person doesn’t remember it later. Alzheimer’s and other dementias cut to the core of a person’s personality, and statements like this do not help the situation at all. This statement assigns blame and puts the person in a defensive state, for something that is very likely out of their control.
Dementia can be a very scary and frustrating experience for both the patient and his/her family. This is especially so during those times when a person is cognizant of losing their memory and knows what is happening to them. Before saying the phrases above, try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand that they are likely unaware, already frustrated, or feeling helpless, and these statements will only magnify that response in most cases. Hearing these phrases (or ones like them) over and over can eventually erode a person down...whether they have dementia or not.
While it’s inevitable to get frustrated at times - especially as a primary caretaker - do your best to remain calm and remember that someone with dementia is not functioning at full mental capacity. For those times when caretaking becomes overwhelming, it’s helpful to have assistance. Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses is uniquely qualified to help families - contact us today to see how we can assist, or visit our blog to discover more resources for caregivers.