Early-stage dementia can be frustrating and scary for anyone.
Unlike patients in which round-the-clock assistance is typically required and disability may not be fully realized by the patient, those with mild dementia have the unfortunate experience of witnessing their own symptoms in a more intimate way. This new realization that they may not be able to process thoughts or perform certain activities that they once could may be especially troubling. However, there are several ways that you can soften the emotional burden they experience.
In this piece, we’re going to look at how to best respond to frustrating moments experienced by loved ones with early-stage dementia.
Responding to Dementia-Induced Frustration
Frustration and fear are common emotions among those actively experiencing the symptoms of dementia. The inability to recall a detail or perform an ordinary task may be deeply troubling. How you, a loved one, respond to this frustration can have a profound impact on their overall happiness. Here are a few ideas on how to most appropriately respond.
Experiencing the initial stages of dementia can feel isolating. When you notice they are troubled by the realization of their new limitations, give them comfort and support. Tell them that it’s ok, that you’re there for them, and that you are a team.
Normalize or Rationalize Limitations
Some mental or physical tasks may be frustrating for those with dementia that aren’t especially easy for everyone. When a loved one struggles, provide a bit of empathy. Even a casual, “Man, the kids are growing up so fast—I can hardly put names with their faces either!” or “I could barely open that jar myself!”
Lighten Frustrations with a Joke
This technique requires a deep understanding of a loved one’s personality, but sometimes a little humor can greatly soften a frustrating situation. Tying into normalizing or rationalizing their symptoms, consider peppering it with a little joke.
Playing Down by Playing Off
Consider playing down brief forgetfulness by playing off of an event of forgetfulness they experienced as an able-minded person or a silly excuse for one’s inability to perform a particular task.
- “You always did confuse me with my sister, didn’t you? Sometimes my kids call their aunt ‘mom’ as well!”
- “I think you’re just trying to get out of doing some chores, silly lady!”
Comfort With Your Honesty
At times, your loved one with dementia won’t want to hear jokes, they won’t buy your rationalizations, and they won’t want to be coddled by your comfort. For these types of loved ones with whom you have a close bond, hearing the truth from you can help ease their frustration. When they can see through the candy-coating, they may respect your ability to discuss the gorilla in the room—that this is hard and they need help.
In these moments, being truly honest may be the best therapy. Your ability to be honest with them will show how deeply you respect them. This respect will very likely be reciprocated and the trust that follows that respect can provide comfort.
In our next article entitled How to Help Prevent Frustration Among Loved Ones With Dementia, we’ll discuss how to hopefully prevent frustration among your loved ones experiencing the symptoms of progressing dementia.
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